About 20 former NFL players from as far as St. Petersburg, with retirement dates ranging from before the first Super Bowl to this July, met to establish the Central Florida Chapter of the NFL Alumni Association (NFLAA) Thursday night, Oct. 23, at Windermere Town Hall.
After a catered meal with fine wine, Mike Attardi, the meeting host and a developmental-squad kicker for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1991 and 1992, explained the ideas behind the formation of this chapter.
“We’re going to connect and join with the alumni in Tampa—that’s why we’re calling it the Central Florida Chapter, not Orlando,” Attardi said.
In addition to this discussion of the group’s purpose, alumni voted more than a dozen people to the chapter’s executive board and board of directors. Windermere Police Chief Dave Ogden became a member of the board of directors, and Robert Smith, the town manager, became the chapter’s treasurer. Both said they were interested in the association because of the charitable opportunities to help people in need.
Clifton Smith, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie kick and punt returner with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, shared that desire to improve communities.
“The things I did in Tampa Bay out in the community outweigh what I did on the field,” said Clifton Smith, who scored two long return touchdowns and was among the top five in yards per kick and punt returns in 2008. “That’s what I live for. I won the Buccaneers’ Man of the Year Award and was up for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, a (league-wide) finalist. I’m here to make sure everybody who doesn’t have has.”
Smith played his last NFL game in 2010 and moved to the Canadian Football League, like many other players on hand, including Seneca McMillan, a cornerback for the 2002 Green Bay Packers who helped Attardi organize the meeting.
“A lot of us felt like, after football, we were left for dead,” said McMillan, who became the chapter’s vice president. “It’s one of few careers where your salary goes from (its peak) to (bottom) quickly. If we can attach ourselves to this (NFL logo) again, find a way to use our voices and shake the right hands, we can move mountains.”
Two of those mountains are the NFLAA and NFL Players Association, said Attardi, who became president of the chapter.
“We’re bridging the gap between NFL Alumni and NFL Players Association,” he said. “We want to join together and work out how we can survive. We need to throw away the politics. We need to reach out to the active players more and get them involved.”
Because the players association is a union, it cannot do certain charitable tasks the alumni can as an organization classified as a charity since 1977, 10 years after its genesis, Attardi said.
“The NFL and NFLPA like to do it with bigger charities,” he said. “You have your United Way, which has been a charity the NFL owners picked. They’ve been doing that for many years. A lot of players have a problem with only 10 cents of a dollar going towards helping anyone, and a lot of it goes to salaries and paying off bills. I understand there’s a lot of costs in doing charity work, but 10 cents on the dollar? I think we can do a lot better.”
Attardi said he wanted to stress the association’s motto since 1967: “Caring for Kids and Caring for Our Own.”
CARING FOR KIDS
“We want to touch people that are local,” he said. “There are families here that really need our help. That’s what I want our organization to do.”
Gary Knafelc, a tight end who won NFL Championships with Vince Lombardi’s Packers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, shared his experience with charitable events benefiting families in his time as vice president of the alumni’s Green Bay chapter.
“All of the chapters of the United States have the Super Bowl of Golf,” Knafelc said. “Every team that qualifies gets four days, all expenses paid, including golf and gifts. You get a ring like a Super Bowl ring if you win. You get to play with alumni from all over the country. The money generated from that comes back 150%, and the friends you make are lifelong.”
Knafelc said for the last 35 years, charity golf outings had generated at least $150,000 per year, with every available golfing slot occupied.
“It’s all because of this (NFL) logo,” he said. “We have only lost two vendors in 35 years, only because their presidents died. Our vendors have all increased their profits 20% every year. The people have to know where the money is going. Ours is all documented for all the charities we go to.”
Other charitable events the Green Bay chapter has hosted include a skeet shoot involving 550 people, a fishing event and auctions, Knafelc said. Attardi said the Central Florida chapter would partake in the Super Bowl of Golf, look for opportunities to connect with children and try to arrange deals with local businesses in the form of alumni discounts for charitable appearances at their locations. An example of such an exchange would be an event at a local steakhouse in January, Attardi said.
CARING FOR THEIR OWN
Attardi also went through a long list of resources for former NFL players. Attending alumni received information on many contacts for any issues they might encounter, such as financial, domestic, marital, psychological, healthcare, fitness and nutritional, including a hotline any former player can call anytime for help or advice on anything. Attardi said it would be important for each former NFL player to be aware of the opportunities and services available to them, especially in times of need. Many of the services apply even to players who never practiced with a team, as long as they signed an NFL contract.
“The NFL started the Transitional Assistance Program,” Attardi said. “It’s to enlighten the current and ex players to get them to understand what their benefits are, to explain the new NFL trust, and to help guys with the transition to life after football.”
Some retired players succeeded tremendously outside football, such as Lee Paige, who played three games with the Buccaneers as a defensive back in 1987 before becoming a DEA agent for decades. Allen Trammel, a Windermere resident, played for the Houston Oilers as a returner for three games in 1966 before suffering a career-ending knee injury.
But more recent retirees sought advice in how to transition to a different career or finish their education.
“I have a degree in early education and a passion for young kids, showing them the way,” said James Lee, who played on the Buccaneers’ offensive line for 19 games between 2008 and 2011 and won a Grey Cup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders last year before retiring this July. “We can share the stories we’ve went through to help somebody in some kind of way. But I’m also looking for jobs.”
Attardi said former players could use resources available exclusively to them to help them complete their education and find work.
Walter Briggs, a quarterback for the 1987 New York Jets, firmly expressed his desire for help with his wife’s ALS. As part of the resources available to alumni, Briggs could receive thousands of dollars each year to aid his wife and an ALS charity he created in her honor.
For more, visit www.NFLalumni.org.