Wilson's Suit Seeks Super Bowl Ring
BALTIMORE - When the boys at the Chesapeake Center, a Baltimore school for troubled youth, look at 6-foot-3-inch, 227-pound Wayne Wilson, they see success.
Wilson, 31, who was a running back for nine years in the National Football League, drives to his job as a counselor at the school in a maroon BMW, complete with car phone. He has nice clothes and a stylish townhouse in Owings Mills.
One thing Wilson doesn't have, but believes he deserves, is a Super Bowl ring.
He is trying to change that with a $2.2 million lawsuit in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
In a suit he filed against the Washington Redskins last July in Montgomery County, Md., but recently transferred to his home turf in Baltimore County, Wilson claims that the Redskins failed to follow through on a promise to award him a ring from their 1988 Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.
Although Wilson played in games only during that season's players' strike, he was kept on team's injured reserve roster throughout the season.
Wilson claims that the team committed breach of promise, age discrimination and negligent misrepresentation by not awarding him a 10-karat gold, diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring, which his suit calls ``a unique good, unavailable on the open market.''
``To me, it's a capping of my whole career,'' Wilson said. Over nine years with the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and Redskins, Wilson gained 2,400 career yards on 660 carries.
His case is complicated by the fact that he broke from the players' union and crossed the picket line Oct. 6, 1987, to play for the Redskins' replacement team.
Wilson played in the Redskins' 38-12 win over the New York Giants, then the defending Super Bowl champions, Oct. 11, 1987. He rushed for 56 yards, caught two passes and had two touchdowns as the leading scorer that day.
In the afterglow of that victory, news accounts noted that Wilson, who had played with Redskin running back George Rogers for several years in New Orleans, had agonized over his decision to cross the picket line.
``I said, `I don't want there to be any problem with our friendship,''' Wilson was quoted Oct. 12 in The Evening Sun. ``(Rogers) said, `I guarantee there won't be.' ''
The next week, while playing against Dallas, Wilson injured his knee, ending his season.
Because he was injured, Wilson could not be released along with the rest of the replacement players when the regular Redskins returned Oct. 19, 1987.
Wilson maintains that he was kept and encouraged to rehabilitate his knee in preparation for the Redskin minicamp the following May, when players test their strength in preparation for the season.
It was just before that minicamp, four months after the Redskins defeated the Broncos, 42-10, in Super Bowl XXII, that Coach Joe Gibbs asked Wilson to retire, Wilson says.
``I was getting ready to take my treadmill test, when one of the assistants told me Coach Gibbs wanted to see me in his office,'' Wilson recalled. ``He told me he wanted me to retire. I told him I didn't want to retire, that I could make the team.''
According to Wilson, Gibbs ordered Wilson to retire or be released. Wilson refused. Gibbs then told Wilson at that meeting he wouldn't be getting a Super Bowl ring, either.
The lawsuit charges that later, in letters from Gibbs and Redskin President Jack Kent Cooke, the club said Wilson would not get a Super Bowl ring because of a long-standing policy to deny rings to players not activated for regular season games.
But the suit notes that Mark Rypien, a backup that year who has since become the team's starting quarterback, received a ring, even though he was never activated nor played in any games. Wilson also claims that another replacement player, Albert Reese, received a ring even though he never played in any games.
Also, then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle declared the strike games to be counted as regular games, maintains Wilson and his lawyer, Fred H. Silverstein.
Dick Maxwell, an NFL spokesman, said this week that the three replacement games counted as part of the official records of the 1987 season.
In answering the suit, lawyers from Hogan and Hartson, the prestigious Washington law firm retained by the Redskins, contend that Wilson should have filed for arbitration in the matter, but didn't. Lawyers Robert B. Cave and Emily E. Moskowitz added that the 45-day period in which Wilson could file an arbitration complaint has long since expired.
``He probably should have gotten the ring, but he obviously should have taken advantage of the arbitration process,'' says Stan White, a neutral observer and former Baltimore Colt player who has spoken with Wilson about the dispute. White is now an executive for the Baltimore Blast soccer team.
Wilson says that he did contact the NFL Players Association immediately after the incident with Gibbs, but was told - wrongly, he now believes - that he should have filed within 45 days of the Super Bowl and that his only remedy would be to file a civil suit.
``They were like, you know, `strike player,' '' Wilson recalled. ``They weren't going to go out of their way to help me.''
The Redskins' lawyers did not return several telephone calls. Team spokesman Charlie Dayton said ``since that's under litigation, we can't comment on it.''
Wilson and his lawyer said the Redskins have offered to let Wilson go to arbitration, but have insisted that it be with the NFL commissioner, rather than an objective third party.
The NFL commissioner could not be objective, because NFL owners hire the commissioner, Silverstein said.
As both sides await a court date, probably no earlier than September, Wilson continues his work as a recreation counselor at the Chesapeake Center, a school for delinquents.
He plays basketball and football with the teen-agers, shows them films of his days in pro football and generally tries to keep them out of trouble.
Often, said Derrick Raikes, Wilson's boss at the school, Wilson will call the homes of kids who don't show up for school to find out what's wrong. ``He'll drive out there and pick them up, if they don't have a good reason,'' Raikes said.
``We have kids here who have been in trouble with the law,'' he said. ``They need role models. They can see he has achieved a nice life without selling drugs.''
Larry, 16, a student since September at Chesapeake, admits to liking Wilson a lot. ``I've got a football card with his picture on it,'' he says. ``He's like a best friend.''
Wilson, for his part, wonders why the Redskins have been so determined not to give him a ring.
Maxwell, the NFL spokesman, said the Redskins were given 90 Super Bowl rings at $3,000 each, but can order additional rings at their own cost. Wilson could not order his own ring.
``It's not a matter of them giving in to me,'' Wilson said. ``It's a matter of them doing the right thing.''
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