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“I wish we could do football stuff instead of all this legal-beagle stuff. If we did this stuff when we were playing football, we’d kick their butt and take `em to the woodshed,” he said.

DeLamielleure, who blocked for O.J. Simpson with the Buffalo Bills during the 1970s as a six-time Pro Bowl pick over 13 NFL seasons, said the pension increases still aren’t enough. He and his wife of 40 years both work. They had four children, adopted two more and raised three others.

“We built this league for all these guys to have a good profession,” he said.

One problem retired players have had is a lack of unification of their agendas. There are several groups that exist to organize and serve former NFL players, including Eller’s Retired Players Association.

The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, for which DeLamielleure is an advisory committee member, is another group. It’s a nonprofit designed to provide financial assistance and coordinate social services for those ex-players in the direst of needs _ down to shelter, food and health care. Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk is one of the current players who’ve gotten involved.

Birk said he’s “not big into the legal battles” but he said he understands why Eller and his supporters are so fired up about the issues.

“When you feel like the game’s kind of turned its back on you, it’s tough,” Birk said. “I think that’s why you see a lot of the dirty laundry being aired. It’s an emotionally charged issue.”

Birk, a 14-year veteran, said he learned as he got older how critical post-career care can be given the physical toll the sport takes on the body. He said he was startled to hear some of the stories of struggling Hall of Fame players who had trouble paying their basic bills.

“I was like, `Wow, we’re not taking care of these guys?’” Birk said. “You start realizing you’re going to be retired someday. I think that’s the thing you try to convey to today’s players, but it’s really difficult to do. When you’re playing and you’re 23, 24 or 25, you think you’re bullet proof, but that’s not always the case. As soon as you’re retired it doesn’t matter how good you are and how many records you set.”


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