Totally dumbfounded and smelling a hoax, I yelled for Keala to turn up the volume and to keep her eye on the TV, not telling her why.
Ten seconds later, Keala screamed so loud it startled our sleeping infant son, who wailed uncontrollably causing my parents to come running into the room worried something had happened to the baby.
Mel Kiper was recapping various teams' selections when up popped the St. Louis Cardinals 1986 Draft Class on the screen:
1. Anthony Bell, LB, Michigan State
2. John Lee, K, UCLA
3. Gene Chilton, OG, Texas
4. Carl Carter, CB, Texas Tech
5. Jeff Tupper, DT, Oklahoma
7. Eric Swanson, WR, Tennessee
8. Ray Brown, OG, Arkansas State
9. Kurt Kafentzis, DB, Hawaii
10. Vai Sikahema, RB, BYU
What ensued was complete and utter pandemonium. Chaos. Insanity. I tried to quiet everyone down by waving my arm, as I still had Mr. Wilson on the phone, who I learned later was a Hall of Fame safety who played at Utah. My mother and Keala were crying, our son was screaming and my dad just stood staring at the TV, motionless. I couldn't make sense of any of it.
"Vai, welcome to the St. Louis Football Cardinals," Wilson continued. "You're going to get every opportunity to make our football team. Let me introduce you to our new football coach, Gene Stallings."
My mind was still reeling when I heard a deep, baritone voice with a distinctly Texas drawl say, "Son, how do you say your name? Is it VAL?"
"Hi Coach. No, it's Vai, rhymes with MY."
He informed me that the team would send a plane ticket for a mini-camp in early May and surprised me by asking if my ticket should be sent to my Provo address or my parents' Arizona address. I didn't ask how he got both. I learned in St. Louis that they knew a lot about me ?— team doctors somehow knew that the scar on my right shoulder was from falling out of a landscaping truck when I was 16. BYU didn't even know that.
The most immediate need was hiring an agent. After the draft, I was bombarded with calls but I chose a man from the Bay Area named John Maloney, who represented a bunch of other BYU guys.
In the summer of 1986, we had two major expenses — a $134 monthly car payment for a Dodge Omni and $280 monthly rent for our Provo apartment — utilities included. That was it!
I learned that as a 10th rounder, I was "slotted," meaning my value was predetermined based on the "slot" where I was drafted. In other words, I had ZERO leverage. In retrospect, I could've negotiated my own contract with a simple, "Thank you sir, where do I sign?"
My signing bonus turned out to be $12,000, which after taxes was just under $8,000. I had never seen a comma on a check before. Though we had nothing, we didn't cash it for a few days because we just held it and stared at it.
Years later, I was in a workout group in Phoenix that included the A's great right-handed pitcher Dave Stewart, who told us a great story about their Hall of Fame leadoff hitter, Ricky Henderson. Ricky had just received a $1-million signing bonus when it was rare. Months passed and the team's accounting department called Rickey and told him if he'd lost his check they could cancel and reissue another, but they were worried his signing bonus hadn't come through the bank. Only then did they learn Henderson was so proud of it, he had it framed and hanging prominently in his den.
In a weird way, I kind of understood the absurdity of that story, though I would never see a million-dollar bonus check. Still, that $8,000 dollar check might as well have been a million. We paid our tithing, the agent's fee and then paid off the Dodge Omni. We kept the rest in the bank just in case I didn't make the team and we'd have money for fall semester.
Turned out, we never returned to BYU.
Next week, I'll give you an inside look at how the business of the NFL works — the extent the league goes to protect its image, the product and its players. I'll tell you how contracts work and you may be surprised at what players don't know about the process of being an NFL player.
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