Let's put a score on this strike. Let's say it was a football game, the owners against the players. Early on, the players made a series of bold penetrations into the owners' territory. But they fumbled too often. Their hands were etched in stone. And the owners, smelling victory, ran up a 28-0 lead before letting the fourth-stringers mop up a 35-14 rout.
Know how much this strike will cost the owners?
Over the next five seasons, do you know how much they will have to pay players who thought their mission so holy they went on an eight-week strike?
This is how much: if the owners raise their ticket prices $3.38, they will cover the cost of the settlement.
For $3.38 a ticket, the players walked.
For two months, the players shut down the NFL. The owners botched it originally by not making a decent offer in the summertime. They had struck a $2 billion TV deal. Instead of offering to share that money fairly, they decided the union, which ludicrously asked for 55 percent of the gross, wasn't strong enough to pull off a strike. So the owners stayed mute, while the players grew so angry they walked off the job.
Ideas carry men forever; wishes carry them a month or two.
The players' wishes -- first for 55 percent, then for half of all TV money, finally for an outrageous wage scale -- soon grew too weak to sustain the commitment of a strike.
With no idea as the engine of their fury, assorted players around the league made their discontent known. As many as 10 of the 28 teams were reported to have voted to accept the owners' offer of last week. This at a time when the union leadership said that offer was an insult. Better to be insulted than ignored, though, and now the NFL's 1,500 players have a contract that has improved their financial situation a little. They asked for "fantasyland," as Redskin guard Mark May said, and they wound up with a $3.38 ride on the owners' merry-go-round.
Three bucks, thirty-eight cents. This is not altogether fair, for the players did improve their lot in certain noneconomic areas. They now can look at their own medical records. They can use the surgeon of their choosing. They now have a voice, a small one, in rulesmaking.
"These are significant things," said Mark Murphy, the Redskins' player representative and a member of the union's seven-man executive committee.
In this strike for money, however, the union did not do well. It gained bonuses of up to $60,000 a player; it gained severance pay of up to $140,000, and it established a wage scale of minimum salaries up to $200,000. And a player now can become a free agent after three seasons, and compensation for a guy making $110,000 will be one No. 1 draft choice, not two.
Murphy doesn't like much of it. He thinks the union sacrificed too much to settle for so little. That is probably correct, but he also is correct in saying that the owners saw weakness in the union -- those 10 teams -- and therefore stiffened in its resolve to give as little as possible.
The owners, over these eight weeks, were winners in the battle for the players' minds. The players saw the strength of an idea on the owners' side -- the idea being that ownership never gives up control of its revenue. And the players saw themselves, like children near Christmas, wishing for a pony when daddy already said Santa might bring a bicycle.
Here's how you get to $3.38 a ticket . . .
The owners will pay about $216 million in the five years of this settlement, beyond the 80 percent of salaries unaffected by the wage scale. (There is $60 million in immediate bonuses; maybe $15 million in raises due to the wage scale affecting 20 percent of the players; if there is 25 percent turnover each year and the average guy lasts four seasons, the owners will pay $107 million in severance money; playoff money, doubled, will be $34 million).
Attendance last year was 14,244,753. At that rate, nearly 64 million will buy a ticket over the five years of the contract.
The $216 million might not come from the 64 million customers at $3.38 a crack, but the owners will get it back somewhere -- if not from the season ticket holders, then from an extra TV commercial here and there. We should not worry about the massahs who have successfully kept the field hands off the front porch.
What we should do is renew acquaintances with our old friends in burgundy and gold who gathered yesterday at Redskin Park for the first time since Sept. 20.
As Tony Peters -- remember him? -- drove a shoulder into a man bold enough to catch a pass in his territory, Special Teams Coach Wayne Sevier -- remember him? -- shouted out, "A little football."
A truck driver, passing by Redskin Park, leaned on his horn a few seconds and then shouted, "Foooootballlll."
Joe Theismann -- remember him? -- rolled right and threw a pass that was batted away by a defender downfield. "C'mon, Joseph, you ninny," Theismann shouted at himself, and if anyone doubts that pro football players need time to get in mid-season form, Theismann next berated himself by saying, "Jiminy Cricket."
Jiminy Cricket, the Redskins are back.
"We put our faith in Ed Garvey and Ed said he has taken us as far as he could," Theismann said when told that Murphy believed the Redskins would vote next week to reject the tentative agreement. "He got us as much money as he could. With the severance and the immediate bonus, a sixth-year player gained $140,000. You can't say we didn't get anything.
"For teams not to accept it now means you don't believe in the judgment of people you asked to negotiate the deal for you."
Stranger things have happened, of course, on this trip to fantasyland. Stay tuned, Jiminy Cricket.