"I introduced that proposal in the middle of August and then again last week," Upshaw says. "Tex Schramm told me, 'Never would a player have movement, not in five years, or 10, or 15. Never.' It won't be pleasant for them when that's raised in court."
Other statements that might come back to haunt management:
•Sept. 22, Jack Donlan, management's chief negotiator, responding to a union proposal for free agency after four years: "It's like a camel with his nose under the tent. You wonder what they'll want three years from now."
•Sept. 24, Schramm: "Our view is the same as it has been—we are not going to change our structure on free agency."
•Sept. 25, Donlan: "With the exception of free agency, we don't consider anything etched in stone."
•Oct. 4, Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse: "If Gene needs something for dignity, we'll give it to him. But not free agency."
Good faith bargaining? It will be up to the courts and the NLRB to decide. The union has made some tough statements as well, and management may file charges of its own before the NLRB, claiming that the players have engaged in unfair labor practices. To wit: Management's only move toward any change in the free agency system—a downward adjustment in the compensation payments for a player changing clubs—was summarily rejected by the players as a "garbage proposal."
Throughout the strike the union did a terrible job of getting its ideas across to the press and to the public. Never, for instance, has the union driven home the point that in the decade since the current modified free agency system (in which compensation to a free agent's former team is based on his salary and length of service), only one player has changed teams. Also, the union has never effectively countered the owners' oft-cited $230,000 "average salary" figure for players, a serious failing in view of all the fans turned off by the union's high-paid pickets. The median salary—a truer barometer of what most players make—is closer to $170,000 a year.
There's a chance the owners, who lost an antitrust suit to Davis and his Raiders in 1982 and who suffered a technical loss and were declared a monopoly in the USFL suit that was decided in August 1986, will at last do some hard bargaining on free agency and reach a settlement before the case reaches a judge. How long would it take for such a suit to be adjudicated? The Mackey case dragged on for four years before the appeal was decided. "It wouldn't take as long this time," says Dick Berthelsen, the NFLPA's legal counsel. "The Mackey suit broke new ground. There was a lot of legalese to clear away. Now there's precedent to go on."
Spokesmen for the union insist that it's in strong financial shape, but that could change if membership falls off and the player representatives have trouble collecting dues. "Now everyone else will learn to live as we did," says Cosbie's wife, Sherry. "Texas is a right-to-work state. Doug and the alternate player rep, Jim Jeff coat, had to collect everything individually, and they did it. Say what you want about the Cowboy players, every one is a paid-up union member."