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It was Pat Peppler, the Dolphins' director of scouting, who, in searching for perspective where there seemed to be none, recalled the plight of the civil engineer who was sent out to drain the swamp but kept forgetting his mission because he was always up to his eyebrows in alligators. The synopsis in Miami last week as the National Football League player strike passed into its third alligator-infested, fun-filled week was that there were no answers, only issues, and keeping the issues straight required, most of all, a straight face.
The detail of the world champions' camp was representative of the whole strike mural. To appreciate how complete—and completely ridiculous—the paralysis of thought and deed had become one had only to twirl the radio dial to his favorite Dolphin show (not all the Dolphins have their own radio shows in Miami, it just seems that way) and hear, say, Larry Seiple, the punter, debate himself on "whether I'll show up [in camp] tomorrow." After a short one-handed game of verbal pit-pat, Seiple reached the conclusion with Seiple that he did not know what he would do. "Tune in tomorrow, folks, and maybe you'll find out," he said hopefully.
By week's end Seiple was one of 15 Dolphin "veterans" in camp, but as fellow strikebreakers Jake Scott and Jim Mandich were not reluctant to admit, any resemblance between this and the team that won the last two Super Bowls was purely coincidental. Scott was working with "three defensive backs I never even saw before," who seemed disposed to rotate hazardously into one another on zone coverage, and he more or less considered practice to date as "a waste of time." Mandich says he felt more like a coach on the field than a player.
Scott and Mandich were in camp because both signed multi-year contracts some months ago at "more than double" what they made last year. Scott said they could hardly champion the "freedom" argument since they had been quite free to accept big money offered by the World Football League before signing themselves back into Dolphin bondage. Anyway, said Scott, the real argument was economics, "and when I'm getting six figures and I'm just a defensive back I'm probably already overpaid."
Center Jim Langer, like Scott an All-Pro, was first to cross the picket line—in a blue-and-white Plymouth. He says he prefers to think of himself as a "professional" rather than a union man, although he pays his dues ("which is something a lot of those strikers haven't done"). He says he has been treated fairly in Miami "and I'm not about to slap the Dolphins in the face for some guy in Atlanta or Houston who doesn't like to observe curfews."
The leader of the Dolphin strike force is Player Representative Doug Swift, an amiable, articulate outside linebacker who wears tinted glasses and is the first player ever to make the NFL out of Amherst College. Paradoxically, he might not have gotten the chance had he not hustled into camp as a scab in 1970 when the league was experiencing its first strike. Ten rookies and free agents made the Miami team that year; eight were starters through the Super Bowl.
Swift's picket line outside the Dolphin camp at Biscayne College is not exactly a bastion of militancy. Only one policeman—lazing in a squad car under a lone Florida pine tree—is there to keep the peace, and he is not needed. Strikebreakers exchange viewpoints and pleasantries with the pickets—when there are any—as they motor through the gate. The United Auto Workers would be appalled.
The pickets, such as they are, operate out of an Open Road air-conditioned motor home, from which Swift dispenses neatly stenciled placards ("No Freedom, No Football," "Monopoly Is Played With Dice, Not People") and cold drinks. Vigilance is not their byword. The young gate attendant who watches their coming and going calls it "a Mexican strike. They hang around a couple hours and then split." It is hot in Miami in July.
Swift & Company boils down verbally to Swift & Wife. Julie Swift—slim, blonde, fetching in a halter and shorts, is at least her husband's equal as a militant on the issues and traces part of her intelligence in such matters to her labor law studies at the University of Miami. "Have you ever read the standard player's contract?" Julie asks pleadingly. She pooh-poohs the show of strikebreakers ("How many regulars are there in camp, that's the big question?"), while at the same time she explains away the scarcity of picketers because "this is more of a symbolic picket line."
As Mrs. Swift speaks, Garo Yepremian, the placekicker, refuses to have his picture taken with the pickets—even though he has not crossed the line. Yepremian is partaking of a soft drink in the van, which Doug Swift says costs $200 a week to rent. He says they might have to give it up soon, though, submitting to what he calls "the union blues." He hints darkly that the press has not been very sympathetic.