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.)