The 6 Ugliest, Nastiest Contract Holdouts in NFL History (And Lessons Learned)
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Ah, the contract holdout, soon-to-be as lost an art as the guitar solo and as dead a language as face-to-face conversation (1).
All but legislating the holdout out of football business, the finally completed/ratified (2) collective bargaining agreement installs a rookie wage scale, fines holdouts $30,000 a day, and only credits players reporting to camp by August 9 (3) with a year of service, crucial to earning free agency.
In other words, if DeSean Jackson were to withhold his services, fine money would overtake his $565,000 base salary in 27 days -- by which time, he'd no longer be eligible to dip his toes in open market waters when his deal expires in at year's end.
So yeah. Something's telling me dude's showing up to Lehigh soon. As will Chris Johnson and Frank Gore.
What that means? No more sit-ups in Terrell Owens' driveway. No more threats by rushing champs to clean out their lockers. (Or forcing their way from L.A. to Indianapolis. (4)) Or using a strike for a launch pad.
In other words: This the it for claws out, fur flying contractual holdouts.
So in homage of the soon-to-be-six-feet-under practice of fabulously bailing on a legal obligation, we remember the following 6 ugliest, nastiest holdouts in NFL history.
(1) We're getting there. Saw two different publications -- Time and USA Today -- cover how our ability to communicate with one another is eroding within the last calendar year. Seems picking up girls in 140 characters or fewer is all the rage. Psh... Real easy to hide behind a smart phone. ... Come on, bros. Consider this a personal challenge to man up, and court chicks with some originality, if not personality, if not less technology.
(2) I know, right? Figured this was all wrapped up. But no, the union only recertified yesterday before the owner-imposed 4 p.m. deadline, let alone stamped approval on the latest owner-proposed CBA. Crazy...
(3) Or 27, or whatever concession the NFL makes in lieu of an accelerated and screwed up league year.
(4) I know, I know. What sane human being on this earth gives preference to the icy armpit (5) of the American Midwest versus Beverly Hills? I have no idea...
(5) It's actually not that bad. At all. Sweet people. Gorgeous scenery. Just wanted an excuse to use 'armpit,' and write a footnote inside of a footnote... Sorry, Hoosiers... Didn't mean it.
RB Bo Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1986)
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The "So Salty He Quit the Game" Holdout
No no, you're 100 percent right.
Jackson never played a down in those hideous creamcicle uniforms that mirrored the atrociousness of those who wore them. Really, the Buccaneers were that bad.
From 1981-85, the five-year period before a quivering Jackson fidgeted on Draft Day, praying to some otherworldly deity that Hugh Culverhouse wouldn't select him, the Bucs went 24-53. Between 1984-85, they went 8-24.
So yeah. They were godawful.
Jackson, like the rest of the free, football-watching world, knew it. And was mortified.
Because not only was the team a punchline, but they were notoriously cheap. Despite picking near the top of the draft order almost perennially (1) -- their average first-round selection slot in the five years up to and including Jackson's 1986 class was No. 8 overall --- Culverhouse developed a reputation for penny pinching his players like pimples.
And Jackson popped.
Offered a five-year deal that didn't wow him, Jackson refused to play for the team, instead stammering off to pursue a career in Major League Baseball.
And no, for those of you chuckling under your breath at the irony in Jackson bolting a sport to dip the clutches of a bad team, only to end up on the Kansas City Royals, you're history's a little fuzzy. This was when the Royals were good. In the two years before Jackson signed, they'd won a World Series (1985) and made it to the American League Championship Series (1984).
Just so happens they went off the deep end after Jackson signed, but you can't really put that on him... Zillion other factors -- namely the infancy of the vast income disparity that makes my Red Sox awesome year in and out -- were to blame
None were why Jackson tired of baseball, though. He was a football player. He had that itch. And he scratched. And scratched. And scratched. (2)
And finally realized that a celestial beast of a running back like himself had no business running in circles on dirt. So Jackson made the jump back into the 1987 Draft.
For those of you blurry on details, and wondering how the Bucs didn't hold Jackson's rights, a year-long hold out dissolves any of bounds of said year's draft. So, when Jackson decided to come back, he was reinserted in the following year's draft class.
