"In any negotiation people start getting paranoid and suspicious," explains Labor Lawyer Garvey, "but here an atmosphere of distrust had been created to the point that people began to think that their rooms were being bugged and that they were being spied upon. It makes for poor bargaining."
Last January, the association asked for the resignation of its legal counsel, Alan Miller, on the grounds that he didn't seem to have their cause sufficiently at heart. Miller's exit may have been brought about by a Mata Hari. During the summer of 1970 Miller had been introduced to an aspiring young actress by someone close to Cowboy Owner Clint Murchison. A romance blossomed. Miller, who was divorced, flipped on the girl to the point where he told friends he was contemplating another marriage. But when the negotiations were finally concluded, the girl was suddenly too busy to see him.
The players were vulnerable in other areas. "They really creamed us in the PR battle," claims an aggrieved player rep who is still receiving hate mail from angry fans. "Rozelle has an office full of PR guys and a Telex machine with direct connections to each of the 26 team offices. After a complex negotiating session the owners could have their statement in the hands of newspapers all over the country before we'd even made it to a typewriter. What's indicative of the power of management's communications system is the fact that everyone in the country knows that each player on the Colts made $15,000 by winning the Super Bowl, but nobody knows what the owners got. Because we stood up on our own two legs, we were effectively painted in the public mind as the villains in the black hats."
The players cite two major instances to support this contention. At one negotiating session they agreed to automatically lower their pension demands if league revenues from the sale of TV rights and stadium tickets declined instead of increased, as projected. Contributions to the pension fund would be reduced $1 for every $3 of lost revenue. The next day, infuriated fans read that the players were now suggesting that their pension be funded from an increase in ticket prices.
The second PR punch stemmed from confusion concerning the pension itself. In late summer the owners released a set of figures purporting to be what a football player would receive upon retirement if just what the owners were prepared to contribute each year to the pension fund—$4.5 million—was accepted. The projection started at $8,280 per year for a veteran with five years service who wanted to draw retirement pay starting at 55 and topped out at $59,940 for a 15-year man retiring at 65.
With sensational figures like these to contend with, the Players Association rebuttals had little effect. Virtually in vain, it attempted to explain that benefits such as these could only accrue to players beginning their rookie year in 1970 provided that the 1,750 currently active and retired players already entitled to benefits did not receive any upgrading in the previous plan; that only about one player in a thousand lasts 15 years in pro football; that only about one in two survives five years: and that a realistic figure would be $1,000 per month for a 10-year veteran who retired at 65.
The players contend that one reason for the long delay in drawing up the contract is that each owner has only a fuzzy idea of how his colleagues are running their clubs. They are 26 separate and distinct entities as far as collective bargaining is concerned, each uninformed and disorganized, their communication with one another as bad as their communication with the media is good.
Another stumbling block was that while the players would come into the meetings armed with appropriate facts and figures, the owners hadn't done their homework. "We'd make a proposal and back it up with figures," says Lawyer Garvey, "and they'd say, "Gosh, we didn't know all that. We need more time to think about it.' Then they'd come back two weeks later and be completely unresponsive."
"Part of the trouble is that the owners look to Rozelle as the knight on the white charger," says John Mackey, "but they hate it when he comes galloping in and saves them. It makes them look bad. Therefore, even when it's impossible for them to really get together they'll go to any lengths to try and work things out on their own before calling on Rozelle to get things organized."
Another impediment was that the owners recently introduced several brand new items. One was that coaches, trainers and equipment managers should be covered by the $4.8 million set aside for the players' pension fund. The owners also wanted a no-strike clause. They finally dropped this request, but provoked a player-owner dialogue that the players found extraordinarily naive.