NFL preparing for ‘Replacements II’ sequel with possibility of 2011 lockout
TUESDAY, 11 MAY 2010 13:04
BY EVAN WEINER
There are stories that are beginning to surface that National Football League owners will sign United Football League, Canadian Football League, indoor football league and any other players that might be available in the event the owners and players cannot reach a new collective bargaining agreement sometime in the next year. The present deal between the owners and players ends after the 2011 Super Bowl.
The stories include details such as the National Football League buying a 25 percent share of the one-year-old United Football League, a five team entity with teams in Hartford, Las Vegas, Omaha, Orlando and Sacramento, and using some of those players.
If these stories are true, the NFL in 2011 will be revisiting an old plan that was used in 1987.
How the paying customers who own Personal Seat Licenses and paying big money for games will react is unknown at this point but in 1987 neither New York Giants coach Bill Parcells nor Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan was too thrilled with the idea. But the Giants and Eagles NFC East rivals, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins embraced the idea. A little history is needed to understand why NFL owners endorsed the idea which was the brainchild of then Dallas Cowboys President Texas E. (Tex) Schramm and may revisit the idea in 2011.
The NFL owners and players had a contentious relationship for decades. The NFLPA formed in 1956 with help from Creighton Miller, the first General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. Unhappy players in Cleveland and Green Bay assembled a network of "player reps" on each team. The players included Don Shula (Colts), Frank Gifford (Giants), and Norm Van Brocklin (Rams) to represent their teams. The Chicago Bears did not have a players representative. The players first meeting was held in New York in the fall of 1956, after the owners ignored the players' attempts to discuss their requests. The players asked for minimum salaries of $5,000 per season, injury pay, uniform per diems, and for teams to supply their own equipment.
Nothing happened but the players got a big break in 1957 when, the first lawsuit involving professional football and antitrust was filed, Radovich v. NFL, which significantly altered player rights within the league. The case involved a player/coach, George Radovich, who sued the league because the NFL effectively prevented him from attaining employment in the NFL or affiliated leagues, such as the Pacific Coast League, which was in existence at the time. The case was dismissed on the grounds that the NFL was exempted from the antitrust laws, and was appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision of the trial court, holding professional football subject to the antitrust laws.
The Supreme Court decision changed life for NFL owners. The players could now sue the league on antitrust grounds which they threatened to do. The owners and players settled with the players receiving minimum salaries of $5,000, $50 payment for preseason games, medical coverage for injuries, and a pension.
But the players didn't get what they agreed to and spend the 1958 season chasing the owners to live up to the agreement. The deal was finally signed in 1959.
The players did catch another break when Lamar Hunt started the American Football league and for some college players, they were able to play the NFL off against the AFL in getting some leverage for their initial contract. The AFL-NFL war over established players began in earnest when Pete Gogolak, a kicker on the Buffalo Bills signed a deal with the New York Giants in 1966. What was good for Gogolak and two NFL quarterbacks John Brodie and Roman Gabriel along with Mike Ditka who were been pursued by AFL Commissioner Al Davis to sign with his league was not good for the owners of either league. Brodie, Gabriel and Ditka got raises from their NFL teams. The AFL and NFL announced their intent to merge on June 8, 1966.
The National Football League Players Association wanted to fight the merger but didn't have the funding to do so.
The NFLPA has always been weak and the owners knew that. The two leagues may have merged, but the player associations did not, as the players on the 16 NFL teams were NFLPA members and the players on the 10 AFL teams were American Football League Players Association members. This caused a major problem in subsequent negotiations as the NFLPA would come to a tentative agreement with the owners on certain collective bargaining issues (such as minimum salaries, retirement age) then the owners would bargain with the AFLPA, who accepted lower terms, which wasn't good for NFLPA members.
There was a brief lockout and a 20-day strike in 1970 that ended just before the 1970 All Star game and which did not result in the cancellation of regular or post-season games, the NFL and NFLPA signed a four-year contract, the first collective bargaining agreement in the history of the NFL, which raised player salary minimums to $12,500 for rookies and $13,000 for veterans, added dental insurance, improved the pension, gave players the right to have agents, gave players representation on the Retirement Board, and provided for impartial arbitration of injury grievances.