Worked out great for Al Davis, who picked Jackson in the seventh round, a discount for the ages. (3)
Just not for Marcus Allen, whose death knell tolled as the Draft Day bell rung.
Nor, really, did it for Jackson, whose hip essentially exploded and NFL career ended during the same 1990 playoff game against Cincinnati. (4)
But despite his year-long holdout, and that he slighted a team giddy at the thought of landing the then-fastest running back in combine history -- Chris Johnson has since outdone Jackson's 4.12 -- and rerouting their abysmal future, this wasn't really all that bitter.
The Bucs made an offer.
Jackson denied it.
And he bounced.
Unlike the other tiffs, he never played a down for the team, mitigating any awkwardness. Nor had he before, meaning he didn't strain any preexisting relationships.
Clean and painless a way to sever ties as any -- except for that he never had ties. And never would.
Still, you'd have to imagine that the organization was epically pissed off at Jackson, and harbors a few slivers ill-will for him. I know I would be.
(1) That assumes, of course, that they actually drafted in the first round. Seems Culverhouse rounds out the upper deck of the most mesmerisingly bad executives in NFL history, managing to
(2) For those of you thinking I was about to drop pre-med Dick's line from Van Wilder, I'm not that graphic. I'll push the B/R content standards envelope. But rectal itch? Foul...
(3) There's some irony for you: That even in the Raiders' highlight, Davis still made financial decisions that scared the bejesus out of the rest of the league.
(4) And arguing Jackson's case for our unofficial "Bad Ass of the '80s Award," it's rumored that Jackson, writhing on the turf and juggling his immediate and distant futures, wrenched his dislocated hip back into place. According to an interview with Untold magazine, a concerned Royals' teammate, George Brett, said he asked the Raiders' trainer what had happened, to which the trainer responded:
"Bo says he felt his hip come out of the socket, so he popped it back in."
No no -- that's not even it!
Wait for it...
"But that's just impossible, no one's that strong."
WR Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers (2009)
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The "Salty that His Foot Exploded and Draft Stock (and Earnings Potential) Plummeted" Holdout
Ahh, the Swag-tree.
You saw this coming from a mile away.
Some of it was beyond his control. That Crabtree developed a stress fracture in his foot -- the origins of which are disputed; Crabtree says it was an old and unproblematic ailment, while doctors (you know, the ones with those silly plaques from Johns Hopkins and other "Mrs." degree factories) insisted the wound was fresh -- certainly wasn't his fault. Nor, truthfully, was that he fell to No. 10 overall in the 2009 draft.
And you definitely can't put Al Davis' glut for on-the-hoof players without a shred of football talent on Crabtree. Even if he saw Darious Heyward-Bey's No. 7 pick a mile away like the rest of us, Crabtree's preparation couldn't mitigate frustration.
He was pissed. We get that.
How he flew off the deep end, though, was totally on him. The 71-day hissyfit; the unrealistic contract demands; the infantile jealousy of the higher wage Heyward-Bey was institutionally entitled to -- hard to deflect that.
Honestly, you would've been more understanding if he did. If Crabtree blamed the world. If he challenged the system. If he argued that talent, not draft order,, should dictate your guaranteed millions.
But he didn't. It was a flippant, unapologetic stiffing to the team and machine.
And probably one of the most contentious in history.
See, the difference between Crabtree's holdout and, say Bo Jackson's with Tampa Bay and, if you want to count them, Eli Manning's and John Elway's respective whining, was that the 49ers expected him to play.
The rest didn't of their prized picks. Jackson bolted for baseball. Manning and Elway forced trades. And so, the guise of possibility never existed. The players were written off like bad debts expenses.
But with Crabtree, it dragged out forever. There were threats that he'd hold out all year -- or at least beyond November 17, when he'd be ineligible to participate and to accrue a year of service. Some were direct. Others through Deion Sanders.
The whole thing was a mess.
Hell, Crabtree even managed to bog the Jets. Eventually the subject of an NFL tampering probe they likely deserved, New York didn't coerce or entrap him into communications. They called, he answered -- both fully aware of the rules they disregarded.
And both were conscionable.
