As a University of Washington quarterback in the early 1990s, Mark Brunell cherished his three Rose Bowl rings. Today, despite having earned more than $75 million as a pro football player, the New York Jets backup quarterback is forced to sell his three bowl rings to pay off his debts.
The revered ex-Husky, whose story is told in today's Seattle Weekly cover story, is hardly the only wealthy pro athlete to go bust. But his is likely the largest bankruptcy ever among NFL players, based on a review of records.
"It doesn't seem like he was the guy this would happen to," says his friend and former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Rick Mirer. Adds Brunell's ex-Husky rival, Billy Joe Hobert, "I've gone through some of this, and I can understand how he feels."
As many as eight out of 10 onetime NFL players go bankrupt or suffer financial stress due to joblessness or divorce, according to some experts. And Ken Ruettgers, who counsels former pros on how to recover from losing it all, says "A lot of guys come to me so late and in such deep holes that it's hard to help them dig out."
To former Husky and NFL great Hugh McElhenny - who also declared bankruptcy after leaving the field - the problem is the fantasy life of today's pros.
"We were more realistic in my days," says the Pro Football Hall of Famer, who turns 83 this week. "I worked at a potato-chip company while I played for the 49ers!" That was in the 1950s: "We made five, six thousand a year, but you could live on it then," says Hurryin' Hugh. "Today they make millions. They're in another world."