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Still, Oldenburg's finger jabbing him in the chest wasn't the only thing bothering Young as he waited for Klosterman and Steinberg to finalize the deal. That weekend he received calls from NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach telling him to sign with the NFL. Donald Trump, who owned the New Jersey Generals in the USFL, and Howard Cosell urged him to try the USFL. Young began to feel tremendous pressure. The prospect of being rich didn't make him happy. When he finally signed the contract with the Express, he handed the $2.5 million bonus check to Steinberg. "You take it. I don't want it," Young said.
He hardly needed it. The deal called for consecutive base salaries of $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 and $600,000. It funded an annuity that would pay Young a total of $37.2 million from 1997 to 2027, and an insurance policy that would pay him $1 million if he suffered a career-ending injury. The contract also guaranteed Young a $100,000-a-year off-season job at one of Oldenburg's Utah savings and loans. Finally, it endowed a $183,000 scholarship in Young's name at BYU.
And yet he thought seriously of calling the whole thing off. "The money just overwhelmed him," says LeGrande, a descendant of Brigham himself and a successful labor lawyer in Greenwich, Conn. "The money became his nemesis, and he continued to live as if he didn't have it. He told me before he had to report to camp, 'I don't want to go.' I ended up having to go out to Provo to talk to him. I told him, 'You made a contract; you live up to the contract.' "
So he went, to a team loaded with players stolen from the NFL draft, 31 in all. Oldenburg hoped that his Express would become so good that the NFL would have to invite his team to join it. Almost immediately, however, Oldenburg began having financial difficulties, and he would ultimately lose his entire fortune. He did not go quietly, though. In a 1984 game in Denver, Oldenburg threw a tantrum in the owner's box that spilled into the locker room at halftime. If the team did not improve, he screamed, heads would roll. Another time he threw a plate of food at Hadl.
While the owner fumed, the players looked up to the unpretentious Young, who bombed around in his ancient Olds and shared a Redondo Beach apartment with six teammates. On the field Young ad-libbed at will. Occasionally, as he left the huddle, he would tell center Mike Ruether, "Hey, snap it over my head. Let's make something happen."
Young would call his father in Connecticut and complain about what he had gotten himself into. Honor thy contract, LeGrande told him. In 1985 the USFL took over the Express from Oldenburg, and the team was evicted from its training-camp headquarters at a Southern California hotel for not paying the bill. Hadl approached players whose families lived in the area. "Jojo, how many can you take in?" he asked tackle Jojo Townsell. Jojo called his mother. He reported that they could take three. That's how the team was housed that summer.
Before the Express's last home game of the '85 season, the team, in full uniform, boarded buses for the 45-minute ride to a junior college stadium. On the way to the game one driver pulled his bus over to the side of the road. "I'm not moving until I get paid," he said.
"Don't pay him!" "Let's get off!" voices shouted from different parts of the bus. The players passed a hat, the driver was paid (Young contributed the lion's share), and the Express arrived in time for their game against the Arizona Wranglers. To save money the team had not replaced players who were injured late in the season, and the Express entered the game with one healthy running back, Mel Gray. Late in the third quarter Gray went down with an injury, and Young had to play the rest of the game at tailback. Afterward Young spoke at a press conference behind the bus, diesel fumes wafting over the sparse crowd of writers covering the game. "It felt like a high school game out there," he said, laughing. "I was waiting for the cheerleaders to come running off the bus."
Young finished his USFL career with 16 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions. He completed only 56.4% of his passes. He hardly looked like a great quarterback in the making.
Chapter 2: The Tampa Years 1985-86