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Honor your contract, ex-pro advises football stars

By Phil Elderkin / February 9, 1981



Riverside, Calif.

Les Richter, an All-Pro for seven of his nine years in the National Football League (1954-1962) with the Los Angeles Rams, is angry at modern-day players who sign lucrative contracts and then 12 months later want to renegotiate for more money.

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"If a player enters into a deal with a club owner in good faith, then he ought to keep it," said Richter, who left the pros in 1962 to become general manager of Riverside International Raceway and later the auto track's president.During his Rams' career, Les played guard or center on offense and linebacker on defense, seldom logging fewer than 50 minutes a game.

"I think part of the problem with our country today is that too many people aren't living up to their obligations," Richter continued. "This constant business of 'I've got to get mine first' is wrong and has to stop. Otherwise, professional football and everything else in our society that requires honesty and integrity will suffer."

Asked about the physical and mental abilities of today's players as compared with those of his time, Les replied:

"I still watch the Rams at home several times a year with friends, and I make it a point to bring my binoculars so that I can study players' faces and game situations up close. Well, today's player is bigger, stronger, faster, better conditioned, and generally superior to most of us who played 20 to 25 years ago.

"What I often don't find on their faces is the fun we used to have -- the togetherness, the pride, the discipline, the concern we had for each other. Most of the time these guys don't even look like they want to play football. My feeling is that during the week too many of them carried their business problems onto the practice field."

Richter, a two-time All-America at the University of California at Berkely and twice a Rose Bowl Star, was the No. 1 pick of the short-lived Dallas Texans franchise in the 1952 NFL draft.

Those were the days just after the NFL had absorbed some teams from the old All- America Conference and was sorting everything out. Seventeen well-heeled Texans had bought the two-year-old New York Yanks franchise at the end of the previous season and moved it to Dallas.

The Texans saw in Richter the 240 pounds of mobile concrete around which they could build their team, and they offered him a one-year contract for $5,000, plus a $500 bonus for signing. When he asked for $5,500, negotiations broke off , and the LA Rams traded 11 players to Dallas for the rights to Les, still a National Football League record.

After two years in the Army, Richter signed with Los Angeles for $7,500 plus a $500 bonus. The Rams played him both ways, made him their field goal and extra point Kicker, and even used him to sign tackle Merlin Olsen. That is, after most of the team's brass had tried and failed.

"On Christmas Eve in 1961 I got a telephone call from one of the Ram owners, Ed Pauley, asking me to fly up to Palo Alto on his private jet to see Olsen, our No 1. draft choice," Richter recalled. "Merlin was up there practicing for the East-West Shrine game and was refusing to talk with anyone from the Rams' front office.

"My kids were small then and I still had a swing set and a tricycle to put together, so you can imagine my wife's reaction," he continued. "But Pauley was insistent and had been good to me, and so I went, but not before assuring my wife that I'd be back in time to complete both jobs.

"When I landed in Palo Alto, several members of the front office met me, mostly to tell me to start Merlin off with a low figure and under no circumstances to go over $25,000 which was $5,000 more than I was making at the time.

Richter located Olsen and learned that he was anything but happy with the Rams, who he felt had been harassing him with their "sign immediately" tactics. Merlin also had an offer from Denver of the American Football League, and by now was thoroughly confused.

"My pitch to Olsen was that he should sign with the NFL because it was the established league and that the Rams would start him at $25,000 a season, plus a bonus equal to one year's salary," Les said. "I guess my direct approach, plus the fact that John Ralston [Olsen's coach at Utah State] had been a teammate and friend of mine at Cal helped him make up his mind.

Since checking out Riverside International Raceway in 1959 for former Ram owners Pauley and Fred Levy as a possible real estate development, Richter has popularized and perhaps invented the 25- hour day. On the strength of Les's written recommendation, Pauley and Levy, along with comedian Bob Hope, bought into this corporation, eventually offering its general manager post for Richter.

Since then, Richter has considered leaving Riverside just once. That was back in 1965 when university officials at CalBerkeley offered him the twin positions of athletic director and head football coach. But in the end he decided to stay put.

Under Les's leadership, Riverside has become one of the nation's most active race car tracks, with four network TV shows scheduled to be filmed there in 1981 . The facility sprawls over more than 500 acres, has a long track of 3.2 miles; a short track of 2.5 miles; plus a 1,420-yard drag strip. It features six major races each season and is open 47 weekends a year for some form of motorcar competition.