Working is Only Half of It, Getting Paid is the Other More Important Part...

Steve Young is a descendent of Brigham Young, who served as the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 to 1877. Brigham Young University is named after him and Steve Young is his Great-Great-Great Grandson. Brigham was married 27 times and had 56 children, so there's a lot of people with the surname Young related to Steve. Steve starred in football, baseball, and basketball at Greenwich High School in Connecticut, where he graduated in 1980. He went on to have a great career at BYU.  People originally joked, "Of course a descendent of Brigham Young gets to start at quarterback at BYU." But it was far from an act of nepotism. 

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During his senior year at BYU (1983), Young was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy (1,801-1172) to Nebraska RB Mike Rozier who gained 2,148 yards, averaged 7.8 yards per carry, with 29 TDs. Young had a pretty good year himself, completing 306 passes on 429 attempts (71.3%) for 3,902 yards, 33 TD passes, and a 168.5 Passer Efficiency Rating. He lead the NCAA in completions, completion percentage, passing yards, total yards, touchdown passes, touchdowns responsible for, passer efficiency rating, total yards per play, and he set school records. Young finished his three-year career at BYU 592-908 passing (65.2%), for 7,733 yards, with 56 TD passes, and a 149.8 Passer Efficiency Rating. In addition, he rushed for 1,084 yards on 269 carries, a 4.0 yard average with 18 touchdowns.

He was set to be the first overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft and received a $3.5 million offer from the Cincinnati Bengals, but it wasn't guaranteed. He would've received a $1 million signing bonus and $500,000 per year under a five-year contract, and there was a good chance he would've been Ken Andersen's backup, although the Bengals started the season with five straight losses, so you never know. Young was also selected in the first round (11th overall) in the USFL draft by the Los Angeles Express. Rozier signed with the Pittsburgh Maulers first overall and Reggie White (Tennessee) signed with the Memphis Showboats in the "Territorial Draft" which allowed teams to draft players from local colleges before they entered the regular draft. A year earlier, after winning the Heisman Trophy his junior year at Georgia, Herschel Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals, his deal paid $2 million upfront, plus $1 million bonuses in 1983 and 1984, a $1.25 million bonus in 1985, and a $750,000 loan for his investment portfolio. There was no shortage of legitimate football talent in the USFL and no shortage of cash to sign them

 In '84, J.William Oldenburg bought the Express and he and general manager Don Klosterman began assembling an outstanding core of young talent and they wanted Young to be their centerpiece and were willing to spare no expense to get him signed. 

Young was promised if he signed with the Express, his coach would be former Charger's All-Pro quarterback John Hadl, the same coach who worked with John Elway during his first year in the NFL. They put together a deal worth approximately $42 million, more than Elway got to sign with the Broncos after he threatened the Colts (the team that drafted him) that he'd play baseball if they didn't trade him to the Broncos. Young's contract proposal included $4 million upfront and base salaries of $200,000, $280,000, $330,000, and $400,000 for the four-year duration of the deal. Once the contract expired, Young wouldn't have further obligations to the team, but the Express would pay him the remaining $35+ million beginning when Young turned 28 right up until he was 65. It was a $42 million deal on paper, in reality, it was salary plus an annuity. 

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Oldenburg and Young at a Beverly Hills Hotel making it official

When Young was slow to accept the terms, during negotiations Oldenburg flipped out and began throwing hundred dollar bills at him. Then he started poking Young in the chest repeatedly until Young was angry enough he told him if he didn't stop he'd deck him… After tempers cooled, Young accepted the deal and it was announced in a Beverly Hills Hotel in what was one of the biggest pressers at the time.

Once the specifics of the deal were unveiled the press quickly nicknamed Young "The $40 Million Man", and when things didn't go right on the gridiron he heard it in spades from the fans. 

Young had a great year under the tutelage of Hadl, becoming the first professional quarterback to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 in a game. The Express was only a mediocre team but they finished 10-8 and made it into the Western Conference final where they lost to the Arizona Wranglers, 35-23. 

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Young looking to fire one downfield against the NJ Generals

Oldenburg was a colorful, self-described billionaire complete with the nickname, "Mr. Dynamite" who indulged in heavy drinking and made anyone's crazy uncle look mild-mannered and sane. The truth was he was far from a billionaire and his upscale California office was nothing but show. Oldenburg's company was hemorrhaging money, with much of his cash coming from a Savings and Loan he owned and from the purchase of a piece of property at a grossly inflated price, which he also owned.

Oldenburg failed to get fans to come out to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (capacity 90,000) and the Express played their home games in front of mostly empty seats. On June 30th, 1984, just weeks before the Summer Olympics were scheduled to start in the Coliseum, the Express beat the Michigan Panthers 27-21 in a playoff game in front of only 7,964 paying fans. It was a 24-yard game-winning touchdown run by Mel Gray, who broke his arm on the play, in the third overtime, that ended the longest professional American football game in history, 93 minutes 33 seconds. But even a historical playoff win wasn't enough to increase ticket sales, the people of Los Angeles were not interested in the Express.

