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During a break he comes over and explains the problems, adding, "It was kind of like making sure the wide receiver doesn't get behind the safety. You don't want that to happen, ever."
When the operation is over, White feels both drained and elated. "Seeing something like that," he says, "will make football seem easy."
It's too early to make comparisons between the NFL and USFL, aside from some obvious differences in talent, but there do seem to be fewer barriers and more camaraderie in the new league, as the operating-room scene illustrates. You for me and me for you. Among the key personalities on the Chicago Blitz—its best-known player, its better-known coach and even its owner—there's the understanding that this endeavor represents not just another chance for them in sports, but most likely a last chance.
Blitz Coach (and minority owner) George Allen has been, however much he denies it, frozen out of the NFL since 1977. White's union activities marked him as an undesirable, and his future as a player with the Lions was uncertain. For years Diethrich had tried unsuccessfully to get an NFL franchise. Add to that a whole raft of football players—the Blitz alone looked at more than 3,200—certain they could play wondrously if only somebody would give them a fair chance. Thus, there's a great incentive for cooperation. Indeed, Allen says that if the USFL should fail, it would mark the final effort at establishing a rival pro league. Says White, "In the NFL, the pie is there and everybody is fighting over the pieces. Here, we have to create the pie. There's going to be a players' union, but it has got to be completely cooperative. It's no good to have a union without the league."
White's hopes for the USFL? "Professional credibility and long life," he says as he juggles an orange in his hotel room. "This is like an NFL camp before all the veterans get in. So, the only thing we're missing is the buildup of veterans. We may be comparable to one or two of the NFL teams already, and I know we're as good as most NFL teams at the skill positions. I've been fighting against the NFL so long. Now I can really compete against them." He sighs, happily.
Ever since White agreed to terms with the Blitz on Jan. 12, the Lions have gone out of their way to say that he didn't fit into their plans for 1983. Coach Monte Clark is said to be relieved that White left because he thinks the 33-year-old linebacker is washed up. Clark, say Lions sources, probably would have been unable to cut White next year because it would have looked like vindictiveness against an executive committee member of the NFL players' association.
Citing White's long career (eight years with the Colts before being traded to Detroit in 1980), one Lion official says, "Tell me again, how many Pro Bowls has Stan been in?" The answer is none. Yet, he was the Lions' defensive MVP in 1981, when Detroit was first in the league against the rush. He holds the NFL record for linebacker interceptions in one season—eight, in 1975—and he's second in career interceptions (34). In 11 years he missed only four games to injuries. Maxie Baughan, one of Allen's superb linebackers of the past and until recently the defensive coordinator for the Lions, says, "Stan White is as heady a player as ever played the game. People say he doesn't have the size or speed, but they overlook the productivity. To get 34 interceptions, well, you can't just be lucky that many times."
Adds Lion Quarterback Gary Daniel-son, "I'm sure the franchise won't close down without him, but Stan's the type who always makes the 10 other guys play better. If you play with Stan, it helps your career." But the strike seemed to damage Detroit more than any other team in the NFL—the Lions had started with a 2-0 record but then won only two more games afterward. The bottom line is that the outspoken and contentious White could never be forgiven for his fierce union activism.
Enter Allen, who has made a habit of acquiring established and intelligent linebackers as soon as he takes over a coaching job. When Allen came to the Rams in 1966 he brought in the veteran Bill George from the Bears. When he went to the Redskins in 1971, he immediately arranged a blockbuster trade with his old team that gave him three linebackers, Jack Pardee, Myron Pottios and Baughan. Allen's veteran linebackers act as on-field coaches for his complicated defenses. Thus White was ideal—"like a first-round pick," Allen boasts.
It turns out that Allen and White have much in common. Both are advocates of clean living as a test of character. Both are excessively fond of film watching. Their happiest moments are when they rewind the movie projector to watch a play one more time. At a defensive meeting not long ago, Allen was changing film when he said to White, "Stan, we have a chance to have a heckuva defense." Linebacker Coach Joe Haering chimed in, "We're an offensive defense." And White explained, "The idea of our defense is to take away what the other team does best and make them beat us with what they don't do best."