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September 26, 2008 5:55 PM

Former Pro Football Player and Akin Gump Alum Now NFL GM

Posted by Brian Baxter

Mayhew_martin

When the National Football League's Detroit Lions made the fateful--longtime Lions fans will say belated--decision to fire Matt Millen as their general manager on September 24, team owner William Clay Ford turned to an alum of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld's summer associate program to fill the position.

But 42-year-old Martin Mayhew isn't your average law school graduate. Mayhew's also a former professional football player, having played for the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an eight-year NFL career that ended in 1996. He was the starting cornerback for the Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI when the team beat the Buffalo Bills 37-24.

"When Martin was here not many people knew he was a former football player, no less a Washington Redskin on a Super Bowl champion team," says Akin Gump labor and employment partner Daniel Nash. "I think the only time people would know was when they asked him about the ring he was wearing, but if they didn't ask, Martin wasn't going around telling people."

Nash says Mayhew joined Akin Gump as a summer associate in 1999 while earning his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. (Mayhew had actually began taking classes part-time as a Redskin; when his playing career concluded, he returned to school.)

As a summer associate, Mayhew worked in several different practice groups. But Nash says previous internships with the Redskins and the league office served him well in labor and employment.

"I had known Martin before when he was an intern with the NFL Management Council, which is the part of the league office that represents all of the [32] teams in collective bargaining with the players," says Nash, who serves as outside counsel to the NFLMC. "Martin was a hot commodity and we tried to convince him to stay, but he decided he had other opportunities he wanted to pursue."

After graduating from Georgetown in 2000, Mayhew became the director of football administration for the fledgling XFL. When the league folded a year later, Mayhew joined the Lions as the team's staff counsel and director of football administration.

Mayhew's "talents and work ethic" earned him two subsequent promotions. In February 2003 the team promoted him to senior vice president. That same year, Mayhew completed the NFL's program for managers at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. In October of the following year, Mayhew was appointed to the newly-created position of assistant general manager. The new job allowed him to work even more closely with Millen, who also held the title of team president and CEO.

As one of only two members of the Lions front office to have earned a law degree, Mayhew was tasked with coordinating the team's salary cap objectives, negotiating player contracts, and handling legal affairs. He also advised Lions executive vice president and COO Tom Lewand, a Kirkland & Ellis alum, on league policies and procedures pertaining to the collective bargaining agreement.

Nash says he's kept in touch with Mayhew since he left the firm, partially through working on several cases for the Lions, including the team's successful effort to get back a portion of a signing bonus paid to former star running back Barry Sanders, who abruptly retired in 1999.

On the day that Millen was fired, the Lions named Mayhew their interim general manager. Mayhew will report to Ford on football matters while Lewand handles business affairs. Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian, widely considered one of the best general managers in the NFL, has been reported as raving about Mayhew as one of the league's rising stars. (Mayhew did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)

As for Nash, he's just disappointed Mayhew didn't choose the billables over the gridiron.

"Martin is just a wonderful, modest, and unassuming guy," Nash says. "The Lions are lucky to have him."

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