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Paul Zimmerman
November 29, 1982
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November 29, 1982



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"He wants to become a historical figure," says one Management Council member. "In '77 he took a settlement so he could prepare for the big strike in '82, and now he settled so he could get the union ready for the big push in '87. It's become a narcissistic hall of mirrors for Ed Garvey."

Most of the 28 player representatives remained fiercely loyal to Garvey. "I don't know how he did it," says Packer representative James Lofton. "He never got any sleep, yet he was like the Rock of Gibraltar."

But among the rank and file there was great criticism. "I think Ed Garvey was there for his own personal interest," said Green Bay's Leotis Harris.

Adds NFLPA Vice-President Jeff Van Note of the Falcons, "Our organization is going to have to undergo a lot of changes."

Management's strategy during the strike was to sit tight and wait for the union to crack. The owners didn't make their first serious contract offer until nearly two months after the old pact had expired on July 15. "We waited much too long," says Rooney, who represented the Management Council's liberal wing. "By September we should have been deep into negotiations."

The owners addressed themselves to a wage scale only after NLRB general counsel William A. Lubbers announced on Oct. 21 that he would issue an unfair labor practices complaint. But even then the figures they came up with affected only 6% of the players, according to the NFLPA. They put a complete package on the table early in November—and waited. The first crack came two weeks ago when New Orleans players, followed by those in Houston and Denver, voted to accept the package in principle. The next one came the weekend before the tentative settlement when Garvey heard that the five-man NLRB in Washington would go against Lubbers' recommendation to issue an injunction that would have forced immediate bargaining by the owners on a wage scale. "Frankly, that shocked us," a management spokesman says. It also gave the owners the upper hand. They weren't in desperate need of funds. Their season-ticket money for 1982 already had been collected, with very little of it as yet refunded. The NFLPA treasury was in bad shape. "Our union is just about broke," says San Francisco player rep Keith Fahnhorst. "We wouldn't have had the finances to go at the owners again in 1983 if we had stayed out this whole season."

Garvey knew that time was running out. He was able to get some last-minute improvements, such as increasing the starting point of the wage scale to $50,000 by 1985 and qualifying the second-and third-year players (who are 25% of the union's membership) for severance pay, but only by sacrificing some earlier gains, notably guaranteed incentives for certain performance levels. At an afternoon meeting on Nov. 16 at New York's St. Regis Hotel with Rooney and intermediary Paul Martha, a former Steeler who's now the San Francisco 49ers' general counsel, and other management reps, Garvey and union president Gene Upshaw agreed to put management's proposal before the NFLPA's seven-man executive committee.

The seven-block walk from the St. Regis to union headquarters at the Summit must have been a long one for Garvey. "Ed didn't look beaten when he showed up," says Kansas City's Tom Condon, a member of the seven-man executive committee, "but he looked resigned. He gave us the proposition, and we took an informal poll. Some guys were very strongly in favor of staying out." The dangers of a holdout, however, were obvious to everyone. "Canceling the season would have meant that a lot of older players would have lost their severance pay forever," Condon says. "I mean the guys who wouldn't be back next year. Could we have done that to them?"

The executive committee decided to leave the decision up to the player reps, who were waiting five floors above in rooms 1725-27. With two absent and one abstaining, they voted 19-6 to present the contract to the membership. When they were polled on whether they would recommend acceptance, however, only three said yes.

Clearly, there is still an undercurrent of rebellion. The Lions refused to practice the next day, and the Patriots talked of boycotting last Sunday's game at Cleveland. Garvey had to make an emergency trip to Foxboro to dissuade them. "I noted how the players kept their distance from me when I went out to practice today," Cleveland owner Art Modell said on Thursday, the second day back. "None of them even acknowledged I was there. I guess many of them are angry and bitter." As play resumed on Sunday, it was touch and go whether some of the more militant teams—New England, Washington and Chicago, among others—would vote to accept the contract. There was even some talk that the players would play last weekend's third game of the season, grabbing a paycheck while at the same time establishing a year's pension credit, and then go out on strike again. There's also the possibility that the players will decide to continue the season without a contract, as they did from 1974 to 1976, but that would sacrifice the immediate financial gains they made with this contract.

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