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RANCOR IN THE RANKS
The bad feeling that has existed within and without the NFL Players Association since its 1974 preseason strike collapsed seemed about to erupt into internecine warfare last week.
"We don't have a players' union anymore," said another Oiler. "We've got an executive director's union."
"We're like a bunch of sheep being led by a wolf," said a Pittsburgh tackle.
The howl went up after the players' representatives, meeting in Chicago to consider a new contract proposal, wound up, at the urging of their executive director, Ed Garvey, voting to table it, thereby preventing the proposal from being voted upon by the entire membership.
The contract, which had been worked out by Miami Safety Dick Anderson, who is president of the NFLPA, and Dan Rooney, president of the Steelers and the negotiator for the owners, contained provisions for a 43-player team limit with a four-man taxi squad, a $7,000 raise in the minimum salary, the resumption of funding of the players' pension fund—which has been suspended for the two years that the players have been without a contract—and an increase of $3,000 in Super Bowl winners' shares.
The only fly in all that ointment was the fact that the proposal also included a major restriction of a player's freedom of movement. To get at the goodies, the players were going to have to cede back to the owners the significant victory they had won in 1975 when U.S. District Court Judge Earl Larson declared the Rozelle Rule illegal. The NFL has appealed the decision and the matter is still in the courts. Garvey feels that there should be no agreement until the "freedom issues" are settled.
But the fight has dragged on for two years now, and the troops are getting restless. A mood of conciliation, born of fear for the future, seems to be growing in the ranks, and Garvey is being seen by some as an obstructionist rather than a champion of players' rights against overweening owners.
One of the newly outraged, Jim Beirne, an eight-year Oiler veteran, said, "The owners made us an honest, earnest proposal.... It'll take a two-thirds vote to fire him [ Garvey], and I'll bet we could get it."