Politics and sports have long been obsessions of Ed Garvey. The only son in a conservative Irish Catholic household, he was raised in the small town (pop. 8,385) of Burlington, Wis., fervently believing in the Green Bay Packers and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. After serving as the "mayor" of the student body at Burlington High (where he also played football and captained the golf team), Garvey majored in political science at the University of Wisconsin. He lettered in freshman golf but gave up the sport when he was elected to the student senate as a sophomore. That same year he wrote his parents explaining that he had decided to become a Democrat. His mother wrote back, "Your father and I think you need a vacation.
After Garvey became president of the Wisconsin student body, he campaigned for the abolition of compulsory Army ROTC, arguing that a voluntary program would attract better officer candidates. Successful in his fight, he joined the ROTC to prove his point, and when he was graduated in 1961 he was commissioned as a reserve second lieutenant in the Military Police. Given his record at Madison and the fact that he was graduated nearly a decade before radicals made Wisconsin a byword for anarchy, Garvey is privately appalled at what he describes as Pete Rozelle's attempts to characterize him as a bomb-thrower. Garvey says that several years ago during a meeting, Rozelle said to him, "I was just telling Jim Kensil [then the NFL's executive director] that you're a bitter man." "Bitter?" said Garvey. "Yes," said Rozelle, "bitter that you got out of Wisconsin too early to have participated in the bombing of the chemistry building." Garvey said, "Do you realize that a student was killed in that explosion?" "Yes," answered Rozelle. Garvey said, "I guess this conversation is over," and left.
After graduating from Wisconsin, Garvey was elected president of the National Students Association and married Betty Miller. Although the NSA was then under attack by the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, the international program of the NSA was, Garvey learned, being secretly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. Later he worked closely with the CIA in Europe when he was secretary-general of the International Student Conference, which was opposed to the Communist-dominated International Union of Students.
Back in the U.S., Garvey spent two years as an Army intelligence officer and then went to law school at Wisconsin. After graduating in 1969, he joined the Minneapolis firm of Lindquist & Vennum, which represented a number of labor unions. The firm later became general counsel to the NFLPA, and Garvey, who had been assigned to the union on almost a full-time basis, accepted the position of executive director in 1971.
Garvey also serves as an adjunct professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. where he teaches a course in professional sports and the law. His wife is president of the PTA at a school for moderately retarded children. The youngest of the Garveys' three children, Lizzy, 9, is autistic. Kathleen, 13, is co-captain of the cheerleaders at her suburban Maryland junior high, and Pamela, 19, is a sophomore at Wisconsin where, NFL headquarters take note, she has just been elected to the student senate.