The absence of any real controversies around the Bears and Colts leading up to Super Bowl XLI made the plight of retired NFL players a huge story. Jerry Kramer's benefit auction was the topic of conversation heading into the weekend with papers, TV and radio across the country devoting space and time to the auction and the issue.
Reporters turned out in droves at a news conference headlined by Jerry Kramer and Mike Ditka. The two former rivals are banding together to try and raise money to help pension-shorted former football players now beset by expenses related to post-career medical issues.
Ditka issued some pointed criticism of the NFL's former commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, NFLPA boss Gene Upshaw and NFL owners for not bringing more attention to the issue.
Kramer recruited other retired players like Ditka to donate personal memorabilia to the auction and was rewarded with some exceptional pieces.
"We need the public's help; the players need your help," said Ditka. "This is a tremendous cause. I am asking that people pay a little bit more than they normally would, so we can put it in a fund to help these players in dire need. That's all we're asking. If you can get something you really want, whether it's an autograph, a picture, a ring, a helmet, pay a little extra. Remember who it's going to. It's going to the guys who started football. Not the guys who are making the money off it, the guys who started it. Visit JerryKramer.com bid on an auction item, or make a donation and help these guys out."
The auction features many one-of-a-kind items and experiences, such as Mike Ditka's 1975 NFC Championship ring, which had received a high bid of $7200 by early Monday morning, Joe DeLamielleure's gold bracelet given to him by OJ Simpson and aother autographed items and experiences. Retired and active players including Harry Carson, Willie Davis, Archie Manning and sons Eli & Peyton, Dwight Clark, Gale Sayers, Jan Stenerud, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Sam Huff, Lem Barney, Conrad Dobler, Don Shula, Marv Levy, Larry Csonka, Garo Yepremian and Mel Renfro have contributed.
"I decided to donate the gold bracelet OJ Simpson gave to me when he broke the rushing record," said Joe DeLamielleure. "It's got my number inscribed on it, OJ's individual and the team rushing records, and the phrase 'We did it, Juice.' This bracelet is very dear to me because I never won a Super Bowl ring; it carries the same kind of significance to me. This cause is extremely important, not just to me, but to many NFL legends as well."
Kramer founded the Gridiron Greats fund in order to assist retired players in dire need due to a lack of adequate disability and pension benefits. Pro Football Hall of Fame members Ditka, Willie Davis, Gale Sayers, Harry Carson, and Joe DeLamielleure are members of the GGAF Board of Directors.