Paul Martha, the 39-year-old Pittsburgh lawyer who served as a go-between in the final days of the bitter National Football League dispute, had been in periodic touch with union leader Ed Garvey ever since the strike began. And so, it was hardly surprising that Garvey would turn to him for help when all other options seemed to have failed.

A former running back for both the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Martha could be expected to have a feel for the players' concerns in the dispute, while his ties to the management side almost certainly would earn credibility from the NFL side of the bargaining table.

He also had a good relationship with Dan Rooney, son of the Steelers owner and a member of the NFL Management Council who also is being given much of the credit for helping to settle the dispute.

An employe of the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., Martha is vice president and general counsel for both the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League and the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL, both owned by the DeBartolo concern.

Before signing on with the 49ers, Martha had served as an arbitrator for noninjury NFL grievance cases, and both sides in the labor dispute, which was settled Tuesday after a 57-day strike, were familiar with his style of operation.

Garvey turned to Martha Saturday. He had failed to persuade management negotiators to return to the bargaining table either under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service or of private mediator Sam Kagel, who had previously been unsuccessful in his attempts to bring about a settlement.

In San Francisco on business, Martha and the negotiators for management and the union spent 12 hours on the telephone Sunday attempting to resolve the dispute, and late Sunday Martha caught the red-eye flight that would put him in New York Monday morning for two final days of thrashing out a settlement.

Martha was used as a means of communication, Rooney said, and "he gave both sides an escape valve. He did a fine job going back and forth, pushing it.

"We both had confidence in him," Rooney told the Associated Press. ". . . . We started to put it together Sunday."

By Monday, it seemed a settlement was near. Suddenly, however, it all fell apart. "The problem was in language," said Rooney. "Each side started saying, 'This is not what we mean.' " That was perhaps the most crucial moment in the strike. And that was when Rooney stepped in.

"On Tuesday morning, we had a two-hour meeting," he said. "That's when we got it back on center." The meeting involved four people. On management's side were Rooney and Jack Donlan. On the union's side were Gene Upshaw and Garvey.

In the afternoon, they were back at it again, with Martha an added starter. Slowly, the pieces began to fall into place.