Sunday noon. They've been six days without a fix and they're hearing band music in their heads. Just an hour or so to wait for the connection, but time moves slowly and then hands are twitchy, their mouths dry. Finally the moment arrives and they move with delicious anticipation across their dens and living rooms to their TV sets and turn on—a nation of pro football junkies, pitifully hooked every fall. But the word was out that the supply might dry up! The NFL Players' Association was on strike, the club owners refused to buckle and millions of fans were faced with the prospect of kicking the habit cold turkey.
In what seemed a cruel tease last Friday night, in Chicago's Soldier Field, under lights that young Abe Lincoln couldn't have read by, an NFL team played a game for the first and, it then appeared, possibly the last time this season, the world champion Kansas City Chiefs beating the College All-Stars 24-3.
At that point it looked like Len Dawson (who completed 17 of 21 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown) would be 1970's Most Valuable Player; Mike Garrett (see cover), who gained 47 yards in eight carries, as well as catching four passes for 34 yards, would be the rushing champion; the All-Stars' Bruce Taylor, a defensive back from Boston U. who also runs back kicks, would be Rookie of the Year; and for Comeback Player of the Year, take your pick of anybody who played poorly in the first half and well in the second.
But three days later the owners, after having met for nearly 24 hours, reached an agreement with the Players' Association, and the strike was settled. Earlier in the week the owners had tried, and failed, to break the strike by opening the training camps to veterans. "We knew that would happen," said Jim Tyrer, the Chiefs' player representative. "The owners are trying to weaken the players and get them to go to camp and bust the Players' Association."
When a handful of veterans reported, Players' Association leaders said no action would be taken against scabs, but as Ben Davidson of the Oakland Raiders put it, "Football is a rough game, and it's conceivable that a team that went against all the other teams in the dispute might find itself suffering an unusual number of injuries." Later he said he had just been joking. Tee, hee.
After the owners threw open the camps, 25 of the 26 player reps (Tyrer was working out with the Chiefs) and 56 other players met at a hotel near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. The next afternoon they notified the owners that the players were officially on strike.
" Bart Starr made one of the most impressive presentations I've ever heard," said Bennie McRae of the Bears. "He said we had to show our strength, that we're at a crossroads and that the survival of our association depends on sticking together."
The main cause of the strike was a difference of about $8 million in what the players and the owners thought the owners should contribute to the pension plan in the forthcoming four-year contract. (The settlement called for the owners to ante up $4.5 million annually, which just about matched their original offer, but they made concessions in other areas.) Owner Lamar Hunt of Kansas City had called the players' figure "unrealistic." He said there would be a season even if retired players had to be brought back and minor-leaguers brought up. "In '60 we started from scratch," he said, "and we can do it again."
Philadelphia Owner Leonard Tose disagreed. "I think there is a possibility the season is over now," he said. Charles (Stormy) Bidwill, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, lined up with Tose: "We'll go just so far, and then we'll cancel everything."
The players were equally direful. "We've waited this long, and it's been costly," said Lionel Aldridge. "I'm not going to go to Green Bay until the Players' Association tells me to or this thing is settled."