McNall swears that the money is beside the point. Reports that the recession has crimped his collectibles business—rare coins, a Honus Wagner baseball card here and there—"annoy" him. Rocket Ismail, he insists, is not being sent home as part of some fire sale. "I read about my cash flow," he says, chuckling. "Well, I'm not in the cash-flow business. I'm more concerned with improving asset value than cash flow. From the time I made the investment in the Kings, in Wayne, to now, my cash flow has never changed. But my investment value has gone from $16 million to $100 million or more. I'd like to do the same thing in Toronto, but first I need to promote the CFL."
Still, with two years remaining on Ismail's contract, there is a sense that McNall means to play economic hardball with his property. Ismail has not had an agent since Team Rocket—the ad hoc group that had negotiated the Argo deal—was disbanded during Ismail's first season in Canada, and the Ismail family was sufficiently shocked by McNall's suggestion that Rocket look around that they hired superagent Bob Woolf to negotiate for them.
Woolf is embarking on a ticklish piece of deal-making. The Argonauts could very well take the position that as a league and team spokesman, Ismail has fallen short of fulfilling his end of the deal and thereby forfeits the remainder of his contract. They may, for the sake of negotiations, take the extreme position that he has been in a nonperformance mode all along and must return some or all of the money that he has been paid. McNall has put noted entertainment lawyer Bert Fields at the head of his table, which suggests that he means business. For his part, Ismail may state publicly that he intends to return to play football for Toronto and demand that the contract be fulfilled. But it doesn't sound as if anybody wants that to happen.
The wild card, as usual, is Al Davis. The Raiders' owner loves to grab players other teams won't take chances on—for example, Bo Jackson, who was considered a useless pick because he intended to play baseball, and Navy tailback Napoleon McCallum, who was neglected in the pro draft because of his military obligation. Similarly, Davis grabbed the rights to Ismail when it was clear he was headed for Toronto. Like the Mounties, Davis always gets his man.
Davis loves speedy receivers, but even if he is feeling generous, it is unlikely that he will pay Ismail anywhere near the same first-pick money that Steve Emtman received from the Indianapolis Colts last year. Davis knows that after two years of playing out of the limelight, Ismail is not loaded with bargaining power. And if Rocket decides to sit out for a year in order to test the waters in '94, he will not only risk fading further into obscurity but will have to contend with the NFL's new leaguewide salary cap as well.
Then again, Ismail may be happy with any kind of money, as long as all he has to do is play football for it. "Marinovich, Townsend, Allen, Dickerson, Gault...." Ismail reels off Raider name after Raider name. "That's going to be so cool. I won't even be noticed, be just one of the guys."
It seems clear by now that he's out of the personal-services business for good. Somebody just kick him the ball.