In the end -- October 7, 2009 -- Crabtree caved, agreeing to a six-year, $32 million deal with $17 guaranteed. Wasn't Heyward-Bey's $23 million guaranteed, but it was $8 million more than San Francisco's initial offer.
Sounds more like Sheenian #winning than the conventional connotation, though...
(1) That's interesting to note: Atrocious as the former No. 1 overall pick of 2005 has been, he's also gotten the longest shaft this side of David Carr. Perpetually changing system. Shaky ownership. The albatross of Nate Clements' $80 million deal.
Like water in a drain -- with a grinder.
We'll see how he does this year under Jim Harbaugh, but barring a tweet breaking Malcolm Floyd's 49er number, Smith's window closed.
CB Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (2010)
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The "Poster Child of Media Constructed Holdouts" Holdout
You know the term, "in a vacuum"?
Like, "In a vacuum, all of the Philadelphia Eagles' signings were brilliant in and of themselves. Question is whether they, and the team, jell." (1)
Consider this your lesson.
In a vaccum, the Darrelle Revis holdout really wouldn't have been all that memorable.
OK: The guy sat out for 35 days, racked $578,305 in fines and dipped the whole 2010 preseason.
But in a lot of ways, it was pretty cookie cut -- which to me says "forgettable."
It followed the life cycle of your quintessential holdout pretty closely: Player wanted money (Revis). Team didn't have it (the Jets). He pulled the plug on his "best cornerback in football" services. They fumed.
Pretty straight forward, right?
Well it would have been, if not for the splendors of HBO programming.
If you remember, that was the season "Hard Knocks" chronicled New York's training camp, oozing with Rex Ryan's profanities, Woody Johnson's questionable acquisitions, Antonio Cromartie's unselective amnesia (2) -- everything Jets fans loved to love.
For the rest of us, the subplot was great theatre. Johnson and Ryan and Mike Tanenbaum shuffling to and from obscure New Jersey diners, cameras aimed like SWAT team red dots, everyone scrambling and near-losing their minds over developments the Jets wouldn't release!
Man... What a great summer.
Again: Unless you had a vested interest in the defense continuing its impermeability, which was somewhat in jeopardy. Still had Ryan's scheme. Still had the vast majority of the 2009 AFC Championship-losing roster.
But talk about a cog. Well, I'll spare you. You know Revis' 2009 stats against Andre Johnson, Terrell Owens (twice), Chad Ochocinco (twice) and the rest. How he singlehandedly vaulted an above-average team with even higher-flight coaching to another stratosphere. How he carried the half of the ball that carried the other half of the ball.
And if you don't I just told you. (3)
So for obvious reasons, Jets fans hung on every word. Or bleeped out word. Or frame. Or whatever.
However you slice (or censor) it: They understood the stakes.
Then again, so did HBO.
Accidentally or not -- you lean toward not, given that Revis' long-anticipated holdout was the icing on a TV golden angel food cake of Ryan's first year as coach, and all the controversial signings that undoubtedly made the Jets as appealing a target as any -- the network stumbled on a ratings smorgasbord.
Seriously: This was like the Nielsen Golden Corral.
And HBO stuffed its face. Appealing to both the die-hards and casual fans (of football and/or the Jets, specifically), the production crew covered every speckle of action and presented it in a way anybody could understand. Not only did it optimize its opportunity to clean up in the ratings, but you could argue that HBO reeled in countless viewers and converted them into true fans of the team and league.
Fine and good, that fan inflection still doesn't describe the voracity of the holdout.
Which, truthfully, wasn't much -- though you'd never know.
Given the visibility and framing of a million-dollar premium channel network, the series somewhat magnified the intensity of Revis' holdout. Barbs were accentuated. Offer-counteroffer tensions mildly overblown.
It wasn't puffery, or the egregious falsity of Joe Millionaire. (4) But it unarguably hyped what was a pretty tepid standoff.
Not anybody's fault, just reality.
Given that Revis didn't miss a single regular season snap (which he said he would), was rewarded with a four-year, $46 million deal and $32 guaranteed (which the team said it wouldn't), and exploded in celebration -- he tweeted "I'm coming home baby!!! Revis Island. Let's Go" hours after signing -- it's pretty clear that no bridges were burned.
