Because the Baltimore Colts wouldn't pay Jerry Richardson another $250 in a contract dispute, he quietly walked off into football retirement. A door closed, another opened, which led to the creation of a momentous success story that may be gloriously culminated with ownership of his own team.
Instead of arguing with Colt management for more money in 1961, Richardson returned to Spartanburg, S.C., to operate a Hardee's franchise. Now, 30 years later, he owns 483 Hardee's Restaurants, 992 Denny's restaurants, 304 Denny's franchise outlets, 212 Quincy's Family Steakhouses, 114 El Pollo Loco Restaurants and the Canteen Corp.
At last count, Richardson had 108,000 employees nationwide. In an enormous twist of irony, he's leading the effort to bring a National Football League expansion club to Charlotte, N.C., and, thus, is competing against Baltimore, where he played for the Colts in 1959 and 1960.
For the next season, 1961, he wanted a $10,000 contract. But the late Don Kellett, general manager of the Colts, wouldn't go any higher than $9,750. It was a final offer, and a difference of only $20.83 for each of the 12 games.
"I wanted to reach $10,000 and believed I was worth it," Richardson recalls. "But Kellett held firm. It became a matter of principal with me. So I went home and got lucky."
Richardson had invested the $4,696.44 he received for playing in the NFL title game of 1959 (the only one ever held in Baltimore) and used it to buy part-ownership of a Hardee's outlet in Spartanburg, where he had gone to school, and played football, at Wofford College.
The Colts, even though Richardson was in training camp, wouldn't exceed $9,750 for the "swing" end behind Raymond Berry and Jim Mutscheller. Instead, they traded
him to the New York Giants but, after a brief visit to their camp, Richardson went home.
Little did he realize it was the first step toward building a vast financial empire that is now listed as TW Services on the New York Stock Exchange. "I remember when I went to the Giants, coach Weeb Ewbank told me I'd be back but it didn't work out that way," Jerry says.
Richardson, a 13th-round draft pick, signed with the Colts for a bonus of $750. and a salary of $7,500 in 1959. He was one of only three rookies (Alex Hawkins and Lewis the others) to make the squad that won the NFL crown the year before.
"I certainly didn't object to playing behind Raymond and Jim, two outstanding ends and perfect gentlemen," says Jerry. "They were considerate of me, a kid from a small school like Wofford.
"After two years with the Colts, I felt if I was going to be in that role I deserved a higher salary. Back then $10,000 wasn't considered too demanding, and it was bothersome when the Colts offered $9,750 but wouldn't go for the other $250. That upset me."
Richardson didn't leave with any disturbing words -- only his feelings were damaged -- as he went off to earn his first million. He didn't need football.
But right now he does. Richardson began charting a course in 1987 to bring an NFL club to the Carolinas. The team will
be based in Charlotte, with Richardson using his own money to build a $150 million stadium near the center of the city.
A former Colts coach, Mike McCormack, serves as a special adviser on football matters and it's a foregone conclusion that Berry, if available, will be his coach . . . providing the Carolina bid connects.
The Richardson proposal is exciting in concept and, as the respected head of a franchise, he would give the NFL something it once had with George Halas and the Chicago Bears -- a former player who became an owner.
It may never have moved this far along if he wouldn't have quit over the difference of $250 -- when the Colts made it a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.
He opted then to travel on and has never looked back. The rest of the football saga of Jerry Richardson, 30 years later, is still to be fulfilled.