Oldest LA Ram once played the game for free – literally

ben agajanian

One of sport’s most used clichés involves professional athletes qualifying their love for the game by stating that they would have played the game for free, usually uttered by those who made millions during their career.

But sometimes it’s just a figure of speech. The Los Angeles Times recently caught up with Ben Agajanian in Cathedral City, Calif., southeast of Palm Springs. Agajanian, who played for the Rams in 1953, is the oldest living Los Angeles Ram, at age 96.

Between 1945 and 1964 Agajanian played for 10 different clubs in three leagues (the National Football League, American Football League and All-America Football Conference). Among teams the Southern California native played for were the NFL champion 1956 New York Giants and 1961 Green Bay Packers.

Agajanian was called, in the jocular manner common to athletes years ago, “the Toeless Wonder” because while in college he’d lost four toes in an industrial accident; afterwards he was fitted with a special squared-off shoe that enabled him to continue kicking.

Agajanian played because he enjoyed it, and enjoyed being part of a team. ”Once anyone wanted me, that’s it, it doesn’t matter how much they paid me, I would be there,” he told the Times.

How much did he love playing? During the middle of the 1962 season, amid contract negotiations with the Oakland Raiders, Agajanian blurted out, “Aw, hell, I’ll just play for nothing.”

So the Raiders, being the Raiders, offered him nothing. Agajanian accepted.

He would play six games, living in the Long Beach area the entire time and joining the team every week just prior to kickoff. The five field goals he kicked for the Raiders during that spell remain most inexpensive in the history of professional football.

Today, Agajanian lives in an assisted-living home in Cathedral City but is still pretty sharp. Able to remember when the Rams were heralded as big shots in a town of big shot, he was excited to hear about the team’s recent announcement that they’ll be returning to Los Angeles, after 21 seasons in St. Louis.

If the Rams have any understanding of history, they’ll make sure Agajanian is on hand when they take the field for their first home game back in Los Angeles next season. And they’ll make sure he’s recognized and honored as the living link to pro football’s past that he is.

(Top: Ben Agajanian, kicking for the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference in 1947.)

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Falcons’ marketing department takes a short siesta

falcons graphic

It’s long been a running joke that football players are better known for brawn than brains. Apparently, the marketing department of at least one professional football team didn’t pay all that much attention in college, either.

The Atlanta Falcons will be in London this weekend to play the Detroit Lions, part of the National Football League’s effort to broaden its fan base.

To give Falcons fans an inside look at the team’s journey across the Atlantic, the club posted the above infographic detailing the travel schedule.

Someone’s lack of geography knowledge could have proven costly, as the graphic showed the team traveling first to Baltimore and then to somewhere in Spain, rather than London, which would have left them more than 900 miles south of Wembley Stadium.

Fortunately, the Falcons were alerted to the mistake and corrected the error, greatly diminishing chances that a group of extremely large, muscular and no doubt irate men would be left wandering the confines of Barcelona Airport.

(HT: Deadspin)

Death by football: Remembering a college friend 10 years later

justin Strzelczyk

It is not news to anyone who follows professional sports that the National Football League has some serious problems, including issues with domestic abuse, banned substances and players suffering debilitating and life-shortening injuries with all-too alarming frequency.

While this crisis seems to some a recent phenomenon, it’s not. The light has only been shined on it with greater intensity recently.

I remember when I got my first real inkling that something was wrong – really wrong – with professional football. It was perhaps 18 or 19 years ago, while watching a game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t remember who the Steelers were playing, but I do remember a specific play which was run toward the Steelers’ sideline, where Pittsburgh players not in the game were standing.

As one of the opposing players slowed up as he ran out of bounds at the end of the play, a Pittsburgh player standing along the sideline took the opportunity to deliver what in football parlance is known as a “forearm shiver,” clocking his opponent with a forearm to the head. As the opponent, not surprisingly, wasn’t expecting a blow, it had a powerful effect.

I remember the network catching the infraction and showing it again, and highlighting the culprit. It was Justin Strzelczyk, a grizzly bear of an offensive lineman. The incident was shocking not because of what happened – most every NFL game has cheap shots and late hits – but because of who committed the offense.

It stunned me because Strzelczyk, who I’d known in college, had been one of the most easygoing individuals I’d known during my time at the University of Maine. He may have been a 6-foot-6, 250-plus pound football player, but he was a genuinely good-natured guy.

I’d actually met him during his recruiting visit to Maine in 1986, when he was still a senior in high school. My dorm room was across the hall from that of one of the captains of the football team. Recruits are paired up with current team members when they visit campus and Strzelczyk spent the weekend of his recruiting visit across the hall, when he wasn’t out getting his first taste of college life.

That weekend, amid the beer, girls and good times of college, Strzelczyk was in hog heaven. I wasn’t surprised when he opted to attend Maine. We remained friends and would chat whenever we  bumped into each other on campus up until I graduated in 1988.

Strzelczyk continued to improve and was a starter and standout during the latter part of his career at Maine. The last time I saw him, ironically, was in April 1990. I’d gone back to Maine to visit some friends still in school and it happened to be the first day of that year’s NFL draft.

While walking on campus we saw each other and talked briefly; I asked him if he thought he’d be drafted. He replied that he hoped so, but he’d have to wait and see. He still had an easy way about him, despite the fact that he was hours away from learning what the future held for him.

In the end, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked him in the 11th round, No. 293 overall. Normally, 11th round draft choices don’t have much of chance of making it in the NFL, but Strzelczyk, who had size, aptitude and desire going for him, made the team.

Over the next nine seasons, Strzelczyk would play in 173 games for the Steelers, starting 75. He was versatile, starting at every position on the offensive line except center. He even played in Super Bowl XXX.

His career came to a close, as nearly all do in the NFL, because of an injury. He suffered a quadriceps tear during a game in 1998, and then was hurt the following year in bar fight. Finally, he suffered another injury during a celebrity hockey game in 2000 and was shortly afterward released by the Steelers.

Without football, Strzelczyk’s life seemed to come apart at the seams. He and his wife of eight years divorced in 2001; he was arrested for drinking and driving in 2003; and his behavior became increasingly erratic.

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Lobbyist will sell mother’s soul for fame, cash

burkman

So, what to make the Washington, DC, lobbyist interested in introducing legislation that would ban openly gay athletes from playing in the National Football League?

Last week lobbyist Jack Burkman released a draft text of what he has named “The American Decency Act of 2014,” which would not only ban openly gay athletes from playing earning a living in the NFL but would levy multi-million dollar fees on teams that dared to violate the act, were it to be enacted.

Initially, one might simply shrug off the announcement as the ranting of a publicity-seeking jackass.

Yes, it’s hard to believe someone who earns a living from political lobbying would stoop to such a low maneuver, but things like this have been known to happen.

Magnanimously, the bill would exempt teams that build separate locker facilities so that gay and straight players may shower apart. Ah, good. I was so hoping we would find some way to reintroduce Separate but Equal; it was such a hit the first time around.

“I truly believe NFL team owners and coaches do not want openly gay players on their teams because of the issues that will cause and I think they may tell you that if they answered honestly,” Burkman said in a press release. “The morals in this country have dropped so low that it’s sad that a bill like this is even needed.”

Fortunately, because Burkman is a lobbyist he cannot introduce legislation, which must be done by a member of Congress. He claims his proposal has the support of several members of Congress, however.

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