In the latest chapter in quarterback Stan Gelbaugh's improbable success story, the World League of American Football made it easier for him to return to the NFL yesterday when it waived its buyout fee.
In return, Gelbaugh, the former Maryland quarterback who was the Most Valuable Player of the WLAF's first season, and the 27 other players affected by the provision will return to the WLAF next spring even if they make it in the NFL this fall.
Under the original WLAF rules, an NFL team interested in signing Gelbaugh would have had to pay the WLAF double his salary ($180,000) because he signed with the WLAF after Jan. 15. The rule was designed to encourage players to sign early with the WLAF.
Gelbaugh earned $25,000, the base salary for WLAF quarterbacks, but became the league's highest-paid player when he made $65,000 in bonuses for his standout season for a total of $90,000.
Although more than 70 WLAF players have signed with the NFL, none of them was among the 28 subject to the buyout provision. The NFL teams weren't interested in paying a buyout fee to sign a WLAF player because most of them were cut by NFL teams in the past.
Besides Gelbaugh, the players include Orlando's Byron Williams, who led the league with 11 touchdown receptions, defensive tackle Mike Ruth of Barcelona and quarterback Jeff Graham of the New York-New Jersey Knights.
"Now I get to see who [in the NFL] really is interested," Gelbaugh said.
Gelbaugh said it's still not automatic that he'll be in an NFL camp this summer. He said he only wants to sign with a team that will give him a real chance to make the club.
"It doesn't do any good to go to a camp to get cut. I'd be wasting my time," he said.
For example, he's ruled out the New England Patriots even though the team is unsettled at quarterback. That's because coach Dick McPherson told him he couldn't play at Syracuse when he was coming out of high school.
"If he didn't think I could play at Syracuse, he probably doesn't think I can play in New England," he said.
He also ruled out teams like the Seattle Seahawks, which drafted a quarterback (Dan McGwire) on the first round.
"There aren't many good situations," he said.
He's interested in the San Diego Chargers because he played for their quarterback coach, Ted Tollner, when he was at Buffalo. But the Chargers appear committed to their top three: Billy Joe Tolliver, John Friesz and Bob Gagliano.
The Dallas Cowboys are looking for someone to back up Troy Aikman, but they've got three players -- Babe Laufenberg, Cliff Stoudt and rookie Bill Musgrave -- fighting for it, and Gelbaugh doesn't know if he wants to go in as the fifth quarterback.
Gelbaugh said his best hope may be to wait and see if a team that suffers an injury during the exhibition season will be looking for a veteran later in camp.
Gelbaugh said he's looking at several other opportunities this fall if he doesn't sign. He may work as quarterback coach for his former Maryland teammate, Tony Edwards, at Watkins Mills High School in Montgomery County.
In any case, Gelbaugh is looking forward to returning to the WLAF next spring.
"One way or the other, I'm going back to the London Monarchs. I see that as a good thing," he said.
Gelbaugh signed late with the WLAF because he turned down the league's first offer last fall, uncertain that the league would make it. Gelbaugh thought his football-playing days were over.
After he was talked into giving it another shot by former Buffalo teammate Jim Haslet, who's with Sacramento, he was drafted by the Monarchs and became the surprise star of the first year and led the team to the first WLAF championship.