The assistant general manager of the National Football League's New York Giants displays a Western Mustangs helmet in his office.
Western grad Kevin Abrams, now in his sixth season as the Giants' primary negotiator for player contracts and salary cap guru, has a budget of $109 million and a 53-player roster to manage.
Yesterday, the 35-year-old Toronto native made good on his end of the deal to secure the head-gear -- travelling to his alma mater to speak to Mustangs athletic director Mike Lysko's sports law class.
"I played football in high school and I went out for the Mustangs once -- it was the year Larry Haylor was on sabbatical (1992) and Bob LaRose was head coach," Abrams said. "There were 12 other quarterbacks and I was 13th. But I loved football and I wanted to stay in the game."
That determination set in motion a series of unlikely events that led the Western philosophy major to his current job of attaching dollar figures to the pigskin talents of popular Giants such as Eli Manning, Michael Strahan, Jeremy Shockey and the just-retired Tiki Barber.
Starting out by helping coach high school kids in Toronto, Abrams went to Ohio University to study sports administration after being pointed in that direction by Blue Jays public relations kingpin Howard Starkman.
"I was like, 'You can go to school for this stuff?' " he said. "Ohio had a great alumni base in sports administration and that's how you got internships into professional sports."
Abrams got his foot in the door by landing a gig with the London (England) Monarchs of NFL Europe. The job didn't pay -- a major downfall to living in one of the world's most expensive cities -- but he had an aunt willing to offer lodging and food.
It was the first of many sports jobs that Abrams took where he had to sleep on the sofa of family or friends. He worked for the Buffalo Bills and was in Washington with the Redskins before a late-night phone call helped him luck into a job at the NFL management council looking over each contract that came in for approval and how it related to the collective bargaining agreement.
"An intern called looking for my boss and we just got to chatting and he told me about a job with the league office -- he said it was a lights-out internship but they never got applications because no one knew about it," Abrams said. "I was there and that's when the Giants called. They were one of the last teams in the league to hire someone to look after their salary cap and the job evolved from there.
"Really, the salary cap part of it is just one (Microsoft) Excel document and you have to make sure you don't go over the number. There's a lot of different aspects to the job."
Like picking the right mix of talent, making the contracts of the players work and scouting the future gridiron stars. Two years after joining New York, the Giants went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Baltimore Ravens. A naive Abrams expected that this sort of thing happened all the time.
"You don't realize how difficult it is to get there because 32 teams are giving everything just to make it and I thought, 'Oh well, we lost -- we'll be back next year'," he said. "I've always liked what Dan Marino said after he made the Super Bowl at a young age, not that I did what he did to get there. He said he wouldn't be able to appreciate what it meant to get there until he was older."
When it comes to free agents, Abrams feels fortunate because New York is an attractive destination. Still, there's a lot of hoops and ladders -- "trap doors,"he calls them to make the numbers work.
"My time at Western taught me to think analytically. They loved us when we were 6-2 and hated us when we started losing. An old boss told me losing is failure and winning is just relief."