Wesley Walker is a receiver for the New York Jets with a bad back, a bride of four days and a commitment to the National Football League Players Association.
That's why Walker, with his wife watching from the sideline, was participating in a practice session yesterday for the NFLPA all-star game Sunday at RFK Stadium.
"This game is important to the union and I believe I have a lot to lose by not playing," said Walker, who has spent part of his honeymoon recruiting other Jets for the game.
"The union has to show it has leadership and commitment from its members. If we are going to do this together, we have to show we are together . . . I'm disappointed that superstars like (Richard) Todd and (Ron) Jaworski and (Joe) Theismann aren't here. They should be. If these games continue, they'll be jumping on the bandwagon wanting to play later, instead of giving us support now."
There are two ways to view Sunday's game. With most of the best-known players not in the lineups and with roster changes being made almost daily, it seems less than a true all-star contest. But from the union's standpoint, the mere fact the game will be played stands as a victory over the NFL and its holdover players.
"You are missing the point of this game if all you worry about is who is playing and what roster changes are being made," said Chris Hanburger, who is coaching the NFC East team.
Putting this game together has not been easy for the union. During one particularly trying moment earlier this week, Brig Owens asked a visitor if he was looking for a job. "You can have this one," said Owens, who is coordinating the games for the NFLPA.
Owens was only half-kidding. Ever since the union realized that it may, indeed, have to produce these games, his life has changed drastically. It's been his task to prove the NFLPA's long-time contention that organizing league games is no big deal, so who needs owners, anyway?
"What has made this tough is that everything has to be started from scratch," Owens said. "Once you get the mechanism in place, it wouldn't be that difficult from week to week. Teams in the league have that advantage. They know who their players are, they have ticket people and promotions and everything else."
Owens said his job has been made harder by the pressure teams have put on players to bypass these games.
"The pressure is there; the teams are talking to players, telling them the risks they are taking," Owens said. "Guys are concerned about injuries and their jobs. I don't have to spell it out. Look at the changes we've had to make in the rosters. We had commitments and then people backed out."
Certainly, filling out squads has become the most difficult task for Owens and his staff, which includes fellow ex-Redskins Roy Jefferson and Dallas Hickman. The NFLPA issued another revision of its rosters yesterday for Sunday's games. Thirty-nine of the 40 players listed for the AFC practiced, but only 27 of the NFC's 38 showed up (including only two defensive linemen), although the union says everyone will be in uniform by the new 1 p.m. kickoff time, altered to avoid a conflict with the World Series.
Still, the NFLPA also has found that sponsoring these games is no simple task. There is a seemingly endless list of concerns: insurance, tickets, promotions, advertising, equipment, press credentials, rooms, transportation. Changes in the insurance coverage were being typed up as late as Tuesday afternoon, just before the first formal players' meeting.
Owens said all the $15 tickets have been sold, but lower-priced ones still are available. NFLPA officials said other unions were buying blocs of seats, and a source said those seats were being sold at a discount rate.
"I just hope people will come out and watch the game, but I have no idea of how many will show up," said defensive back Tony Peters of the Redskins. "I wasn't all that excited about playing, but I look at this game as a show of support for players in the league. We are out to prove a point, that even without the owners, we can put on a game. Without players here, we never could prove that point. I think we can be a success and have fun, too."
Players added to the AFC roster yesterday were Bruce Harper, Marion Barber and Stan Blinko of the Jets. Players added to the NFC were Dean Miraldi and Ken Clark of the Eagles . . . Offensive lineman Mark May, who has an arm infection, has dropped out . . . Tackle George Starke practiced for the first time yesterday, but fullback John Riggins and quarterback Bob Avellini did not show for the NFC workout.