Have Things changed for the pro athlete? Just ask Jack Squirek, an obscure Los Angeles Raiders linebacker who returned an interception for a touchdown in L.A.'s 38-9 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII and wound up frozen in time on SI's cover.
These days, out-of-the-blue Super Bowl heroes—see current Oakland Raiders Desmond Howard and Larry Brown—go on to big cars and big bucks, whether they've earned them or not. Squirek? "Gosh, I'm sort of embarrassed to say," he says. "I only got one deal, and it was $1,000 to sign autographs outside a store."
That was it? "Well, I was happy."
In truth, Squirek, now 38 and owner of a Cleveland-area janitorial service, received a lot more. Until that Super Bowl he was one of the NFL's faceless masses, a hard-working, soft-spoken kid in his second year out of Illinois who had spent most of his time backing up Matt Millen at inside linebacker. Then, with five seconds left in the first half and the Redskins deep in their own territory, Raiders linebacker coach Charlie Sumner sent Squirek in to shadow running back Joe Washington.
Skins quarterback Joe Theismann tossed a soft screen in Washington's direction. Squirek nonchalantly stepped in, grabbed the ball, strolled five yards to the end zone and held it high in the air—giving Los Angeles a 21-3 lead and SI a memorable image. "If I was an All-Pro, I would've made more money and probably would have played longer," he says, "but if you ask me what I'd rather have, an average career for a long time or a chance to make a play in the Super Bowl, I'd take the Super Bowl every time."
Longevity wasn't in the cards for Squirek. Seven months later, in a preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, his jaw was broken when Dolphins wideout Fernanza Burgess threw a vicious block on him. Squirek played the next two years despite severe headaches, an aftereffect of the hit. The Raiders cut him in 1986, and he retired soon after.
These days the ball he intercepted is on display in the family living room. So is a framed SI cover. "We'll watch a tape of the game about once a year," says Squirek, who, with his wife, Penny, has a son Jacob, 6, and a daughter Cassandra, 2. "My son is finally starting to understand football a bit. My having played is kind of thrilling to him. But it's weird—he probably thinks everyone's dad played football."
Precious few dads, though, have had that moment.