Eye on leBron


Even though I work at the Pro Football Hall of Fame I am a big fan of the NBA. Living in Northeast Ohio all of my life, I have always had a strong allegiance to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Like most Cavs fans, I too am waiting with baited breath for the free agency decision of LeBron James and whether he will stay with his hometown team or begin anew with a different franchise. James is reportedly planning to announce the team with which he will sign during a one-hour television special Thursday night.

The whole scenario reminds me of when the NFL last had a free agent that garnered the attention of the entire pro football world, defensive end Reggie White. Following the 1992 NFL Season the NFL settled on a variety of player lawsuits and signed a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. This resulted in the league’s current free agent structure. Up until that time, the NFL had somewhat of a minor-league version of free agency with what was called Plan B free agency.

White was the most coveted player among the 298 players who were suddenly free to shop their services around the league. At that time, White had just finished his eighth season with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL after a two-year stint in the United States Football League. If he had retired at the time, he arguably would already have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  

His resume of football accomplishments made every team salivate at the chance of obtaining him: a first-team All-Pro selection seven times, seven Pro Bowl selections, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year award recipient, and two-time NFL sack champion. Incredibly, he had recorded more sacks (124) than games played (121) while with the Eagles.

In March of 1993, White began what was known as the “Reggie White Tour Across America.” Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell whisked Reggie and his wife Sara to Cleveland on a private jet and lavished them with stretch limos, a stay at Ritz-Carlton and enough flowers to fill the largest floral shop in Ohio. The Browns went even so far as present White’s wife with a $900 leather coat.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Same Wyche dangled an all-expense paid trip to Disney World for White’s entire family.  Jerry Glanville, the coach for the Atlanta Falcons, promised White could have his picture taken while sitting in the Governor of Georgia’s chair. At the same time, Falcons cornerback Deion Sanders offered to buy him a church if he signed with Atlanta.

Thousands of nervous Eagles fans held a rally in Philadelphia to plead their case to the “Minister of Defense” to stay with the team. When a TV reporter sent a tape to White showing the Eagles fans chanting “Reggie, don’t go,” at the gathering it brought tears to White’s eyes.

Finally on April 8, after weeks of speculation and sales pitches from nearly half the league, White shocked the football world when he signed a four-year, $17 million deal with the Green Bay Packers. Although the Packers had struggled in recent seasons, White was impressed with the team’s young core of talent (namely quarterback Brett Favre) and the team’s head coach, Mike Holmgren.

White’s decision had Packers’ fans feeling “Super” again. The team and the city were able to cash in on the euphoria just a few years later when White helped lead the Packers to a championship in Super Bowl XXXI.

Only time will tell what the affects of LeBron’s free agency decision will be. I personally have my fingers crossed that he stays with Cleveland.  I am curious, however, to know if there will ever be a free agent in the NFL that ever gets as much attention as James and White.  Who’s your guess among today’s young stars?

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