Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke said yesterday he was "surprised and, frankly, a little hurt" by the angry confrontations his striking players had with their nonunion replacements Wednesday, but added the problems "had nothing whatsoever to do with the relationship of our players and our organization.
"I've always felt a rapport with these players, and I still do," Cooke said in a telephone interview from his Middleburg, Va., estate. "It was a sudden impulse and I'm delighted it's died down."
The Redskins received a temporary restraining order from a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge to keep striking players from picketing on Redskin Park property after defensive tackle Darryl Grant cracked at least one window in a bus carrying replacement players. There were two confrontations later that day between striking players and their replacements, but there have been no incidents or problems in the last two days.
With negotiations having broken off in Philadelphia, indications are there will be games played Oct. 4 between the nonunion teams. The Redskins are scheduled to play St. Louis at 1 p.m. at RFK Stadium. Cooke said he "certainly" plans to attend the game.
"I think all of us are going to be surprised by the television ratings for those games, if for the novelty factor alone," Cooke said. "If the games are exciting, then I think the television ratings for the second week of games could be good."
Cooke said he believes the Redskins-Cardinals game will be "competitive." Cooke said his "only concern" is about "the advantage other teams ostensibly have" by playing with veterans who have crossed the picket line. No Redskin has crossed the picket line, and the Washington replacement team has very few players with any NFL experience. The games played by replacement teams will count in the league standings.
Free agency, the major issue facing NFL negotiators, "is the roadblock" to settling the four-day-old strike, Cooke said. "We are not going to budge on that . . . That is a cause that has very little substance."
The six other key issues in the dispute -- severance and pensions, an entry level wage scale, drug testing, roster size, protection for union representatives and guaranteed contracts -- could be settled "in an hour," Cooke said.
"They all can be resolved in the twinkling of an eye," he said. "They are no great hurdle, I can tell you that."
Informed that some Redskins, as well as other players, say they don't consider free agency to be the most important issue on the table, Cooke said, "Who is speaking, the union or the players? The union says the free agency issue is the dominant factor in negotiations. Some of the players say it's not as important. Tell them to come back, then, because we can get the other issues settled in an hour."
Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, said Thursday it will take "six to eight weeks of hard bargaining" to complete a deal once free agency is resolved.
Cooke said he is being kept informed on the negotiations by the NFL and is not very optimistic about a quick settlement of the strike.
"I expect that it may last longer than I originally thought it was going to last," he said.