It is the game nobody wanted to take place.
Certainly, the National Football League never wanted its players participating in today's first NFL Players Association all-star game at RFK Stadium, starting at 1 p.m. But the league failed in its attempt to get it blocked through litigation.
Certainly, most of those who will play were hoping that the league and the union would agree on a new collective bargaining contract in time to have it called off.
And certainly the sponsoring NFLPA, as much as it wants to prove to the NFL it can put together an all-star event, would rather have bypassed all the organizational headaches.
Now, however, the game will be played. "We will play this game and the one Monday night (in Los Angeles), no matter what," said Brig Owens, who is the union's all-star games coordinator.
The NFLPA will receive a minimum of $500,000 from the Turner Broadcasting System, which says it is televising the game to more than 80 percent of the country via more than 90 outlets. The game will not be shown on local television, but can be seen on Turner's cable superstation, WTBS-TV-17.
The union will share any profits above the $500,000 mark with Turner. The game's promoters, Sports Play Inc., will get the gate proceeds from a crowd they estimate could reach 30,000. That is 10,000 more than they had expected.
Members of the winning team today will receive $3,000, the losers $2,500.
Whether these will be the last all-star games is another question. Executives of Turner Broadcasting met with union officials yesterday in the same surburban Baltimore hotel where negotiations are currently taking place. Apparently, they were discussing the future of the games, and possibly a change in format. For now, the union has scheduled a game next Sunday in Toronto, possibly between the winners of the opening games.
The union had hoped that these first games would be gala events, with many of the league's elite players participating. Instead, many stars dropped out, forcing the union to scramble even as late as yesterday to fill out the roster of what is billed as the NFC East team. Although the NFC has the two most heralded players, Lee Roy Selmon of Tampa Bay and Harry Carson of the New York Giants, the AFC East squad has been much more stable, and enters the game as the stronger side.
There are nine former Pro Bowl participants on the two rosters. There also are 13 Redskins, including yesterday's additions of linebackers Mel Kaufman and Monte Coleman, guard Mark May and defensive lineman Darryl Grant. Fullback John Riggins, who reappeared yesterday after missing two practices, will play. The NFC East has 13 players from the NFC Central and one free agent, Ray Waddy, a former Redskin.
The AFC has four swift wide receivers (Stan Morgan, Ray Butler, Nat Moore and Wesley Walker) for a game that should feature much more passing than running. "We have a few running plays and a lot of passes," said Coach Tom Matte, who will start New England backup Steve Grogan at quarterback. "It's a simple offense. If the guys can't remember it, they can write it down on their cuffs."
Matte and Chris Hanburger, the NFC coach, both maintain that this will be a competitive game. Both teams, as Hanburger put it, will be "going at it hard and very seriously."
But union officials feel that just the fact the game is taking place, and that fans are buying tickets, is as significant as the caliber of play.