He paused. "There's another aspect to this Hannah-Parker thing," he said. "We. haven't mentioned camaraderie. Parker was very good for the team, very good for his teammates, and I don't know how Hannah is with his teammates. I'm talking about guys you can rely on, now. Didn't he hold out for three games one year?"
Yes he did and it brought the wrath of every moralist from Attleboro to Swampscott down on Hannah's head. There are, as the judge would say, mitigating circumstances.
When Hannah joined the Patriots in 1973 he had very vague ideas about how much a 22-year-old should earn but he knew the value of money. His father had built up the family business, Hannah Supply Co., from nothing, and he didn't do it by tossing dollars away. His own rookie contract with the Giants in 1951 was for $6,000, plus $600 in bonuses, and that was very good money back in those days. After the '73 draft John was in New England for a banquet and the Patriot coach, Chuck Fairbanks, invited him and his wife to step into his office to talk about a contract.
"He told us to keep it strictly confidential," Hannah says, "and then he offered a $20,000 bonus and a three-year contract for $25,000, $27,500 and $30,000. That's a lot of money for Albertville, Alabama, but I knew a first-round draft choice was worth more. I looked at my wife, and she looked at me. Then I decided I'd better get me an agent."
Hannah's first agent, Mike Carroll from Gloucester, Mass., negotiated a contract for four years, at $30,000, $35,000, $40,000 and $46,000, plus a deferred $55,000 bonus. Hannah knew that those numbers were low, but he didn't feel like getting into a contract squabble.
"That's one thing I always resented about Bear Bryant, that he never gave me any guidance on a contract," Hannah says. "Before the draft he told me, 'You won't have to worry about getting a lawyer. You won't get drafted that high.' "
In 1974 Hannah wanted an advance of $30,000, to be used as a donation to the Big Oak Boys Ranch in Glencoe, Ala., a refuge for children from broken homes. The club gave it to him. Part of it was from his deferred bonus, part of it as an additional bonus to extend his contract for three more years—through 1979, with an option for 1980—at $65,000, $65,000 and $70,000. They now had Hannah wrapped up for six seasons, and while they were telling everyone they had, potentially, the greatest offensive lineman in the game, they were paying him peanuts. "Don't worry," he was told in '74. "Your salary will be upgraded if you rank with the top linemen in the league."
"I was," Hannah says, "a dumb, immature, rednecked idiot, and they stuck it to me."
He kept quiet for three years. His salary was never upgraded. At his first Pro Bowl, after the '76 season, he found out what other linemen were making. "I nearly cried," he said. Charley Hannah, drafted in the third round by Tampa Bay in '77, was signed for more money than his All-Pro brother was making. John reminded the Patriots about their promise to upgrade his salary. They didn't remember it. He reminded them again. They told him to see them after the '77 season. So he walked—with Leon Gray, who was having similar problems. They missed the first three games of the year, then were ordered back to work by a newly formed NFL Player Club Relations committee, which also ordered both sides to resume good-faith bargaining. In 1978, with Howard Slusher now negotiating his contract, Hannah signed for four years for a reported base of $140,000 each year and "easily attainable" incentives designed to get him up over $200,000.
Hannah and Gray got little sympathy while they were out. The Boston Globe printed a reader's parody of the 23rd Psalm, a slap at Hannah's deep religious convictions: "He restoreth my Greed. He leadeth me in the path of hypocrites for his own gain. Yea, though I abandon all honor, I fear no conscience."