It didn't take long before for some of his bad financial dealings and his hefty payroll caught up with Oldenburg and after his losses exceeded $15 million and he couldn't find a buyer for the Express, he had to surrender the team to the league, leaving the L.A. franchise ownerless and in a difficult spot financially.

By the start of the 1985 season, without ownership, things went sideways and off the rails quickly for the Express. At one point during training camp, after a bill went unpaid, the team was evicted from its hotel and the players were forced to room with each other. And because a $136 bill for water wasn't paid, they went without water for much of the camp. Young recounts, "I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but he (Oldenburg) got indicted for something. Ugh. Then it got crazy because there was no money for anything. And you take things for granted, like someone cutting the grass for practice. Or someone bringing the footballs. And they had to pick and choose who to pay… And that one Monday, the woman who was running payroll said,  'Hey if you’re gonna get paid, you gotta go to the bank.' And so there was this Cannonball Run from practice where the whole team’s in a different car trying to pass each other down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to get to the bank to be the first one to get their money…Some of the guys didn’t get paid, and they just quit playing. That was it. So, they were done. It was like, 'Oh, man, sorry you didn’t get paid…”

The team's bus driver refused to drive the team to their final home game, which had been moved to Los Angeles Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley, unless he was paid in advance. Young and the team trainer paid the bill.

During the last game of the season in Orlando, injuries had depleted the roster and without money for replacements, Young was forced to surrender his position under center in favor of a spot in the backfield. The Express lost their last 8 games and finished 3-15 in what would be the USFL's final season.

The "$40 Million Man", never collected on the big payday he was promised and when it came time for Young to fund the annuity with $900,000 or take close to a million in cash, he opted for the cash payout. He was lucky to settle with the Express for approximately $1.4 million before beginning his NFL career in Tampa with the Buccaneers. After being traded to the 49ers, he had a HOF career and is considered by many to be the best left-handed quarterback in NFL history.

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January 29, 1995, Young and the 49ers beat the Chargers 49-26 to win Super Bowl XXIX

I had a similar experience. No, I'm not a "$40 Million Man", but I did work at a Proprietary School as a Plumbing Instructor during parts of 2009 through 2012 and for a maverick owner who at times, couldn't make good on payroll. In addition to plumbing, there were classes for Oil Burner Techs and Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. With three classes running concurrently, it was a pretty lucrative business.

I was teaching full-time days, a couple of nights, some Saturday mornings, and Eddie, the school's director, and I were the only full-time employees who worked there day and night. Eddie was approaching 70 years old and he claimed he stayed fit doing door-jam pushups which he was more than willing to demonstrate. He was just under 6 feet tall, medium to heavy build, with short gray hair, thick black glasses and he wore a newsboy cap and a wool overcoat in winter months. We became friends but that didn't stop us from arguing about pizza and baseball. 

The owner was a licensed plumber, a little taller, much thinner, and a few years younger than Eddie. He wore jeans, flannel shirts, and suspenders. He had long, straight brown hair and he looked like a relic of the '60s. Occasionally he stopped in mid-day after a fast ride in his silver Porsche, usually to grab some cash that students paid their tuition with in order to receive a discount. I never totally trusted either one of them…

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Penelope Cruz as Mirtha Jung, indulges herself in "Blow" (2001)

When I started, I had 14-18 students in my day classes, which ran for 8 weeks. At the end, the owner and I presented the students with certificates at a make-shift graduation ceremony and I organized a celebratory "pizza and a movie" after it. One graduating class chose the movie "Blow" starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz and before the owner left I asked him if he wanted to stay for "pizza and a movie". When I told him the movie was "Blow" he laughed and said, "I used to buy Coke from George Jung back in the 70s". The guys laughed along with him, but he wasn't kidding… The movie's connection to plumbing? Jung's father was a self-employed plumber. And the lesson? If George, a Weymouth, Massachusetts native who was a football star in high school, had followed his dad into the plumbing industry and not become Pablo Escobar's right-hand man, he wouldn't have ended up in prison. Perfect. Educational. Movie!

The school was coasting along just fine until the government pulled the plug on the funding for job retraining and we lost a big chunk of the unemployed students who came to the school looking for a new career. Classes immediately shrunk to 8 students and eventually only 4, and it was then that the boss started showing up days late with the payroll and then stopped answering his phone when he didn't show at all. At one point, the Gas Company shut the gas and locked the meter and I had my entire class wearing their winter coats and hats in the classroom. It was so cold when we exhaled and our breath produced small clouds of condensation. There were 15 fish in a fish tank at the front of the class and I was fearful the tank would freeze overnight. I used the fish tank to introduce/teach the basic formula for gallons capacity of rectangular tanks (L" x W" x H" ÷ 231 = gallons) and then the formula for the weight of the water (gallons x 8.33 = pounds) . The tank was approximately 60" x 24" x 24" = 34,560 cubic inches ÷ 231 = 149.61 gallons x 8.33 = 1,246.25 pounds of water with no fish, gravel, filter, or decorations.

