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TRICK OR TREAT?
Reflections on the Great NFL Strike of 1982:
•As of last weekend, the central issue in the impasse continued to be the NFL Players Association's demand for a wage scale that would mean higher pay for defensive linemen and other spear carriers, but lower pay for such glamorous types as quarterbacks and running backs. Whether the NFL's star system should be thus undermined was an issue addressed by John C. Weistart, a professor of law at Duke specializing in sports law, who said, "When you go to a rock concert, you don't go for the drummer—you go to see the big star. You're willing to pay more to see the star—you want to see Linda Ronstadt perform." But Weistart conceded that a wage scale makes more sense in football than in baseball or basketball "because there are more players in football, like interior linemen, whose worth can't be directly measured by point production. In basketball or baseball, virtually all the players have the opportunity to score."
•The NFL Management Council was still hoping that more star players would break ranks with NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey over the wage-scale issue. The owners had, so far anyway, seriously miscalculated on this score. Most big-name players had gone along with the strike because of what one of them, Terry Bradshaw, characterized as a desire for "team unity." That's a sentiment, of course, that owners would ordinarily applaud. Another usually laudable factor contributing to the impasse was competitive zeal on both sides. As Jack Getman, a specialist in labor law at Yale, observed, "Strikes in sport are so bitter because the people involved are competitive by nature. That makes the negotiating tougher. They aren't as willing to compromise."
•There continued to be talk—by both sides—about the possibility of unilaterally playing football games. Some NFL owners advocated opening camps to union dissidents and free agents in hopes of resuming the season even without a settlement, but others reportedly felt that this could further unify the striking players and, if few of them answered the call, result in a public relations debacle. Because of fear of injuries and legal haggling with the NFL, the NFLPA meanwhile had trouble getting its proposed strike league off the ground. If the NFLPA could create a league with stable team rosters and geographically rooted "franchises" with which fans could identify, it might hope to throw a scare into the NFL. Such teams would lack the tradition of, say, the Chicago Bears, but tradition is less important in football than in baseball. In football, the spectacle of the game itself is of paramount importance, and a strike league could conceivably provide that. An intriguing historical precedent: In 1919, Hollywood's three biggest stars, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, dissatisfied with their share of the revenues from their movies, founded their own film distribution company, United Artists, which became an industry giant.
•The possibility loomed ever larger that the 1982 season might be wiped out. The strike began on Sept. 21, and each team already had lost three games from its 16-game schedule. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said that teams must play at least 13 games for a "credible" season, while Dallas Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm, chairman of the NFL's competition committee, spoke of a 12-game minimum. Accepting the 12-game figure, the number of regular-season games NFL teams played from 1947 to 1960, and taking into account that two canceled games could be made up between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, the latest date on which play could be resumed would be Sunday, Nov. 7. To allow a week or so for players to get back into shape, the strike would have to end by Oct. 31. Mark it on your calendar. Halloween.
•In spite of everything, a settlement still seemed possible. On Sunday the two sides agreed to accept the services of a mediator, obviously a positive development. "The fact that both sides are beginning to visualize the strike costing them the season could be a great spur to negotiate," said Yale's Getman. "The players are scared, the owners are scared, the fans are mad. There may be a push now to try out new ideas. That often happens just when things look bleakest. What you have to look for is meetings between the union and its members, or between [Management Council Executive Director Jack] Donlan and the owners. That's the sign that new ideas are being sold. Right now things look grim, but I wouldn't be that stunned if there were a breakthrough and then round-the-clock negotiations to settle the strike."
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
Candace Dunlap, a 40-year-old mother of two in Santa Fe, N. Mex., is a former Chicagoan who catches the Cubs on cable TV. Recently she wrote a letter to Harry Caray, the veteran broadcaster who is now doing Cubs games, in which she complained about his excitable on-air style. She was surprised when Caray returned her missive with his comments scrawled in longhand in the margins. Dunlap's letter, with Caray's replies in italics and brackets:
"I called the Cubs' public relations office last week to complain about you and feel it only fair [nice of you to be so fair!!] to follow up my call with a letter so you are aware of one viewer's (make that ex-viewer) [we will miss you] opinion of the way in which you announce the Chicago Cubs.... You constantly seize upon every opportunity to gossip and impart down-home chitchat which couldn't be more boring or irrelevant [in your humble opinion!!].... Your screaming, shrill delivery of every Cub play is also unnecessary and ruins trying to follow the game. So, it is with you, as with Howard Cosell [He does pretty good or is success what really annoys you!!], a frequent retreat to watching a game with no sound [could you please write that way].... You are equally odious and unprofessional [I wonder what you are!! Maybe a dried up old prune!!!].... The Atlanta Braves...have the best announcers [you are finally right—Skip Caray is my son!!!] in the business. You could take lessons from them. Sincerely, Candace E. Dunlap [I pay two alimonies each month to women like you!!! Luv & Kisses]