Considering their intransigent attitudes, it was never much of a surprise the last three years when Ed Garvey, the executive director of the NFL Players' Association, and Sargent Karch, the chief labor negotiator for the NFL owners, walked out of a conference room in New York or Washington or San Diego and announced that the players and owners once again had failed to reach agreement on the terms for a contract to replace the pact that had expired in 1974. "If you absolutely do not trust them, and they do not trust you, then you can't get a settlement," Garvey said after one fruitless negotiation session.
And so it was in this spirit of mistrust that Garvey and Karch met in Room 1507 of Washington's Madison Hotel shortly before Christmas for yet another session. Taking note of the garish red velvet that covered one of the walls, Karch's wife Susan promptly called it the "Wayne Hays Suite."
Unbeknown to Garvey, Karch had arrived in Washington with a new game plan. "Before our meeting I started to think about priorities," Karch recalls. "Most of the owners had said that the NFL's draft of college players was critical; that if they went through one season without a draft, they might never get one again. The meetings among owners to discuss the draft always began the same way. Commissioner [Pete] Rozelle would say, 'Of course, if we could agree with the union on something, that would be preferable. But assuming we can't, what do we do?'
"Everybody assumed we could not agree because of Garvey, so I started to think in terms of what was important to Garvey and the union. In negotiations we had always said, 'Let's talk about the draft and compensation for teams losing players who exercise their options and see if we can agree on those issues, because without them it's not worth talking about anything else.'
"Well, we reasoned that the Rozelle Rule for compensation was not all that important to Garvey: getting rid of the Rozelle Rule would help the wealthy players at the expense of the poor ones. The way we began to view it, the Rozelle Rule and the draft were simply the ways Garvey was getting his leverage, and he was getting more leverage with every court decision.
"Then we concluded that three things were important to Garvey: 1) the strength of his union. 2) outside arbitration of player grievances rather than arbitration by the commissioner, and 3) cash settlements of the lawsuits striking down the Rozelle Rule and the draft as illegal. I decided to make a last try with Garvey and bring up these three issues."
When their meeting in the Wayne Hays Suite had concluded, Garvey said, "Sarge, I hope you're not kidding me."
"When Ed said that, it told me a lot," says Karch. "It was then that I knew a settlement was possible."
"For the first time," Garvey says, "there was a discussion of things we wanted to talk about instead of just what they wanted to talk about. The whole struggle was to get them to bargain. They'd never bargained before."
"As soon as we started to make sense with Garvey," Karch says, " Garvey started making sense with us."