(Retired players from that era are still battling the NFL over injury grievances and those grievances have caught the attention of Congress)
In 1974, the previous CBA was coming to an end. Players were demanding the elimination of the Rozelle Rule and the option clause which kept a player tied to his team in perpetuity unless another team was willing to give up number one draft picks or players to sign a free agent among other things. On July 1, the players went on strike, and were prepared to sit out until a new bargaining agreement was hammered out. The sit-out led to the cancellation of the New York Jets game at New Haven, the first game ever cancelled due to a labor impasse. However, by the early part of August, about a quarter of the NFLPA crossed the picket lines, breaking down union solidarity. On August 11, Garvey sent his players back to work after a federal mediator suggested a 14-day cooling off period, instead pursuing the issue through the Mackey case. The 42-day strike ended that day with nothing gained.
On September 21, 1982, NFL players went on strike. It was the longest strike in professional sports in the U.S. at the time and lasted until November 17. The owners responded by locking the players out at the commencement of the strike. During the strike, only 126 of the 224 scheduled regular-season games were played, forcing the league to change the format of post-season play to include 16 teams instead of the usual 10 teams. The players held two "All-Star" games to raise some funding for players without a paycheck. The players got more money but two goals were not met, a form of free agency and more pension money.
The owners were not going to let that happen in 1987.
The players decided to strike after the second week of the season and the NFL reverted to its 1974 tactic of bringing in rookies and free agents and play replacement games. The league cancelled the third week's schedule and resumed with the week four matchups.
In 2000, Hollywood made a movie about the 1987 strike called "Replacements" which was based on the Washington Redskins.
Some teams scouted the best available talent and tried to put together a strong replacement team. Other teams took chunks of local semipro teams, like the New York Giants, and hoped for the best. Others like Philadelphia Eagles Coach Buddy Ryan didn't take the replacement games too seriously and wanted for the players to return.
Like in 1974, veterans crossed the picket lines and by October 25, the NFL was able to claim victory. The players reverted to their old standby; plan B that was court action and that set off years of litigation.
"It was a great time and a lot of fun," said Charley Casserly who was part of the Redskins front office at that time. "Really, the interesting thing was we put together a time, the whole organization and Joe Gibbs did a great job coaching them. Nobody crossed the picket line and we beat two teams, St. Louis and Dallas on that climatic Monday Night that had about 10-12 players cross the picket line. The Dallas team had (Tony) Dorsett, Randy White, Danny White, Too Tall Jones. It was quite a time."
The NFL teams who did compete for players for Schramm's replacement league look anyway for players. Casserley found four players in a Richmond, Virginia halfway house who were playing for a minor league team including Tony Robinson who was the quarterback of the replacement team that beat Dallas.
"We did have a little philosophy on it," Casserly continued. "We wanted players that knew the system. We had to put together a team in 10 days to go play a game. Football unlike all other sports is really a team sport. So we wanted guys who knew the Joe Gibbs system. So we started with players who had been in our camp that year and been in our camp the year before and had been in camps with the Gibbs/(Don) Coryell system. We got players from everywhere.
"Obviously NFL cuts, but we got players from Canada, players who were cut in Canada. We wanted players in camp who were healthy and ready to go."
The players crumbled quickly in 1987 but years later Dave Jennings, who was a New York Jets punter at the time, thinks the showdown with the owners was worth it.
"The players were not that interested in a long term strike, they were looking at the next paycheck," said Jennings. "It's tough to get players to strike and stay together. In 1987, it was a shorter strike and we had the court cases working and eventually it worked out for us.
"We got nothing from the 1987 strike, we didn't get anything directly, but indirectly we got free agency and you see what happened. Free agency works."
It took six years until the players and owners came up with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and that under pressure from a federal court judge in Minneapolis. The players and owners have spent 17 years under that system. The owners want to chance the revenue stream that is going into players' wallets and maybe break the association in the process. It has worked before with the players caving but in the end, the owners have lost antitrust cases.
It is not surprising stories are surfacing that the NFL owners are planning a sequel to the 2000 movie, "Replacements"
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on the Politics of Sports Business and can be reached for speaking engagements at email@example.com