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"They probably said, 'Who does this peon think he is?' " says Majkowski. "I may not be the best passing quarterback, have the strongest or most accurate arm, but I always find a way to win."
Majkowski started five games as a rookie, throwing for 875 yards and five touchdowns. After the season, Infante replaced coach Forrest Gregg. Hoping to make a good impression, Majkowski attended voluntary off-season workouts the next spring. As the only quarterback attending the workouts, he threw to a dozen receivers for almost two hours a day, five days a week. He developed tendinitis in his right shoulder and had to stop throwing until training camp began in July.
During camp Majkowski overworked the shoulder again. He missed 2½ weeks of preseason practice but still wound up sharing the starting job with Randy Wright. Majkowski changed his throwing motion to a slower windup and a sidearm delivery in hopes of minimizing the pain. That didn't help. "My arm got so bad that I couldn't hold it up to change stations on my car radio," he says. "I had to hold it with my other hand. There were times when I thought it would never get better."
Majkowski started nine games in 1988 but threw for only nine touchdowns. He feared his career was finished. Following the season, he began an extensive rehabilitation program for what had been diagnosed as a severe case of tendinitis. While undergoing seven months of therapy, he spent hundreds of hours analyzing videotapes of the throwing motions of Montana and Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins. "I realized I'd been overstriding," he says. "My delivery was too long. I'd been compensating for my shoulder."
When the 1989 season arrived, Majkowski was pain-free, confident and ready to work some Majik. He did, and now it is time to collect on his All-Pro performance. Majkowski's $250,000 base salary last year was the lowest among full-time starting quarterbacks. Recently the Packers began contract negotiations that could make him the highest-paid player in Green Bay history. The team's opening offer was between $600,000 and $700,000 a year. Majkowski's agent, Randy Vataha, has countered at $3 million-plus.
Majkowski might already be a millionaire but for the reluctance of NFL teams to pursue free agents. Majik was one of 274 players whose contracts expired on Feb. 1, rendering him a conditional free agent. Signing Majik would have cost the new team two first-round draft choices as compensation to the Packers. When none of the 274 players received an offer, some player agents huddled with the NFL Players Association. The agents came up with eight free-agent players to serve as plaintiffs, the NFLPA provided funding, and an antitrust suit was filed against the league seeking damages for the eight players. They hope that a ruling in their favor might lead to the NFL's agreeing to a broader system of unconditional free agency. New York Jet running back Freeman McNeil is the lead plaintiff in the suit, but Majkowski is the marquee name.
"I don't think people realize I've worked my tail off to get to where I am," he says. "It's been such a hard road to success for me. I think I appreciate it more than the average athlete."
A fighting spirit and a passion for life are two qualities shared by Majkowski and Majik. He sensed those same qualities in Tanya Krueger. When she was born, doctors said Tanya would never walk, but now she participates in gym class, passes a football at recess, plays baseball in her backyard and bowls.
The new autographed Don Majkowski LEADER OF THE PACK poster is tacked over Tanya's bed, and she traded her nightgown for a Majik Man T-shirt. Every night she falls asleep listening to a tape of Majkowski singing the popular hit Every Rose Has Its Thorn, proceeds of which he donates to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. After her date, Tanya wrote a letter to her favorite quarterback: