Sorry for the dearth of posts lately (I love using the word "dearth").
Pundits of all colors and stripes have spent the past two week rightfully excoriating the combination of egomania and stupidity that Lebron James showed in allowing something like “The Decision” to ever see the light of day. No need for Past Interference to beat that dead horse. As for the decision itself, I asked my friend and ex-Cleveland resident Jim for his opinion and he said simply, “He gave them seven years” and “stars always leave Cleveland”. That says it all. No matter how big a jerk King James might have acted towards his now former fans in Ohio they should probably remember Lebron never chose to play there. He was drafted. He might be from there but he never picked them. Only upon the expiration of his contract did Lebron have a chance to choose the place he wanted to play. He did. And he didn’t pick Cleveland. As a free agent he gets to do that. That’s sports. He doesn’t owe them anything (beyond common courtesy).
Past Interference is old enough to remember a time when free agency didn’t exist in sports. A team drafted a player and that team then owned the player’s rights for the rest of his career. And with no bargaining power players in the pre-free agency era could either take whatever money their teams offered them or hold out. Players made just a tiny fraction of what they were worth to their team. NFL players actually had jobs in the offseason. Jobs! Until the free-agency era began, no matter how well they performed NFL players had no leverage whatsoever. With one exception. Or maybe that should be four exceptions.
Four happens to be the number of professional football leagues in the post-war era that made a serious attempt to challenge the dominance of the NFL in America. Ironically, one of those leagues birthed the greatest moment in the history of South Florida sports, the creation of the Miami Dolphins, while another of those leagues was responsible for maybe the saddest moment in Miami Dolphins history.
Each time one of those new leagues came along established NFL players and/or college stars would receive higher-paying offers from the new league than they ever could have expected to receive from the older established league. This is turn created upward pressure on salaries for everybody as NFL owners responded by trying their best to keep their players in the fold. The AFL was so successful in the 60’s that it forced a merger with the NFL that ended the costly bidding wars and brought the Dolphins into the NFL. Another rival league, the WFL, didn’t even last two full seasons but on the way to its own funeral the WFL hastened the demise of the Dolphin dynasty of the Seventies.
The WFL tried to make a splash in 1975 by fielding some top NFL talent, namely three Miami Dolphin stars: Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield, and Jim Kiick. The announcement was made during the 1974 season and so the gut wrenching playoff loss to the Raiders that ended Miami’s year symbolized the devastating consequences of the impending loss of two future Hall of Famers plus another quality RB. Miami never could adequately fill the huge holes at the skill positions those players left behind. Not that you could ever truly replace players of that magnitude, especially Csonka the heart and soul of the Dolphins. When those guys left the era of Dolphin dominance ended and to this day the franchise has never again fielded a team approaching the quality of the Csonka-Warfield era Dolphins.
But who could blame them for leaving? Csonka got over a million to sign with the Memphis Southmen, Warfield $900,000 and Kiick $700,000. All guaranteed. That was huge money back then for a professional athlete and they weren’t getting anything close to that from Joe Robbie. The athlete’s career’s a short one, especially in football, so take the money and run. With free agency (or what the NFL calls free agency anyway), a star player can expect to earn millions off of his labors today No such situation existed in 1974. The WFL’s brief existence came along at a bad time for the Miami Dolphins, but at a great time for Csonka, Warfield and Kiick.