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For Mike Rozier, It Paid to Play in the USFL

August 11, 1985|MICHAEL KNISLEY | The Denver Post

GREELEY, Colo. — Say what you will about the United States Football League.

Say the USFL is unreliable, say the caliber of play in the USFL is shabby, say the USFL's pool of talent isn't up to snuff.

Just don't say it to Mike Rozier. The USFL has been very, very kind to Rozier.

"I couldn't turn down $3 million to play football," said Rozier, the University of Nebraska Heisman Trophy winner who arrived in the National Football League with the Houston Oilers this summer.

And what did two seasons in the USFL--one with the Pittsburgh Maulers and one with the Jacksonville Bulls--do for him?

"I learned a lot about business," Rozier said. "I learned about the business aspects of it: How to deal with a lot of money, who to deal with, who to trust, who to talk to."

Folks, we're talking about a lot of money here. Chew on these numbers for a while, and then understand why Rozier doesn't have one discouraging word to say about the USFL.

In January 1984, he signed a $3.1-million personal-services contract with Edward DeBartolo Sr., who owned the Maulers in Pittsburgh. Rozier received $1 million of that money up front.

When it became apparent that DeBartolo couldn't handle the contract, he bought the rest of it out, paying Rozier somewhere in the neighborhood of another $600,000 or so. After one season in Pittsburgh, Rozier moved on to Jacksonville, where his salary was perhaps more modest, but impressive, nonetheless.

His contract with the Oilers will pay him $1.385 million over four years, and none of that money is deferred. A big chunk of the Houston contract will be paid to him next January, at the end of the NFL season.

The bottom line is this: By January 1986, Rozier will have been paid $2.9 million over a 24-month period; and that's cash on the barrel head.

As near as anyone can tell, no other professional football player has ever made that much money in just two years.

Of course, Rozier has had to play a lot of football to earn it. He went straight from Nebraska's 1983 season into the Maulers' 1984 spring season, and he currently is going straight from Jacksonville's 1985 spring season into Houston's 1985 fall schedule.

Just exactly how he fits into the Oilers' plans this season isn't clear yet. Houston's coaching staff is aware that Rozier will need as many breaks from the game as possible, if only to keep him in one piece.

And, despite the big-money contract the Oilers gave him, head Coach Hugh Campbell isn't ready to make Rozier the successor to former Houston All-Pro Earl Campbell. In fact, Rozier may not even be the Oilers' top running back, at least to hear the coaching staff tell it.

"He hasn't arrived yet at the level where we can say, 'He's our guy,' " Campbell said.

"When he was at Nebraska, I thought he was the greatest thing since cornbread," said Al Roberts, the Oilers running backs coach. "But his first year, at Pittsburgh, was really a downer for me and for him, basically because he was coming off another season, I think.

"When he had a year of rest, he looked terrific again at Jacksonville. So, learning that lesson, we know we can't pull his chain and run him into the ground right now."

Rozier still hasn't played a game in the NFL, and so he still doesn't know if this league really is the major league of professional football.

This much, though, he does know: The opportunity the USFL gave him was anything but minor league.

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