Still -- and here's where this erodes into a "perception vs. reality" debate -- it was believed to be somewhat salty, more so than normal.
And for that, it earns mention on this list.
(1) Can't wait for the ADD-stricken Eagles fans to blow up the comment box. I know, I know -- pretty sinister, baiting them into rage with an arbitrary usage of "in a vacuum." Too easy, though. Too easy...
(2) Look: We know eight rugrats is a lot to track. And we're not judging Cromartie for having the sexual discretion of a gerbil. But when said factors align like the stars of priceless, accidental humor in the reality TV sky, we're going to laugh. Hard. Sorry. (Expect for, I'm not.)
(3) I know, I know -- thoughtful guy, right?
(4) I might've been the only person on the planet to have caught it, but producers on the show absolutely doctored the audio from one off-in-the-woods wandering between Joe and one of his (insert somewhat derogatory term to describe promiscuous females, and rhymes with "Joe"). You can clearly tell that the slurp noise, a half-second
WR Joey Galloway, Seattle Seahawks (1999)
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The "If Only Anybody Cared, Or Cared Enough to Care" Holdout
When this one first came to mind, I thought, "Can you imagine? Not only did Joey Galloway steam over not getting Robert Ferguson money (hilarious) but Mike Holmgren paid that former Packers wide receiver (1) $5 million!!"
Until, of course, my shoulder angel hollered at my conscience to fact-check. So I did...
And found that it was Antonio Freeman, who, if only for that it prompted timeless Al Michaels broadcasting brilliance, was worth every penny.
Whatever the Packer, Freeman still set the market for Galloway, largely considered (or supposed to be considered) one of the most threatening speedsters all-time. Then the 1999 season rolled around.
One-hundred-and-one days later, Galloway reported to Seattle's facilities. Problem was, that was Week 8, and he'd already irreparably severed ties with the organization.
This might be considered one of the "Lost Holdouts" if there ever were, given the obscurity of Seattle sports and Galloway's similar unimportance. Shame. This was one of the saltiest holdouts ever.
If only people knew. Or cared. Or cared to know, and then care.
(1) Yep. I've conditioned myself to think in inorganic, journalisty structure. Not a gift. A curse.
OT Walter Jones, Seahawks (2002-04)
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The "Unmistakably Altered the Business Model of the Game" and "Felt so Nice I Did it Thrice" Holdouts
I almost forgot too.
But lo and behold, the gentlest giant in the damp and miserable northwest succumbed to a sliver of greed, too.
Well, that's not fair. It was more his distaste for the franchise tag, the latest and largest stumbling block in this past collective bargaining bout. And if Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins can sit out a whole season and spearhead a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, potentially compromising football for selfishness' sake, then damn it, so can Jones!
Except for, he did it three times. In three separate preseasons.
Though, you wonder why the organization hadn't learned, after slapping Jones with the tag in 2002 and 2003.
Though still, you consider how the hell Jones landed in three consecutive Pro Bowls, including and culminating with the 2004 game that followed another training camp-less go-round for Jones.
In the end, Jones got his cash: the sweet, crisp, inky scent of a seven-year, $52.5 million deal.
And with that, the league got so much more. Because it could be argued that Jones, and this deal, singlehandedly altered the business model of football forever.
It's pretty well chronicled in Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side," so I won't delve too heavily into it to spare those of you who've read it, and to avoid the stench of plagarization. But to keep it simple, and somewhat original, the booming wages of the early 2000s clearly favored certain players over others.
Namely, the quarterback. Made sense, given that the league's transition from a predominantly grounded attack to its evolved, sophisticated aerial cousin climaxed around that time. And since the game more heavily valued the implements of tinkered west coast and tweaked run-and-shoot offenses, so too did its bankroll.
Needless to say, quarterbacks started earning more money.
Consequently, the guy designated to rip his face off (right 4-3 defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker, those rushing the "blind side" of the overwhelmingly right-handed quarterback) was paid at a similar premium.
Consequently the guy designated to deflect the guy designated to rip his quarterback's head off (Jones, a left tackle, assuming the same dominant hand) was paid in comparable excess.
