Tears Of Joy For A Hall of Famer

By Stan Hochman
Updated: November 27, 2008

PHILADELPHIA – The jury foreman announced the verdict a little more than 2 weeks ago, $7.1 million in compensatory damages and $21 million in punitive damages. Whoosh, the tears started streaking down Herb Adderley’s cheeks. Plump tears. Salty tears.

“Happy tears,”

Adderley, the former Green Bay and Dallas cornerback, says now. “And then, I couldn’t remember ever crying in football. Not after Super Bowls. Not after big interceptions in big wins. Not at the Hall of Fame induction.

“It was for the 2,062 guys who deserve whatever was coming to them [the award is about $10,000 per player]. For me to be a small part in making that happen, that’s a feeling beyond words. But that’s why the tears rolled.”

Adderley’s name was on the class-action suit filed against the NFL Players Association for mishandling licensing revenue, swindling retired players out of their share of the money. The case was heard in federal court in San Francisco, and Adderley was there for the entire trial.

“Up at 6, because I had to be at the courthouse by 7:15,” he says proudly. “All those ‘objections sustained,’ ‘objections denied.’ If I wasn’t so old I’d go to law school and use what I learned those 3 weeks.”

Adderley is 69, right there near the top of the list of greatest Philadelphia athletes, out of Northeast High. It is good to hear him joke about law school. For too long, no one heard from Adderley at all. He had transformed his South Jersey condo into a dark, gloomy cave of bitterness and anger.

“For a year-and-a-half,” he confesses, “I went into self-imposed exile. But I’m out and about now. Did a card show in Virginia. Will do another one in December in Philly, at least four Hall of Famers.”

Truth and justice with a $28 million price tag, that’s nice. A life rescued, that’s priceless, a heartwarming Thanksgiving week story.

Back in the day, Adderley wrote a football column for the Daily News. Showed up late in Washington on a brutal wintry Sunday with beat writer Jack McKinney and was denied access to the press box. McKinney talked his way in, furiously. Adderley flashed his Super Bowl rings and smiled.

No one knew why he vanished, because he didn’t return phone calls. Maybe it was the back surgery? Maybe it was the anxiety about how to pay for that back surgery? Maybe it was getting cheated out of endorsement money? It could have been discovering through his grandson that the “Madden” video game had scrambled his image.

“Josh is 10,” Adderley says wanly. “I bought him ‘Madden’ for his birthday. I went to visit him and he took me to his room and said, ‘Pop-Pop, that’s you at left corner.’

“He was playing the 1967 Packers against the 1971 Cowboys [Adderley played on both those teams]. Super Bowl teams. They had my height, my weight, my years in the league and it was a black guy, but the face was scrambled and he was wearing a different number.

“My son-in-law asked me, ‘Did you get paid for that?’ And I had to tell him, ‘Not a dime.’ In the trial they introduced e-mails from Players Inc. [the union's marketing agency] telling EA to scramble the images [of retired players] so they wouldn’t have to pay us.”

Adderley was an inspired choice to have his name on the suit. Four-time All-Pro, played on seven NFL championship teams in an 11-year stretch, three Super Bowl rings, Hall of Famer.

“Herb was angry with the union, and why not?” attorney Ron S. Katz says. “He gets a pension of $175 a month, he had a Reebok deal he didn’t get paid for, he was justifiably angry.”

He was not alone. Bernie Parrish joined him in a suit against the NFLPA. It was squelched twice.

“And then we went a different way,” Adderley says. “Dealing with the group licensing agreement, on behalf of the 2,074 retired players. Twelve guys dropped out.

“The case was about the GLA. They said an escrow fund would be set up, the money to be shared equally. Any time six active players or six retired players or three and three had deals with the big licensees, Reebok or EA or Upper Deck, a portion of that money was to go into the escrow fund to be divided up at the end of the year.

“It turns out there was no escrow fund.”

How could the current players be so calloused? What spawned the arrogance? The average career span of an NFL player is still under 4 years, and every active player is one torn anterior cruciate ligament away from becoming a retired player.

“I’m not sure they know what’s going on,” Katz says. “You could call 10 active players and ask them if they know that the union takes 69 cents out of every dollar they make in certain endorsements.”

The most recent survey showed that too many active players did not know the rules about overtime. Surely they would know about how the endorsement loot is split. Unless the union leadership under the late Gene Upshaw treated them like mushrooms, keeping them in the dark and occasional tossing a bucket of manure their way.

“Upshaw said we [the retired players] didn’t hire him, and we couldn’t fire him,” Adderley says bitterly. “I took my pension early, at 45. They didn’t tell us what impact Social Security would have. They did tell us the life expectancy of an NFL player was 55.

“The check was for $548 a month. And then, at 62, Social Security kicked in, and I got a pension check for $126.85. I thought they’d made a mistake. They hadn’t. Then we got a $50 raise, so it’s $176.85 a month now.

“All those years playing on the ‘frozen tundra’ took their toll. I needed back surgery, fusion, L4 and L5. The surgery cost $47,000. My insurance covered $40,000. I had to scramble for the other $7,000.

“I sat through the whole trial, sick to my stomach, hearing about all the corruption. I came home, I needed an epidural shot. I’m OK now, no pain.”

One huge victory will do that, even if it happens in a bleak courthouse in San Francisco.

“Playing for Vince Lombardi,” Adderley says, “winning three Super Bowls, making the Hall of Fame, this topped all of that put together.”

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