Instead of Jack Kent Cooke's harangue, lots of us at the homecoming luncheon for the Redskins yesterday would sooner have heard the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps a bit longer, or another of Ron Saul's tales, or, especially, a few thousand words from the team's ceremonial appendage, Edward Bennett Williams.
"Always great to be an honored guest," said salty Saul as he scanned the audience of players, team officials and about 1,600 paying customers at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. "If you don't believe me, ask Edward Bennett Williams next time you see him."
President Williams was not in sight yesterday, having publicly relinquished his role as the Redskins' chief thinker to chairman Cooke two years ago at this annual wishfest. Perhaps even Williams, in these tense times for the National Football League, also would have abandoned Madam Zelda and gone heavy, as Cooke did.
To his sporting slaves, among the last workers in America pretty much denied freedom of job movement, sitting in sullen silence behind him, Cooke was both threatening and coyly generous. In 15 minutes or so, he was equally adept with a hammer and honey as he pleaded, "In the national interest, let's play football this season."
Cooke was bold, though perhaps not as much as he imagined. He did take his adversaries on to their faces, except that he controlled the forum. Ed Garvey, the NFL Players Association's executive director, and Mark Murphy, the Redskins' player representative, were near Cooke, but were denied immediate time for response.
The players are "really great guys," Cooke said, and he added:
" . . . This may come to you as a shock, but I mean it (as) sincerely as I can say it in words. In my opinion, the players deserve more money. Perhaps much more money than they're presently getting."
That was greated with enthusiasm by everyone except the players and those who had not heard management's negotiator, Jack Donlan, say exactly that months ago. Anyone whose television revenue has increased from about $5.8 million to about $13.9 million could scarcely say less. Cooke continued:
"And they deserve other benefits. Perhaps many others which they presently do not have." To make certain nobody had dozed off, Cooke repeated those points and added: "From my certain personal knowledge, many owners in the National Football League share that faith."
Came the but.
" . . . We must remove that big stumbling block, that bloody-awful phrase, etched in stone, 55 percent of gross revenue."
That's the owners' position: the players might be 100 percent of what fans pay to see but they damn well don't deserve even half the take.
Cooke was persuasive in arguing how the players might well control decisions if that 55 percent dream came true. He said there would be 1,500 new NFL owners, suggested that darling Murphy just might come to him and twist his arm in greedy ways that would fleece fans.
Why, Murphy might say ticket prices should be increased, that the Redskins should abandon RFK Stadium for a playpen that held 80,000 seats instead of 55,000-plus, that the faithful who cannot see the games live should pay to watch them on television.
That Murphy sure seemed a potential scoundrel.
On his own, Cooke has been clever enough to maneuver an investment of about $300,000 in the Redskins into a net worth of perhaps $36 million.
At first, Cooke seemed content for the gentle, jovial jabs for which the occasion called. Had they been told a lecture on economics would be served after the pot roast, hundreds might have avoided this athletic answer to the three-martini lunch. The players played it light.
Mike Nelms said he had admired the teammate who shared the most valuable Redskin award with him, Joe Washington, "ever since I was a little bitty kid." Washington is seven months older than Nelms, who joked that he treats his blockers to dinner at Joe Theismann's restaurant because he cannot afford the customary gift of watches.
Cooke started in kind.
"Welcome to the first Save the Redskins drive," he said. Then Cooke roasted his quarterback, listing Theismann's many off-the-field ventures and boasting that during contract talks he did not try to negotiate 55 percent of his gross revenue. Even Garvey offered a salute.
Then Cooke grew stern.
"This impasse must be resolved somehow," he said. "Both parties, the owners and players, are sitting on a powder keg, one that's likely to explode. I pray, literally pray, that it'll be resolved. And it will be if the players and NFL get together and negotiate in good faith, to save football for us."
When Cooke finished, to a 30-second ovation, and the affair had ended, Garvey was not saluting.
It was not appropriate for him to respond, he said, and of course he did.
"I'd like to see him at the bargaining table," Garvey said. "The people representing him aren't reporting back accurately."
Garvey said the players want 55 percent of what they mainly generate but do not want any input on other business matters. They want a fair shake, he said, not a partnership.
On why he thought the audience had booed when he was introduced, Garvey said, "They had me confused with Steve Garvey." His clients, the Redskins, stood and applauded, and Redskins alumni president Jim Ricca later looked toward Garvey and said to everyone, "Where were you in 1951?"
Specifically, where is Cooke in '82 on how much NFL players should receive? Does he have a plan to solve this fuss?
No, he later told the Post's Paul Attner.
And what of Garvey? Could he name an industry where the workers got 55 percent of the gross but did not intrude on management's traditional role?
Nothing beyond films and music. With that in mind, the players are emphasizing how much football resembles the entertainment business. Welcoming their heroes, well-heeled Washingtonians yesterday discovered again how often sports actually resembles real life.