NO TIME FOR OSTRICHES
Time was when all the NFL had to worry about was an occasional cheap shot on the field, a gambler and a coach eating in the same restaurant, or an owner scalping a few Super Bowl tickets. Minor stuff. And when Commissioner Pete Rozelle wrapped up a landmark $2 billion television contract with the major networks in March, the league's future looked as rosy as ever.
Then a pox struck. Former New Orleans Saint and Miami Dolphin Defensive Tackle Don Reese revealed that he'd been a heavy cocaine user (SI, June 14, 1982) and said the league faced a drug problem of epidemic proportions. (For admitting his continued use of drugs and thus violating probation on a 1977 drug-selling conviction, Reese was ordered to serve time in the Dade County [ Fla.] stockade.) By the end of the season others, including stars like Chuck Muncie and George Rogers, had owned up to debilitating habits. Oiler Coach Ed Biles suggested his team's 1-8 record could be laid to drug and alcohol abuse among his players; soon afterward, two members of Houston's defensive secondary were arrested, one on a drunk-driving rap and another on a cocaine charge.
Meanwhile, Raider Managing Partner Al Davis, Rozelle's personal nemesis, successfully fought the league's legal efforts to keep Davis' club in Oakland. The Raiders played instead in the L.A. Coliseum, defiantly going 8-1. The new U.S. Football League promised to be more serious than the NFL had thought, getting a network deal and such college stars as Craig James, Reggie Collier, Tim Spencer and Trumaine Johnson.
But the 57-day walkout exacted the dearest price. The teams lost some $210 million, the players $63 million. Though the union did come away with a $1.6 billion bonus pool spread over five years, Players Association Executive Director Ed Garvey was forced to concede many points during the negotiations, and a movement was afoot to replace him. Meanwhile, Rozelle's hold on the game remained strong. But his was a much more enviable position at the year's beginning than at its end.
Better that the Dolphins' Walker, and not Rozelle, had his head stuck in the grass.