And so you have the progression of football scheme and salary for the past 10 years. Thank you, Walter Jones, with honorable mentions Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace.
RB Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys (1993)
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The "Even Nice Guys Hold Out?" Hold Out
I didn't remember this as it happened, only to find out a few years ago. Given that I was four years old when Smith rushed for 1,700-plus yards toward a Super Bowl, I was only five when Smith decided that his $465,000 base salary was laughable enough to ignite a holdout.
And, truthfully, it was. Don't need a first-person, real-time look to see that Smith, the two-time defending rushing champ, and No. 1 rushing touchdown-getter (18) entering the 1993 league year, deserved more money.
Still, finding out the gory details took me aback. I knew Smith had missed games, but didn't realize the venom readily flowing between he and then- and always-Cowboy owner Jerry Jones.
Jones offered $13.4 million. Smith threatened to clean out his locker.
Jones plugged in up-and-comer-turned-never Derrick Lassic. He bombed, carrying 35 times for 127 yards in two losses, one a national television embarrassment compliments of the Washington Redskins on a Monday night season-opener.
Jones scrambled, bumping the overall figure only marginally to $13.5 million, but with $7 million in upfront monies.
Smith signed, 48 days later.
And, of course, three-peated as rushing champ (1,486 yds, 5.3 yds/rush, 9 TDs)
The relationship doesn't seem irreparably strained, but was taut for a long and uncomfortable while.
I don't blame him, nor, truthfully, do I anyone else. I may agree or not, but generally tend to stay out of it -- the course of action of nearly every NFL player to don a helmet.
Not going to dip my hand in someone else's pocket.
Still, this was a mild disillusionment for me. Smith was my idol. (1) Not only was he underwhelming in nearly athletic metric -- which as an undersized white boy I could totally relate to -- but his brilliance was the largely unnoticed, blue-collar duty that didn't hang on innate talents.
Not only was it unglamorous, but you had to learn it. Pass blocking and third-down backing wouldn't be schematically devalued if the traits were inherent, like, open-field vision. But you wouldn't appreciate players' effort to polish those crafts -- especially when most backs at the time didn't -- if it was as natural as an organic shoe-tying technique (2).
Plus, for me, it showed that I could pad my value as a player. i just had to work for it -- something I was more-than-willing to do. By simply drilling pass blocking technique until my fingers broke and legs buckled, I could prove an effective running back in isolated situations.
But this was deeper than that.
Smith: The Player, offered countless applicable lessons: Diligence. Unselfishness. Confidence, even cockiness at sparing times.
Those translate in the classroom or board room. And by fractionalizing the player from person, I could hedge against disappointment of finding out stars -- not Smith per se, but your generic star of choice -- bury their faces in nose candy, or beat women, or fly off the deep end in alcohol-infused, self-destructive binges.
That's what I did with Smith, yet was still shaken some by brushing up on some details.
Kind of like pet-owning: You know coming in that you'll inevitably have to bury your furry or scaly or winged friend eventually. Yet you deal, realizing that it's the take in a relationship with so much give.
With fandom, you will be disappointed by your favorite players. It's only a question of when, and how. Yet with the right approach, you can shield against that deflating some.
But only some. I learned that with Smith.
(1) As a player. Even at a young age, I was able to compartmentalize athletes as symbols, and their fleshy other halves.
(2) I contend that you're never taught how to tie your shoes. While some may have been shown, and said showing coincided with their first demonstration that they could tie their shoes, however clumsily and after a few hapless tries, that lesson only intervened in an inevitable realization. We would've figured it out. Really. It's not that hard. And while I totally appreciate the 27 hours it took my parents to teach me -- ADD is a... you know... -- it was completely unnecessary. I would've figured it out.
Omissions: Not Salty Enough for Mention
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DE Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants (2011) -- This one seems as train wrecky as a Saturday night out with Lindsay Lohan to binge drink and see Unstoppable. Osi wanted a new deal. The Giants didn't flinch. The Giants let him shop for trades. Nobody bit, and Osi channeled the resentment.
