THE WAR OF THE POSES
No progress said the headlines day after day. "The two sides are a punt return rule, a commissioner and about $36 million apart," said John Thompson, executive director of the NFL's Management Council. "They [management] did not agree to any demand during the past three days," said Bill Curry, president of the Players Association. "They continued to try to bust this union."
There are indications, though, that everybody is beginning to hurt, and in labor negotiations, when both sides are hurting, progress is probably being made whether anyone wants to admit it or not.
The veterans were hurting because their united front was showing signs of wear. Cowboy Quarterback Roger Staubach's defection last Sunday was a blow, and it raised to 311 the number of veterans who have crossed the picket lines. 87 of them regulars, or so management reckoned. The Denver Broncos and the Buffalo Bills were bastions of solidarity, but they were the only ones and O.J. Simpson said the Bills were 90% sure to be back in camp this week if the negotiations that were to begin again Tuesday produced nothing. As the number of defections increase, so will the pressure on those who remain outside the fences.
But the owners were feeling the pinch, too. The first full weekend of exhibitions set records for low attendance everywhere. In Washington the smallest crowd ever to watch pro football in RFK Stadium (16,403) turned out for the Redskin-Patriot game. The Los Angeles Times charity game between the Rams and the Browns drew the smallest crowd in its 29-year history: 28,021. At Rich Stadium in Buffalo, where 80,820 showed up last year for the opening game of the exhibition season, 30,119 watched the Bills and the Packers.
Although the fans, whenever they are polled, voice no sympathy for the striking veterans, their spontaneous boycott of these rookie games was support for the players' basic contention—that they are the entertainment, and therefore deserve a better share of the box office.
In the meantime the war of nerves continued. Wellington Mara of the Giants, while insisting his remarks should not be interpreted as threats, said, "I have to think there will be a terribly large turnover on our squad." And Greg Landry, the Detroit Lion quarterback who crossed the line with the blessing of his teammates to help out new coach Rick Forzano, left camp after two days because, he said, "It got around that Landry was a strikebreaker."
When the greatest third baseman alive feels like talking about gloves, it is a good time to shut up and listen. That's what Seymour Smith of the Baltimore Sun did when the Orioles' Brooks Robinson was feeling expansive recently.
"I'm the biggest glove hound in baseball," said Robinson. "I'm always searching for the right one. I wander around the locker room testing the feel of extra gloves that players have in their bins. I've traded with lots of players over the years—both leagues—and it usually costs me two for one."