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Big Business: Getting Traded

Many fans, even players, sometimes forget that the NFL is big business at its core. It just happens to be the business of football, but about the bottom line and financial decisions first and foremost. I learned this the hard way as I was about to start my third season with the Cowboys. After the fourth preseason game, I was abruptly traded to the Baltimore Colts, and it tore my heart out. I loved Dallas; I was settled into my home and playing with a top team. I was leaving all that to play for one of the worst teams in the NFL.

It happened so fast that I could barely keep my emotions in check. We finished our pregame breakfast as Coach Landry methodically paced around my table. I was so young and green that I did not pick up on any clues that would offer me the necessary time to prepare. When I finished my last bite, Coach leaned in right on cue, “Steve, take a walk with me.” It was an order, not an ask.

One of my great teammates from those years was Butch Johnson, a flashy wide receiver who sat across from me at the breakfast table. He lowered his newspaper so I could see his eyes as they winced, and that was all it took for my heart to drop into a stomach full of eggs. On our short walk, Coach Landry explained that I was traded to the Baltimore Colts. My stomach cinched into a tight knot, and I could feel the eggs looking for an escape route. My vision narrowed, and my ears buzzed, so I only caught the tail end of his comments when he explained that they took the liberty of scheduling my flight to Baltimore at 1 p.m. I would not return until the end of the season, five months later. This was just cruel: I was leaving that day without any time to get my affairs in order.

At that moment, it was impossible for me to fully appreciate how frequently my life would pivot during the next ten years of professional football. But in those few minutes, I recognized for the first time that I was a product, not a person when it came to the business of football.


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