I'm pretty sure this will come closer to blows than Marvin Lewis and Chad Ochocinco, who flippantly (and probably ingenuinely) said he'd "whup [Marvin Lewis'] ass. Yikes.
Still, there's no resolution. While it has all the makings of hypertension-causing saltiness, it doesn't have an ending. We don't know whether Osi gets a deal. Whether he honors his commitment. Whether the Giants fire Coughlin (inevitable and unrelated to the Osi contract dispute), and his replacement is sympathetic to Osi's mere $7 million pocket lint of a deal that he should totally be upset and childish and unprofessional about, and caves.
We just don't know. So I can't give him mention.
DT Sean Gilbert, Washington Redskins (1997) -- If that parenthetical date had come between 1991 (when Gilbert was taken No. 3 overall by the Rams) and 1996 (the last year before his mid-life crisis-turned-Christian rebirth), it likely would've topped the list. It would've had all the makings of an awesomely bitter holdout: a.) touted player who b.) thought he outlived his contract but c.) wasn't as talented as his imaginary projection of himself and d.) loved all things illicit and mind-altering leading to e.) a season-long holdout.
But it wasn't. It came in 1997, when Gilbert had an epiphany and recalibrated his priorities. Instead of pouting and stammering off from volatile negotiating sessions, Gilbert just chilled in his Aliquippa, Pa. home. As a minister. For a year.
Kind of that Ricky Williamsian conundrum: Is he crazy for walking away so casually? Or are we for deriding someone so patently unsuperficial?
Don't misunderstand: Dude got his money, a seven-year, $46 million deal. And made sure his nephew, Darrelle Revis, made bank too.
But you have to admire his perception football's expendability. Really.
G William Heffelfinger, Allegheny Athletic Association (1892) -- Would love to glorify the first contractual beef in recorded history, save for a few problems.
I'm pretty sure I'd be forever dubbed a fraud, a quick-witted yet resourceful regurgitator of Googled information. In other words: You'd know I had no idea what the hell I was talking about, until 30 after before my assignment editor plugged me on this project.
And, truthfully, I could live with that. If the good people of B/R's readership choose to believe my historical familiarity is shallower than a puddle of Paris Hilton, that's their prerogative -- something I won't let bother me, especially when, in this isolated case, it's 100 percent true. I had no idea who the hell Heffelfinger was until 30 seconds after my assignment editor plugged me on this project.
Problem, though, is that would carry over. First it would be an allusion to Heffelfinger's demands -- doubling his salary a whole $250 (1) in exchange for dropping his amateur status. Next it would be Emmitt Smith stumbling his way to the all-time rushing title against Seattle, something I vividly remember despite being the ripe age of, like, 10-years-old.
Before you know it, people would think I actually didn't watch any games, football, baseball or otherwise, and simply clicked my way to understanding whenever I wrote, spoked or dreamt about sports.
Can't have that. Just can't...
WR Terrell Owens, Philadelphia Eagles (2004) -- While it might be one of the most iconic holdouts in NFL history, the holdout, in and of itself, wasn't what severed ties between T.O. and the Eagles. That was the same boisterousness that wore on every franchise of the seven zillion he played for.
In other words: The holdout was a symptom, not the disease. The underlying ailment, the essence of wide receiver diva in caricature form, was more to blame for the collapsed bridges that have left T.O. stranded on a coarse, free agent island with no sign of rescue.
So while I will bow to the fabulous lunacy and paraphrasing of Latrell Spreewell when Owens said he needed to "feed my family," I can't give this outstanding mention.
TE Keith Jackson, Miami Dolphins (1995) -- Threatened to hold out all year. Stood firm for 91 days. Forced a trade to the Packers. Fortified the Packers' Super Bowl chops.
But does anybody under the age of 40 really remember Keith Jackson? Or his holdout?
Or Chris Berman's goofy imitation of the same-named broadcasting great every time Jackson made a highlight (which was pretty often for a short while, namely his 10-touchdown and Brett Favre-coddling 1997 season and Super Bowl win)?
Eh... Not salty enough for a history lesson...
(1) The Consumer Price Index can't actually correlate 1892 dollars into 2011 value. Yeah, your great-great-great-grandmother born the same year is that old.