Bob Lurtsema spent 11 years in the NFL, but the defensive end became more famous for not playing than he did for anything he did on the field. His nickname, "Benchwarmer Bob," made him a fan favorite during six years with the Minnesota Vikings and was later the namesake for a chain of Twin Cities restaurants.
It also meant that Lurtsema took nowhere near the in-game toll that some of his Vikings teammates did in the 1970s. Now, he says, football doesn't owe him anything. Still, Lurtema added his name to the list of plaintiffs in the class-action suit against the NFL out of support for former teammates such as Carl Eller, who for years has been at odds with the league over marketing revenue for retired players, and Wally Hilgenberg, whom doctors believe died in 2008 from the repetitive brain trauma that accumulated during his 16 years in the league.
Now that the retired players have settled with the NFL, to the tune of $765 million, Lurtsema said the money needs to get to the right places -- to the families of players such as Hilgenberg and to new research programs Lurtsema hopes can mitigate the impact of brain trauma on future players.
"That's why you have to have a board that can direct where the money goes," Lurtsema said. "That's a hard call. It's a very hard call. They've got to have a strict board to set up the rules."
Lurtsema estimates that about 20 of his former teammates were involved in the lawsuit, but he's not of the opinion that the money should be split equally among the plaintiffs. Preference, he said, should be given to those players who "helped create the pot of gold" -- the ones who put in more time in the league or have suffered more injury from the game. He also is interested in new research such as the brain-imaging work he's taken part in with California doctor Daniel Amen, who believes he can help retired players improve brain function and reverse concussion symptoms through a strict treatment protocol.
While many believed the players could have gotten more from the NFL, the money is certainly significant enough to do some good. The key now, Lurtsema said, is to be responsible with it.
"I want the money to go to the people who really, truly need it," Lurtsema said.