NFL Players Are Like Movie Stars by Utter-Fantasy Writer & Illustrator Doug Bowles
Even at nine years old, I loved the NFL. It was 1972, and the local Sunoco gas stations in Jackson, Michigan (and I would assume elsewhere) had a promotion where they gave out an NFL stamp booklet with every tank full. Inside the booklet, were 9 stamps of current NFL players. For a small price, you could buy the ’72 NFL Action 56 Page Stamp Album to put them in. My friends and I found out that if we walked to the gas station (about 6 miles away) and asked nicely, the attendants would just give us each a booklet. The album required 624 stamps to fill (26 teams in the NFL at the time…12 offensive and 12 defensive players each). Needless to say, it took a long time, and more than a few long walks to fill my album, but I did it. I still love my album.
Back then, although I had no idea who he was, I very much needed a Duane Thomas RB Dallas Cowboys stamp to fill my Dallas team page. In 1972, you knew a handful of players from your favorite team, and a few of the most popular in the sport at the time (i.e. Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath and Lyle Alzado) but that’s about it. You had favorite teams, not favorite players.
Now however, it’s a different story. Over 40 million people play fantasy football, and competing means knowing the players. Ask any seasoned fantasy owner who the 2nd string RB for the Jacksonville Jaguars currently is, and he or she will try to impress you with the speed in which they give you the answer. Combine this knowledge of NFL players with the explosion of media outlets and you have players in the NFL getting the attention that Al Pacino did when he played Michael Corleone in the Godfather (1972). Although the audience was down from what it was in 2015, the 2016 NFL Draft pulled in 7.47 million viewers on day one which translated to a 4.6 household rating. A lot of people found out quickly who Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Ezekiel Elliott were and what they looked like.
The sports’ popularity means that famous quarterbacks aren’t the only ones landing endorsement deals. JJ Watt can be seen doing commercials for Verizon and Ford, Jadeveon Clowney is making “crazy” money pushing Gillette products and even Marshawn Lynch, who hates publicity, hawks Nike, Activision and Pepsi for the big bucks. Whether they like it or not, most of the NFL players, not just a few, are now celebrities. Some of them handle it pretty well, like Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, and some don’t, like the spiraling Johnny Manziel. Truth of the matter is, the stage for them is only going to get bigger, not smaller, so handling “being famous” almost over-night is going to be as much an issue for these young superstars as the their new-found wealth.
I get why the Commissioner has to come down hard on some of these young men for their wrong-doings, but I also try to understand how different this must be for them. I wonder how many autographs Odell Bechkam Jr has signed, since making his infamous TD catch? I guarantee that Lynn Swann made a few of those himself, but they weren’t caught by 9 different cameras or seen by 40 million people, so he wasn’t on national TV the very next week selling Old Spice.
Not only did some of the great characters like Dick Butkus, Reggie White, John Riggins and John Randle miss out on the giant contracts being handed out in the NFL today, they are also missing the ultimate limelight, that I know these guys would have loved.
You may also like to read my poem- “Zeke Zeke Physical Freak”