A few years ago, during the run-up to the Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots, the Times' Bill Plaschke wrote a memorable column about how the Rams had snubbed fullback Ollie Matson and his contributions to the team. In 1959, L.A. Rams' general manager Pete Rozelle had acquired Matson, a future Hall of Famer, in a blockbuster nine-for-one trade (a trade that, by the numbers, didn't work out for either party). After his playing career, Matson and his family settled in L.A.
At the time of the article (in 2002), Plaschke noted that Matson's memory was fading. Now comes word, via the Houston Chronicle, that Matson (now in his 70s) is in a nursing home in L.A. and suffering from dementia and other ailments.
The Chronicle's article is not just about Matson. It details the outrage that many pre-1977 players feel about the NFL's pension and insurance benefits for such players. In protest, former Rams' defensive end Deacon Jones and other Hall of Famers now snub the annual HoF ceremonies in Canton.
From the article:
At the heart of the loosely organized Hall of Fame boycott is the NFL's subpar pension plan for players who began their careers before 1977, when federal courts ruled the league was violating anti-trust laws.
Many players consider it hypocritical to support the NFL's annual [Hal of Fame] tribute to the past. In their minds, it is more style than substance. The NFL, many former players believe, has forgotten the past and the players who lifted the game to unprecedented heights.
"Until this (stuff) gets right, I can't do that. I can't go there and smile," Deacon Jones said. "My conscience beats me to death.
"It hurts. I'm in the Hall of Fame. My recognition will go on forever, and I've done all right (financially). But there are a lot of guys who put a lot into this game, and it seems like the league just rolled on past them, doing nothing for them."
And, from a related article:
"We've been (left out) on every hand," said Deacon Jones, an eight-time Pro Bowl player in 14 NFL seasons for the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins. "I don't know why we are the victims all the time. We didn't do anything but play hard, play hurt and do whatever was asked of us.
"Every event I go to, I see some guys' bodies fading away. By the time something's done, these guys will be gone. It's like they're waiting for our generation to die out, so they don't have to answer these questions anymore."
The NFL built its $6 billion a year industry on the likes of Ollie Matson, Dick Butkus, Ted Hendricks and some 1,400 other pre-1977 players whose heroics are featured in grainy NFL Films productions. It was 1977 when the NFL was found to be violating antitrust laws, and benefits improved.
Matson, perhaps the league's first true superstar tailback and a Hall of Famer, has lived in a full-time nursing facility in Los Angeles the past two years, suffering from symptoms of dementia and other ailments. He receives $1,200 a month from the NFL pension plan, although Matson's investments post-NFL have kept the family from financial straits.
"These were the guys who put the NFL on the map and made it the game it is today," said Bruce Matson, Ollie's son and a Houston dentist and cosmetic surgeon. "What dad gets from the NFL, you couldn't even buy groceries with in L.A."