Money Matters - By Viktor Figeczki

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Backup Steelers center Chukky Okobi recently had the scare of his life. Following the diagnosis of a herniated disc in his neck, he was informed that his football playing days were likely over. Then, in the wake of surgery, he was told he could be back on the field as early as four weeks from now.

Chukky OkobiScares such as Okobi's are not uncommon. Every year, players on every team around the NFL suffer injuries that jeopardize their careers. What sets Okobi's case apart is that he has a plan for life after football - more specifically, a financial plan.

Okobi has engaged in a partnership with Daniel White, a former hockey pro, in the Pittsburgh car wash Autobathhouse. In a separate venture, he has invested in Woodson Motorsports, a motorcycle dealership in Fort Wayne, Ind., co-owned by former Steelers great Rod Woodson.

More players should take a leaf out of Okobi's book. With his financial future resting on a solid foundation, Okobi is free to make football decisions from, well, a football standpoint.

Sounds like reasoning even a 5-year-old can understand, right? Yet it is a stark contrast to what actually happens out there in NFL-land, where players leave contenders at the drop of a hat to sign with perennial bottomfeeders offering more money for their services.

It simply doesn't make sense.

The base salary of an NFL veteran is $650,000 per season. For rookies, the figure is $275,000. It's safe to say there is no such thing as a poor man in the NFL. If a player makes wise business decisions right from the beginning, even the "mere" $275,000 (minus tax) will go a long way.

Some will argue that 21-year-old kids suddenly earning a gazillion times more than their hardworking parents aren't exactly hot candidates to make wise business decisions. But if you can drink alcohol, operate a firearm, vote in a democratic election and father children at age 21, shouldn't you also be capable of hiring a financial advisor? Especially considering that you've attended an institution of higher learning?

For some reason, though, most players are determined to make enough money for 20 lifetimes solely via their athletic abilities and never lift a finger once they've retired.

The first problem with that is retirement is impossible at age 35. As former Redskins running back John "The Diesel" Riggins so eloquently put it "I'm bored, I'm broke and I'm back". He wouldn't have been broke if he'd followed the path of Chukky Okobi, but becoming bored is inevitable.

The second problem with trying to earn a tycoon's lifetime income in the space of 10 years is that players become greedy when negotiating a contract. Some use the "I-must-secure-the-future-of-my-family" line. Others make references to athletes playing the same position who are paid more. Neither argument holds water; no family is in desperate need of an additional "few" million dollars when they're already sitting atop an Everest of cash, and the second line of reasoning specifically admits that contracts are all about ego, not need.

The fact is big-name professional athletes, even considering the grueling mental and physical hardship they go through, are overcompensated for their services.

NBA player Kenny Anderson's statement to the media during the 1998-1999 lockout was: "I may have to sell a couple of my (eight) cars to make ends meet." Anderson later claimed to be joking.

And who can forget Terrell Owens' demands for a new contract only a year into his lucrative deal with the Philadelphia Eagles? I understand that T.O.'s ego is so large it needs its own Cadillac Escalade, but the wide receiver was already in a position to buy a dozen of the SUVs if he wished. So why the holdout? Why the desire to bleed every last cent out of the Eagles' salary cap when he clearly had a good thing going, riding the team to his first Super Bowl?

The list of cases where money has influenced football decisions is a mile long. Edgerrin James, for example, has given up all hope of ever winning a title by re-locating to Arizona from Indianapolis. In this year's draft, the Houston Texans passed on All-Universe running back Reggie Bush and selected the more signable defensive end Mario Williams (a wise move given the already-wealthy Bush's tasteless holdout in Katrina-struck New Orleans).

Football shouldn't be about money; football should be about football.

Deep down, every player knows this. Five years from now, when T.O. retires ringless, I bet he will gladly trade some of his millions for Hines Ward's ring and Super Bowl MVP status. Jerome Bettis, fortunately for the Steelers, listened to the voice of reason in time and took paycuts in both 2004 and 2005 to get some last shots at a championship - which, as everyone knows, paid off.

Money-hungry players whose pride compels them to demand the largest possible contract fail to understand that greatness isn't measured in numbers, whether those numbers be dollars, yards or TDs. The yardstick of greatness is the post-season. Just ask Terry Bradshaw how performances in the Super Bowl can affect your legacy and the place you occupy in the annals of football history.

Besides, as former Dallas safeties Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris (who are involved in the management of Energy Transfer Group), ex-Broncos running back Floyd Little (who owns a successful Ford dealership in the state of Washington), Chukky Okobi and numerous others can attest, there is money outside of the NFL. Especially for those with Super Bowl rings who can trade on their fame.

This, at long last, brings me to my real point. The Steelers are one of the few teams in the league who refuse to break the bank for any player (although Ben Roethlisberger could upset this trend). Keeping this in mind, and the readily available endorsement money on offer for someone who made a crucial interception in one of the most watched sporting contests in the world, Ike Taylor, please, for your own good and for the good of the team, don't get greedy. Don't be persuaded by your agent when your contract runs out at the end of the year, and don't let some team that belongs in the Mexican-B-league sign you away from Pittsburgh.

Money will find its way to you, one way or another.

You're a football player. Make football decisions.