I was drafted No. 1 by the Bears and No. 1 by the Houston Oilers of the American Football League in the 1961 draft. The Oilers said they would make me an offer as soon as I got back from the Hula Bowl. First, I went to the East-West Shirine Game in San Francisco, where Joe Kuharich was one of the coaches. Fido Murphy was there, driving us crazy. He was an old scout who used to work for Halas ... This was at the start of the NFL-AFL signing wars. We had to sneak out windows to get away from him.
Coming back from the Hula Bowl [in Hawaii], I was supposed to have a flight straight to Pittsburgh out of San Francisco. When I got to San Francisco, Kuharich had changed tickets on me and I went to Chicago. In Chicago, I had to change planes and get on a plane to Pittsburgh. When I changed planes, the guy beside me was George Allen. He was [George] Halas's assistant in charge of the draft. He introduced himself, came to the house, and started talking money. He called Mr. Halas on the phone and I talked to him. He offered me $12,000.
"Biggest contract we've ever paid since Red Grange," Halas told me, which was an out-and-out lie. He said he would give me a $6,000 bonus. I said to my dad, "What do you think?" He said, "That's a lot of money. You work a long time to get that kind of money."
I never really had a choice because I was going to play in the NFL. That was definite. I was going to find out if I could play in the league if I was going to play. Houston had flown me up to Boston for a game between the Oilers and Patriots. When I was in New York for the Look All-American team, Oilers' owner Bud Adams had given me three 100-dollar bills and said, "Have a good time in New York." That was a lot of money then. When I left New York and went back to Pittsburgh, I still had those three 100-dollar bills. I gave them to my mother because that was more important than spending them.
I signed the contract with the Bears and I met with Houston the next day and never told them I'd signed. The Oilers offered me a two-year deal for $50,000 and I had signed a one-year deal for $18,000. The Oilers probably could have offered me $100,000 and I still would have gone with the Bears. I was trapped. Had to make the best of it. I liked Allen. We always got along. He was just doing what Mr. Halas wanted him to do - sign me to a low contract.
I never had an agent, never in my whole life. ... It was exciting to negotiate your own contract. You negotiated face-to-face and you got embarrassed. Halas embarrassed you. Ripped you apart. After I signed my first contract for $12,000 plus the $6000 bonus, I made rookie of the year and all-pro. I came back and he offered me $14,000.
I said, "Coach, you're making a mistake. I made $18,000 last year. You're giving me a $4,000 cut."
He said, "How do you figure you made $18,000?"
I said, "12 and 6 is 18."
"Well," he said, "The 6 was a bonus, remember? The bonus doesn't count."
We went through the whole thing, back and forth. Finally, I said, "Look, I won't sign for a penny less than $18,000."
He said, "O.K., sign right here."
He had me. Anyway, I was a Bear. ...
My first impression of Halas was tremendous respect. I was 21 when I came into the league and this guy coaching me was 66. But you didn't know that. I never thought he was 66 when I saw him as a rookie. No way. The guy was a bundle of energy. I just assumed he was in his 50s. Here they tell you in society you can't work over 65 and he won a championship when he was 68 and he should have won another when he was 70 in 1965. My first impression wasn't awe, but it was tremendous respect. I don't think the respect ever left even though we bantered and argued. ...