Day Seven of the National Football League strike found management and labor no closer to settlement or even at the bargaining table. But it did find union chief Gene Upshaw traveling around the country to meet with striking players, some of whom questioned him about the union's position on free agency.
Several San Francisco 49ers told Upshaw they didn't feel the players should be striking for free agency. Veteran New England Patriot Raymond Clayborn said the union is not nearly as solid as it was during the 57-day strike of 1982. And veteran Cincinnati linebacker Reggie Williams announced he will play on Sunday with the Bengals' "replacement" team.
But many players, some previously undecided, indicated they support the union position and are prepared to stay out as long as necessary.
Ricky Hunley, the Denver Broncos' union representative, expressed concern on Friday that many players would return if the strike continued longer than a couple of weeks. But after the meeting with Upshaw, Hunley said, "As far as right now, there's no season. It's over. I may go out and look for another job. This thing might last a long time. You expect the worst, hope for the best. We're not going back. You might have one or two players who are money-hungry. As they say, one monkey don't stop the show."
But it appears there are a number of players who disagree with the union's emphasis on unrestricted free agency, which would allow players to move more freely to other teams at some point in their careers. The owners have said they are willing to liberalize the current system, but free agency still is the major sticking point of these negotiations.
Veteran San Francisco receiver Dwight Clark said his team told Upshaw it did not support a strong stand on free agency. "We tried to convince Gene that free agency shouldn't be the main issue of the strike," he said. "We told him to take that and trade it for something we want. A lot of players don't want to stay out if free agency is the issue. They are losing too much money. I don't think we'll get free agency -- that's the way everyone feels."
Clark, quarterback Joe Montana and kicker Ray Wersching have said they are considering crossing the picket line to play.
New England's Clayborn sounded even more impatient. "I'm getting very restless," he said. "I want to know what's going on. If the negotiators that they have now can't get the thing done, maybe we should bring in a whole new crew on both sides. We went out for 57 days in 1982 and got what we were offered before we went out. There's nowhere near as much solidarity as there was in 1982."
Williams, a 12-year veteran, became the first Bengals player to say he will not honor the strike. "If the Cincinnati Bengals are lining up to play a game that counts in the standings and toward the Super Bowl, I plan to be there to lend my assistance," Williams told the Cincinnati Post.
Upshaw met with players from West Coast teams on Sunday in Los Angeles, then went to Chicago, where he met with representatives from the midwestern teams yesterday. He will meet with players in Atlanta and New York today.
He emphasized that the purpose of his visits is not to shore up what has been perceived as deteriorating union sentiment for the strike. "It's not my job to go out and rally," he said. "This is the first of a series of meetings I'm conducting over the next couple of days to inform the players of what's going on. The players understand now that free agency is just as important as the pension. I think they understand the whole process better."
The owners, meanwhile, are preparing to play a full slate of games this weekend. The owners executive committee is scheduled to meet in New York today. They are expected to deal more with preparing for the weekend games than with more negotiations. Among the items to be discussed is whether to lift television blackouts in cities where the games are not sold out.
"I think that if we play on Sunday and we're successful, that does create additional pressure on the players," said Jack Donlan, the Management Council's executive director. "By the same token, if we're unsuccessful, we'll probably have a little egg on our face because we tried to play."
Three Raiders who reportedly were ready to cross the picket lines instead carried picket signs yesterday. Running back Marcus Allen, nose tackle Bill Pickel and linebacker Matt Millen refuted a story saying they were going to cross the line and were among the Raiders picketing.
Upshaw suggested that future negotiations be televised, to show that management is not serious about bargaining immediately. But Donlan, through spokesman John Jones, said televising the talks, or even providing a full transcript, would be an unfair labor practice. Special correspondent Matt Lait contributed to this report.