By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Taylor "reached under his desk and handed me a bundle of cash," Kutch remembers.
The wad of bills totaled $1,000. Kutch returned to Taylor's office the next day and he handed over an additional $10,000 in cash.
Because she was in such a bind, Kutch says, she accepted the money -- which was still tens of thousands of dollars less than what she was owed. But the under-the-table transaction made her uneasy.
"I got scared," she says. "I felt like suddenly I was in over my head."
Taylor has an explanation for the piles of cash stored in his desk drawer. He says they came from ticket sales. Unfortunately, he adds, the party was a bust. Taylor had projected that revenues from ticket and alcohol sales would exceed $200,000 on opening night alone. Instead, he says, receipts totaled less than $30,000.
Taylor says he knows that Cindy Kutch got stiffed. But he doesn't know for certain by how much. And he doesn't know who should pay. Only that it's not him.
"I don't personally owe her money," Taylor says. "I wasn't putting on a party. The NFLPA was putting on a party."
The NFLPA has worked hard to avoid any culpability, and has effectively stiff-armed Taylor and its Houston chapter.
Following the Super Bowl, the NFLPA decertified the Houston chapter's charter. In a letter dated October 8, 2004, the organization's assistant executive director, Douglas Allen, threatened to sue Taylor and rebuked him for engaging in "foolish and illegal behavior."
According to court documents, NFLPA attorneys say that Taylor misrepresented himself. They say they never granted him permission to represent the NFLPA when issuing contracts for the Super Bowl party. They point to a letter sent to Taylor in November 2003 that orders him to "cease and desist from the use of the NFLPA name and logo."
Taylor dismisses this. He says it's customary for local NFLPA chapters to host Super Bowl parties. He says that the NFLPA's San Diego chapter hosted an official Super Bowl party one year earlier. And anyway, Taylor says that after he received the cease and desist letter he began using a new name, Houston Players of the NFL.
But NFLPA attorneys contend he failed to inform the contractors that he no longer represented the association. Indeed, they say Taylor continued to use a business card that identified him as head of the NFLPA's local chapter.
Several attempts by the Houston Press to speak to the NFLPA proved futile: A spokesman passed the request on to an attorney, who punted to the assistant director of the retired players association, who sent it to assistant executive director Allen, who was evasive and downright churlish. "What part of 'I don't wish to discuss it' don't you understand?" he demanded.
Amid all the finger-pointing between the national organization and its Houston chapter, Kutch and the other business owners say they've been stuck holding the bag.
Because her business was so new, Kutch says, she couldn't afford to risk her reputation by stiffing her vendors. So she paid them all out of her own pocket. "That's a lot of money just to take away from somebody," says Kutch, a single mother of two with one child in college. "It wiped me out financially."
Looking back, Kutch says she has but one regret: that she even bothered showing up to do her job. "I could have shut the show down, easily," she says. "I wish I would have."