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What Might NIL Have Looked Like in the Past? Here Are Some Deals That Could Have Been

Since the NCAA is now allowing college athletes to earn money using their own names, images and likenesses, social media has been awash in former players pondering how much money they would have earned in their day. So in the name of good-natured fun, here is a short list of deals that could’ve been made.

1. Jim Brown (Syracuse): With the former UPS slogan “What can brown do for you?” who better to represent the delivery company than a running back named Brown who delivered in three sports: football, basketball and lacrosse.

2. Joe Namath (Alabama): The possibilities would’ve been endless for this charismatic superstar. Given the long-standing connection between Coach Bear Bryant, Alabama and Golden Flake potato chips, the flaky goodness of those chips was a perfect match for the flaky greatness of Namath.

3. Brian Bosworth (Oklahoma): With his fiery personality, mullet haircuts and outspoken media presence, Bosworth was a household name while he was in college. Given his white Corvette with a personalized license plate “The Boz,” a Corvette commercial seems like a natural. But this Harley Davidson slogan probably fits “The Boz” better than any other endorsement contract: “American by birth. Rebel by choice.”

4. Todd Blackledge (Penn State): With Blackledge at QB, Penn State’s offense marked a major milestone by becoming the first team in college football history to win the national title by passing for more yards than they gained on the ground. In an era when passing the ball through air was feared by almost every coach, Blackledge could’ve been the face of United Airlines urging us all to “Fly the friendly skies.”

5. Jim Thorpe (Carlisle): Jim Thorpe still ranks as one of the great athletes and college football players of all time. In his playing days, teams traveled by trains and so Thorpe could’ve promoted the Pennsylvania Railroad. With Thorpe’s running style the PRR slogan “Forward all along the line” would’ve worked well.

6. Red Grange (Illinois):  Grange’s national presence and colorful nicknames (“The Wheaton Iceman”/“The Galloping Ghost”) to attract advertisers would’ve made for big paydays. Given his work experience delivering ice, “The Wheaton Iceman” could’ve pitched an icy cold Coca-Cola.

7. Dick Butkus (Illinois): Keeping it within the Illini family, linebacker Dick Butkus was a fortress for the Illinois defense. Prudential Insurance’s logo was the rock of Gibraltar, and their slogan was “Get a piece of the rock.” Butkus was far more than just a piece of the rock.

8. Doug Flutie (Boston College): Endorsements often pile in right after a moment that captures the nation’s attention. Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass to beat Miami was one of those moments. FedEx would pitch his ability to deliver on that play “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” 

9. Archie Griffin (Ohio State): The only two-time Heisman Trophy winner was playing around the time BMW launched its slogan “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Who better to represent speed and power and the ultimate driving machine than a returning Heisman Trophy winner entering his senior year?

10. Orlando Pace (Ohio State): Given his size and proclivity for flattening defenders on “pancake” blocks, the International House of Pancakes would’ve been a natural. However, Wendy’s, based in the Columbus area, may have revived their “Where’s the beef?” slogan for Pace given his strength and size. 

11. Charles Woodson (Michigan): The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner was able to capture the attention of the college football world because he played both offense and defense for the Wolverines. His endorsement match? “Visa: It’s everywhere you want to be” because he played wherever his coaches wanted him to be.  

12. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma): After a big win in Columbus, Mayfield created a national stir when he planted the Oklahoma flag in the middle of the Ohio State Block O logo win. The next week Baker could’ve been wearing a New Era hat as a perfect match to their slogan, “Fly your own flag.”  

13. Raghib Ismail (Notre Dame): AKA “The Rocket,” Ismail was known for his speed, and shifty open-field running. An ad juxtaposing Ismail’s returns and change of direction with clips showing the speedy, precise handling of a Porsche would’ve worked well with the tagline “Porsche: There is no substitute.”

14. Bobby Engram (Penn State): The man who graduated as Penn State’s all-time leading receiver made more clutch catches to win big games than any receiver in school history. Bobby Engram and All State: “You’re in good hands.”

15. The Selmon Brothers (Oklahoma): Lucious, Dewey and Lee Roy Selmon were all feared, hard-hitting All-American defenders at OU. A commercial showing the family “business” of “connecting” with ball carriers could’ve led to an AT&T deal using their famous slogan “Reach out and touch someone.”

16. Lenny Moore (Penn State): Moore was known as “The Reading Rambler” and was one of the nation’s most versatile players. About the same time “The Rambler” automobile with “Airflyte” styling was introduced. Who better to pitch that car than the Reading Rambler himself, a running back known not only for his running and receiving but also his unique style, spatting his shoes long before anyone else? 

17. Billy Cannon (LSU): Cannon’s legendary Halloween night punt return to beat Ole Miss was a moment for the ages. It would’ve made a good ad for Louisiana Power and Light, with Canon’s electrifying return as the centerpiece of the ad.

18. Vince Young (Texas): With Young’s graceful running style and the massive agricultural economy in Texas, a John Deere tractor ad would’ve been perfect. Because as we all know from their ads, “Nothing runs like a Deere.” 

19. Tim Tebow (Florida): Was anyone ever more cut out in college to be on a Wheaties box than Tim Tebow? And given his success winning titles, Tebow could truly represent “The Breakfast of Champions.”

20. Bo Jackson (Auburn): Even in college Jackson was a legend in both football and baseball. With the baseball diamond as his backdrop, Bo Jackson and American Express: “Don’t leave home without it.”

21. Ron Dayne (Wisconsin): Dayne ended his Badger career as college football’s all-time leading rusher and also had not one but TWO 2,000 yard seasons. So team him up with the U.S. Postal Service, because both Ron and the USPS could say; “We deliver for you.”

22. Earl Campbell (Texas): Campbell was one of college football’s most punishing running backs, sending many an opponent to the trainer with soreness and aches. In the 1970s, the clear front runner to relieve soreness was Ben-Gay. With the slogan “Feel Better with Ben-Gay,” Campbell could’ve recommended that product to consumers (and to all future opponents).

23. Marcus Mariota (Oregon): This Hawaiian native strikes a deal with King’s Hawaiian bread… from one sweet Hawaiian King to another.

24. Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart (USC): These two had an incredible run together at USC and were a national phenomenon. Given their SoCal roots and their high-scoring offense they could’ve pitched the speedy goodness of In-N-Out Burger.  

25. Shane Conlan (Penn State): With a long line of big game performances, no one at Linebacker U stands taller than Shane Conlan. As a true throwback, Conlan and the Big Mac would’ve been a great match. And given the way he was revered, the McDonald’s tagline “I’m lovin’ it” fit his play perfectly. 

26. Deion Sanders (Florida State): With the nickname “Prime Time” there would have been limitless opportunities for Sanders. Omaha Steaks’ “USDA Prime” label could’ve used Sanders to pitch any occasion with Omaha Steaks as “Prime Time.” 

27. Forrest Gump (Alabama): Yes, he is a fictional character, but one can’t help but wonder what Nike would’ve done combining their “Just do it” slogan with “Run, Forrest, run.” 

But the world of could’ve and would’ve is now a reality for this generation of college athletes. The future of college athletics may never be the same.