Garvey soon grew enthusiastic about his new position. "I had to admit that the job opened up a whole world of intriguing legal possibilities," he says. "In law school I had a professor, Robert Skilton, who said, 'I'm amazed how some people have to search and search for constitutional-law issues. I can find hundreds of them every day in the sports pages.' "
Garvey found himself the spokesman for the largest union in professional sport, with 1,220 dues-paying members. His job, as he saw it, was to introduce modern labor-management negotiating procedures to a business that for half a century had prided itself on being one big happy family. But he soon began to feel that he had been hired to joust with windmills.
" NFL owners are an independent, diverse, often irascible lot who find it as hard to agree among themselves as with us," he says. "It is almost impossible to get a binding decision out of them."
One of the problems, Garvey says, is to convince the owners that even though the men he represents play a game for a living, they are also adults who should not be bound by archaic employer-employee relationships. And also that they deserve a larger share of revenues. His efforts to convey this message have created considerable stir. NFL owners and executives tend to crackle with rage after a Garvey press conference.
"He's a publicity seeker trying to create reasons for his existence," Tex Schramm, general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, once said.
"It appears to me he pops off too much, not only for the best interests of the Players Association, but for all of professional football," says Lou Spadia, president of the San Francisco 49ers.
Garvey supporters have been equally emphatic.
"He's wise beyond his years. He's going to be a congressman or a senator one of these days," says Nate Feinsinger, professor emeritus at Wisconsin Law.
"We call him Clark Kent," says John Wilbur, the Washington Redskin guard who is treasurer of the NFLPA. "Look at that face, those glasses, that conservative suit. But when he gets on an issue it's as if he just came out of a phone booth in his Superman outfit."
Every so often even management has had a good word for him.