Although the New Orleans Saints voted yesterday to accept the latest National Football League bargaining proposal, the NFL Players Association maintained that league attempts to end the 49-day-old union strike by appealing directly to the players has failed.
"They can't win that way, it's doomed to failure," said Ed Garvey, NFLPA executive director, who said there was no sign that negotiations will be resumed. "So they get three or four teams to vote to end the strike. We still would have 24 or 25 going the other way. What good does that do them?"
Garvey later maintained that "24 teams, one way or another," had turned down the league's proposal, although that number could not be confirmed. At a team meeting last night, about 35 Washington Redskin players rejected the proposal, although player representative Mark Murphy said no formal vote was taken.
"We didn't want to dignify it (the proposal)," Murphy said, "but we all are insulted by it. Everyone knows we are in for a tough time, but we've stayed out this long and we aren't about to give up now. The management's doom-and-gloom approach isn't going to work."
The Saints' break with the union came on a day when the NFLPA charged league owners with using scare tactics to force a membership uprising. Those allegations were based on a number of owners' statements saying the season was in jeopardy if an agreement was not reached soon.
Two members of the NFL Management Council held press conferences. Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse, in his first public statements since the strike began, said he believes the season is over if teams don't play this Sunday. Philadelphia owner Leonard Tose accused the NFLPA of "a premeditated, tactical delaying process and total misunderstanding of management strength and commitment."
But Culverhouse, who said he would lose up to $5 million if the season was called off, conceded it would be unlikely the owners would cancel the season formally any time soon because of legal ramifications.
"They aren't going to cancel the season," Garvey said. "They have never said that at the bargaining table. Only the press has spread that idea. It's absurd to think that the players will back off now, it's a ridiculous question. The question should be, when will the league begin good faith bargaining? Why should we come back when they are bargaining illegally? You are looking at union-busting tactics but they aren't going to work. This union will continue to be strong."
The NFL evidently decided to approach union members directly because, as Dallas President Tex Schramm put it, "The answer now lies with the players in the field, the members of the teams who have not had a strong voice or haven't exercised one. If there is a solution, that's where it will rest."
Chuck Sullivan, chairman of the NFL Management Council said: "I don't think the union leadership wants a settlement. I think that the strike will be settled within 48 hours after the players in the league regain control of the union."
The league made available to players, through their respective teams, a five-page summary of its last bargaining proposal. It was the summary that led to a flurry of team meetings yesterday.
A poll by the Miami Herald indicated that at least four teams--Miami, St. Louis, New York Giants and New England -- had rejected outright the proposal. At least five others, including the Redskins, either had informal rejection votes or reached a consensus to turn it down. Other teams either were meeting late last night or had meetings scheduled for today.
"We would rather see the season go down the drain," said Beasley Reece, Giants player representative, after all 34 Giants at a team meeting said they supported the union.
But the Saints adopted a statement saying that they "agreed to accept management's offer in principle while realizing there are details that need to be defined." Guido Merkens, the Saints' alternate player representative, said the vote was 45-1, with one abstention. Twenty-five players attended the meeting, and the others were contacted later by phone, according to Merkens.
Both Merkens and Russell Erxleben, the team representative, said they might again be reprimanded by union officials for their action.
"I don't care," Merkens told reporters. Early in the negotiations, Erxleben was reprimanded when he suggested that players be polled on issues in the strike.
Don Hasselbeck, the Patriots' player represent-ative, said the Saints' vote "doesn't surprise me. The Saints were the only team without a player rep when we went over the document. Russell left town early so he couldn't take any information with him. Therefore, some of the guys down there had to have been misled."
Prior to the Saints' vote, the players met with owner John Mecom at the team's practice facility, the first time they had been on team property since the strike began. Mecom told them, "We are sitting in a high level of frustration. We want to get something done, and so do the players. We are making heroes out of a bunch of lawyers and negotiators instead of the young men on the playing field."
Said Garvey: "The league continues to take illegal actions by going directly to the players. They seem determined to flaunt the law. Are they willing to cancel the season to violate the law? Of course not."
Garvey, who spoke with Commissioner Pete Rozelle yesterday, reiterated that he didn't think meaningful negotiations would be resumed until the National Labor Relations Board issued an injunction requiring the league to bargain in good faith over a wage scale. The NLRB's general counsel has issued a complaint against the league but the board has not ruled on an injunction.
Atlanta team representative Mike Kenn said all 40 Falcons at a meeting yesterday "totally rejected the league proposal. They were flabbergasted, insulted by the offer. They were mostly upset by the legal inequities in the contract."
Giants quarterback Scott Brunner: "A lot of guys were going into the meeting ready to vote for anything, any proposal management offered. No matter what it was, they wanted to get back to work. But after we went over it, we decided that their offer was almost ludicrous."
Last night, the Cowboys met for 3 1/2 hours and unanimously rejected the latest offer, saying they liked the money but not the other terms.
"If you have to say 'Would you accept or reject that offer as it is,' we would reject it," said quarterback Danny White. "But the Cowboys did agree to accept the economic package that the owners have presented."
"We have some reservations in terms of the squad size, the no strike clause, the part about re-entry once you leave the league--there are 13 in all," said Robert Newhouse. "I think they are pretty major reservations."