Speaking from Sacramento, where his team, the Surge, will play the London Monarchs today in the first sold-out game in World League of American Football history, Shawn Knight says he's not in it for the money.
Or for the helmetcam; or the neon uniforms; or the chance to see Europe; or the rare opportunity to have two rookie cards in one professional football career."This has been kind of like my own little self-improvement seminar," Knight, four seasons removed from his playing days at Brigham Young, says of his involvement with the first-year WLAF. "I'm pretty typical of the guy in this league. Everybody came in from about the same situation. They'd been released from one NFL camp or another. They came here trying to get some good film time. So they could show what they've got. Everybody can play. Everybody was a star in college. They've got a million excuses why they didn't make it in the NFL. They had bad timing, or they had to beat out an all-pro, or the money was wrong. Lots of reasons."
For Knight, who was released from the Minnesota Vikings training camp last fall after three seasons in the NFL that included stops in New Orleans, Denver and St. Louis, spring football in the WLAF has allowed him to get his own good film time. As we speak, action videotapes of the Surge's outstanding defensive end are making their way to NFL film rooms.
Knight, the anchor of Sacramento's defense, isn't hard to find on the tapes. Nor are the rest of the Surge, whose uniforms, like the rest of the teams in the WLAF, are hip and colorful. "But our green isn't like Orlando's green, which is kind of a lime green," says Knight with disdain. "Our green is kind of turquoise green, in contrast to our bright yellow. You can see us coming a mile away."
The Surge have had a rough year, record-wise. They take a 2-6 mark into
today's game with the Monarchs, the league leaders with an 8-0 mark and the chief reason the 23,000 seats in Sacramento's Hughes Stadium were sold out ahead of kickoff.
"We're the team that finds every way to lose," says Knight. "We've been in two overtimes. With the exception of one game, all our losses have been by a touchdown or less."
Still, that hasn't stopped Knight from having a good season personally, or from being included in this spring's first edition of ProSet's World League series of football trading cards. Knight's card is a rookie card, but, then, every player in the league is a rookie. He also had a rookie card in 1986, the year he signed out of BYU with the NFL's Saints.
"You might want to hang on to this one," he says of his WLAF card, "they might be worth something someday."
That is contingent on the World League staying in business, and on Knight staying in business, although not necessarily in the WLAF.
"I've heard a few things from the NFL," he says, "But I really don't want
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to get into that yet."
First, he's got the last two games of the Surge's season to get out of the way, including today's game with London and next week's regular season finale in Frankfurt, Germany. That game will be the Surge's first European road trip of the season. "I've heard a lot of weird stories about playing over there," says Knight, "but all we've seen so far is the United States."
All told, he'll make about $27,500 for his WLAF season. "There's a base league salary of $20,000," Knight explains, "and you can make another $7,500 in incentives. I guess that's not a bad amount of money for 15 weeks' work, but, still, for the pounding you take, you better enjoy it."
For his $27,500 he has not been required to wear the league's innovative helmetcam, a camera-in-a-helmet device that gets the WLAF good film time on the 11 o'clock news. "Mostly just quarterbacks wear them," says Knight. "If they put one in my helmet all it would show on most plays is me staring into the eyes of some offensive lineman."
If his self-improvement seminar pays off, Knight will be back in the NFL this fall, looking at drab uniforms, quarterbacks without helmetcams, no games in Frankfurt, and a salary increase that would raise him about 14 tax brackets. If it means two seasons this year, Knight says he can handle that. "I'd have a month or so to rest the joints," says Knight, "and I'm still young." A rookie, as a matter of fact.