One concerned student donated a Pleco fish to keep the tank clean. Another brought in 20 guppies and all but one lasted less than ten minutes. The one surviving guppie was a strong swimmer and put up quite a battle, actually lasting a few days before he got sloppy and it cost him his life… 

That's about the time when nobody was feeding the fish or cleaning the tank but me. When I didn't work over the weekends the fish went hungry and on Monday morning there was always a "floater". The other fish became docile, I suppose they were wondering who was next. I scooped out the dead fish with a small net and tossed them in the wooded area behind the building, between the parking lot and the highway. I told Eddie the fish tank was a microcosm of the school, when all the fish were dead the school would close. He laughed…

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They looked harmless, but the aggressive one was a "Nasty Fucker"!

After several more fish died the tank turned into a battleground. There were two bright orange Parrotfish and one was the aggressor and the other spent most of its time racing away from the dominant one, hiding in the plastic shipwreck at the bottom of the tank where it couldn't be attacked. I actually disliked the aggressive Parrot and he didn't seem to get along with the other fish. When I'd scoop out some of the floaters, their eyes were missing and their bodies ripped apart. I knew it was him… Nasty fucker! 

Luckily, the boss borrowed some cash and got the gas turned back on in time to avoid tragedy in the tank. We had a similar experience with the electric company. Things weren't looking good. During one stretch I was in the hole for three weeks' pay. That's when I had to have a "Come to Jesus" with the boss. He said he was selling off his highly-valued stamp collection and an antique Studebaker, and he asked me if I knew any potential buyers for the car. Really? A fucking Studebaker! I figured at one point, if he couldn't pay me, I'd be driving the Studebaker home to a very unhappy wife…

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Probably a great weekend ride, but I needed my paycheck so I could pay my bills

One Friday afternoon, just after my day class ended, I said goodbye to Eddie and told him  I was heading to the bank to cash my check. He had just started giving a potential student a tour of the school and he looked back at me with an alarming expression. I got into my van, started it, and as I was backing up I had to brake suddenly to avoid backing into Eddie. I looked in my side mirror and saw the look of disappointment on the new student's face. Eddie had cut the tour short, jumped into his car, cut me off, and was trying to get to the bank before me. He knew a shortcut too and by getting there first, there was a good chance Eddie would get paid and I wouldn't. I drove to the bank fully expecting that Eddie's car would be parked and he'd already be inside cashing his check.

As I pulled into the bank parking lot I didn't see Eddie's car… I got out and I was only a few feet away from the entrance when Eddie sped into the parking lot wearing an angry red face. There must have been a delay on his route, maybe road construction, and I got there first. I had a wide smile on my face when I walked into the bank. There were 6 people in line in front of me and I was waiting for Eddie to come through the door with a story, but he didn't. As I moved up in the line, I saw his car in the drive-up. He was trying to cut me off again, get his check cashed before mine, and there was nothing I could do about it. The race was still on.

Eddie was in front of the drive-up window seconds before I got my call to the counter and the teller, who had attended the school before I started and was a friend of Eddie's, looked at me and said "One minute", then he opened the drive-up draw and pulled Eddie's check out. Eddie had won. His check was about to be cashed… 

Then in a complete reversal of fate, the teller put Eddie's stuff down and walked over to me and took my check. He started typing in the account number and I was licking my chops anticipating the payday and my sweet victory over Eddie. But then, the teller handed me back the check and said "I can't cash it." I said, "Why?" He said, "I can't tell you, bank policy." I said, "Can you cash Eddie's check?" He said, "I can't tell you, bank policy."… 

I left the bank and instead of walking directly to my van, I waited by the exit to the drive-up. When Eddie pulled through I motioned for him to stop and roll down his window, which he did. I asked him, "Did you get paid?". He replied, "Did you?". Not wanting to get into a standoff I said "No. Did you?" He said "No." and then sped away without saying another word…

It wasn't long after that that the school closed for good. I got all the money that was owed to me but not everyone else did. A month or so later another plumber was trying to reopen the school and he offered me a job. I met him there and when I walked in the first place I looked was over at the fish tank. The water was filthy and there was only one fish left in the smelly water… That "Nasty Fucker" had survived! His once-bright orange color had multiple white spots but I knew it wouldn't be long…

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I didn't take the job and the new school failed almost immediately and just as the last fish died. I was right, the fish tank had been a microcosm of the school and when all the fish were dead, the school closed. Treat your fish well, there might be more riding on it than you think…