I don’t know about you, but I get a little antsy waiting for the mailman when I’m expecting a $1 million check. Steve Young will be getting one of those sometime after Jan. 1, as part of a football contract he signed nearly 30 years ago. Thanks in large part to Donald Trump.
What the …?
You know him as an NFL analyst for ESPN, and I know him as the best quarterback in 49ers history (yes, I know … sorry, Joe. Just one man’s opinion). But did you know that back before the 49ers, and even before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Young signed the most lucrative contract in pro football history? And that he’s still collecting on it?
Fresh out of BYU, Young bypassed the NFL to sign with the new United States Football League, which you most likely know. The deal? About $40 million over five years from the Los Angeles Express: the largest sports contract in history to that point. According to this, it would be equal to $90 million today, with inflation.
Why that much with a fledgling football league? Because LA Express owner J. William Oldenburg was nuts. He wanted Young in the worst way, thinking that his all-out, rambling style of play would help establish his team, and the league, and position it to take on the NFL. But not only that: Oldenburg also had an arch-rival.
Donald Trump was owner of the New Jersey Generals, and had splurged on NFL-quality talent such as quarterback Brian Sipe, defensive back Gary Barbaro and linebacker Jim LeClair. He even tried to lure Don Shula from the Dolphins to coach the team, but the story goes that Shula wanted a condo at Trump Tower as part of the deal, and The Donald declined.
Oldenburg, desperate to prevent Trump from upstaging him, would get Young at any cost. The Cincinnati Bengals, who held the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, could have offered Young only the NFL rookie maximum of $500,000 per year over four seasons, not guaranteed, with a $1 million signing bonus. So it was kind of a foregone conclusion where Young would end up.
But it would be the weirdest contract in sports history. From CelebrityNetworth:
In order to make this contract work with the fledgling team, Steve agreed to a rather unorthodox deal. After his bonus, Steve would earn just $200,000 in year one, $280,000 in year two, $330,000 in year four and $400,000 in year five. The remaining $30 million would be deferred over 37 years starting when Steve turned 28 and ending when he was 65 in the year 2027. The contract was backloaded, which meant that the payments would escalate to $1 million per year in 2014, then $2.4 million and eventually topping out at $3.173 million in the contract’s final years. Furthermore, Steve signed a $100,000 a year endorsement deal with a Utah-based bank called State Savings Loan Association, which also happened to be owned by J. William Oldenburg.
Just to be safe, Steve’s agent [Leigh Steinberg] insisted that the contract be insured just like any other annuity that you would purchase from a bank. That meant Steve’s deferred $30 million was covered “in case the team or the league folds”. This final deal point would prove very wise.
Yep. Oldenburg went bankrupt in ’84, and the Express was shut down following the 1985 season. Just prior to that, Young bought out of his league obligation (although the annuity stayed intact), and went on to the NFL with the Buccaneers, and then the Niners. The USFL itself quit operations in 1987. The last USFL champion? The Baltimore Stars. Forever may they reign.
The insurance company stuck with the bill, according to Sports Illustrated, is San Francisco-based Investment Mortgage International (IMI).
And for those keeping score, Young will make $1 million next year from a team he last played for in 1985. Russell Wilson, meanwhile, will make $662,434 with the Seahawks.
So Steve, how about sending a nice bottle of Cognac Croizet over to The Donald when you get that $1 mil in the mail? It’s the least you can do. If you don’t mind, that is, being seen in a liquor store buying it, being a Mormon and all.
Photos: Getty Images.