It is Saturday, March 16. The bickering between National Football League players and owners stops being propaganda and settles down into negotiation. At a long, oak conference table in the Washington office of the NFL Players Association, the players present to the owners a list of demands that they hope to have included in the new conditions-of-employment contract between themselves, as labor, and the owners, as management. Areas of agreement are slight. Areas of disagreement—the option clause, the Rozelle rule, pension-fund contributions, artificial turf, minimum salaries—are many and profound. Looming over the discussion is the possibility of a player strike if a mutually satisfactory contract is not reached.
The issues would perplex a King Solomon, and Edward R. Garvey, the young (33), sometimes flippant, frequently sarcastic lawyer who serves as executive director of the players' union, says, "I suspect that we are going to be so far apart on so many issues that the negotiations are going to be like playing in the Super Bowl without a ball." It is more than likely that owners and players both will come away from the conference table with the distinct feeling that they have gone one-on-one with Larry Csonka.
And it is just as likely that Garvey will emerge as the dominant figure, either the hero or the villain, depending on where you stand—or possibly the biggest bore. As a speaker he rates right down there with George McGovern and Nelson Rockefeller. (Asked how one of his speeches had gone, Garvey replied, "It was a typical performance. Everyone fell asleep.") But if his manner of speaking is dull, his words are not, and his abrasive comments on player-owner relationships have brought him national attention, which sometimes startles him.
"I had always hoped to end up in Washington," he says, "but I never anticipated it would be this way." At the University of Wisconsin he was a political activist, an intellectual, and his most violent sporting act was to drive a golf ball 225 yards. His competitive juices have always flowed faster in a political arena. The acid test came at the end of his first year at Wisconsin, during which he played on the freshman golf team and began poking into campus affairs. The golf coach told him he would have to choose between golf and politics. Garvey promptly put his clubs in a closet.
Which is not to say he was always a total loss on the playing field. In Burlington, Wis. (pop. 7,500), where his family owned a drugstore, he captained the high school golf team and, until he injured a knee, was a 140-pound halfback, quarterback, offensive guard and linebacker. He also kicked extra points, though the team made few demands for this specialty. It scored only six touchdowns his last year of play.
"I can't remember my percentage," Garvey says in a nasal drone that seems to come from a buzz-saw in his sinuses, "but the coach said kicking extra points was the only thing I did halfway well."
From a high school graduating class of 58, he moved in 1957 to the 3,187-member freshman class at Wisconsin and in time was elected president of the student body. After graduation in 1961 he became president of the National Student Association, with an annual salary of $3,000 and an office in Philadelphia, and a year later was in Paris as the NSA's overseas representative. He spent two years as a lieutenant in Army intelligence, and a year in The Netherlands as secretary general of the International Student Conference.
In 1966, back in the states, he studied law at Wisconsin and after graduation joined the Minneapolis firm of Lindquist and Vennum, which later became general counsel to the NFL Players Association. Garvey was assigned to the association on almost full-time basis during contract negotiations.
"I was an avid Green Bay fan," he says, "and I knew as much about football as any avid Green Bay fan. Namely, that winning was nice, losing was death, Pete Rozelle was a genius and Vince Lombardi was God."
John Mackey, the old Baltimore Colt tight end who was then president of the NFLPA, worked closely with Garvey and saw him as the ideal choice to become executive director of the players' group. Garvey was startled by the suggestion, but in May 1971 he took the job, although apparently not with total commitment at first. When he moved to Washington to set up the NFLPA office, he cautiously rented his house in Minnesota, rather than sell it outright. And back home the news was taken calmly. In its ranking of the top 10 local news stories of the year, The Burlington Standard Press put "Local Boy Makes Good" fourth, one slot behind "Aerobatic Contest And Airshow Held In Burlington" and just ahead of "Storage Bin Collapses At Co-op."