Pro footbal is two seasons away from the possibility of players going on strike for more money. The NFL also will renegotiate its television contracts after that 1981 season. The sky will go dark with winged greenbacks shutting out the sun. And that will only be the start. Tex Schramm, for one, is frightened.
About the only thing Tex Schramm should be afraid of is forgetting the way to the bank. He is president of the Dallas Cowboys, which is a whole lot better than being president of the U.S. of A. But here we are in his elegant office, thoughtfully seated next to a Super Bowl trophy, and Tex Schramm, in his presidential gray pin stripes and cuff-linked shirt on a 98-degree day, is saying he is scared to death.
He has seen the future and it is in Don Meredith's living room.
"In Don's house in Los Angeles," Schramm said, "he has a big television screen, as big as that window."
He pointed at a pane of glass six feet wide and nine feet tall.
"Don can get 40 channels with free T V, pay and cable TV. What's frightening to me is to think what that might mean for sports and pro football in particular. We're going to see the biggest revolution in communications since the late 1940s and '50s when television got big.
"With all that, no one knows what's going to happen. Technology is moving so fast. But it's going to be big. And whatever happens will have a tremendous impact in all areas of life, including sports.
"The money involved is going to be unbelievable. It frightens me that so much money will be available."
The only president the Cowboys have ever had, Tex Schramm is a crafty businessman of a conservative bent who is one of the NFL's pillars of wisdom and resourcefulness. You could take his check without worrying too much. If Tex frets, maybe we all should. Here's why.
The air will be full of magic next Monday night when the Cowboys and Redskins play at RFK Stadium. The place will be humming an hour before kickoff, the humming rising in intensity until the stadium seems ready to lift off its pilings and begin to spin, a flying saucer leaving with 55,000 passengers. Next week's game will leave a city breathless in anticipation and spent in realization.
But what of 15 years from now? Schramm is frightened.
He can see a Monday night game in Texas Stadium with only 15,000 people in the seats. It is 1995 and everyone stays home to see the game on pay TV. It's easier and cheaper. With computerized TV, a stay-at-home can choose the action he wants to see by pushing a button that gives him a picture of, say, the defensive backfield rotating. If the Cowboys are winning easily, he can switch to any of the other 20 games going on. He can make his bets by button, charging it to his credit card.
"That's the worst thing that could happen -- for football to become a studio sport," Schramm said.
That won't happen. The electricity of a Monday nighnt game at RFK is generated by 55,000 people having the same thought in seats side by side. However sophisticated electronics become, that electricity is beyond a wire's reach. The people will come to the ball park to be with other people who care about the same things.
Please read back, if you will, in that last sentence for the phrase, "people who care." There is Tex Schramm's spook.
He is afraid nobody will care.
"The combination of this communications explosion and the money that's going to be involved, plus the growing devotion to the dollar by some players, could reach a point where it turns off the public," Schramm said.
After the 1981 season, pro football players will work out a new contract with the owners. The players today are dissatisfied because they see baseball and basketball players with freedom that means contracts richer by far than football's. The NFL players will go for that big money freedom this time.
The TV deal will be reworked, too, with the three networks kicking in more than $1 billion.
Chicken feed against the potential of pay TV.
Here are some numbers: 40 million sets, give or take a dozen, were tuned in to the Super Bowl last year. If each set paid $10 for the game, and if the NFL's share of the money were only 60 percent, the take for the league would be $240 million. That would be $80 million more than the networks now pay for an entire six-month-long season.
With such money available, the Tony Dorsett of 1995 may earn $10 million a season as his fair share of the revenue he helps produce.
"I'm frightened by that prospect," schramm said.
"People already perceive that players give a damn only about themselves. They see them walking out of camp and demanding to renegotiate and always wanting more money. So the fans ask, 'Why should I idolize them and pay my money to see them when they don't give a damn about me?'
"When the money is truly incredible, as it could be, I can see this getting out of hand. There would be so much emphasis on money that the fans would just throw up their hands and say, 'Hell, I don't care anymore.' And then instead of 15,000 people in Texas Stadium, we wouldn't have any."
Schramm's fears, however real, have not been supported by events in baseball, where free agents have become rich and stadiums have been filled as they never were before. But Schramm says that's because baseball is a game of individuals with Reggie Jacksons able to hit 400 home runs without the help of minimally paid teammates. Football is a true team game, Schramm says, and to pay 1995's Tony Dorsett $10 million would come to nothing unless his offensive linemen were kept happy too.
So we are left to tremble in fear of the day in 1995 when Oscar Bolenkiwicz, right guard for the Disney World Mouseketeers, refuses to report to training camp unless he is given a raise to $5 million a year.