Had the NFL players known six weeks ago what they know now, they would not have gone on strike, Washington Redskins player representative Neal Olkewicz said yesterday during a luncheon at the Touchdown Club.
"Looking back on it," Olkewicz said, "everybody can be a Monday morning quarterback and say, 'Well, look, if we would have known we were going four weeks and lost all our money and the owners wouldn't negotiate with us, of course we wouldn't have done it.'
"But I never would have thought that would have happened. I don't think Gene Upshaw or anyone else thought that would happen. We thought that if we stayed out a few weeks that things would get taken care of. We started out up here, they started out down here -- we would meet somewhere in the middle, the normal bargaining process which didn't happen."
Asked if the strike was worthwhile, Olkewicz said that it was. If nothing else, he said, what happened during the strike will strengthen the NFL Players Association's case in the lawsuit the union filed against the owners the day the strike ended.
"We put the fans through a lot, we put ourselves through a lot. But it was something we had to do and, like I said, if we would have known that it would turn out the way it did, we wouldn't have done it. But then again, I'm not a lawyer, but I think it makes our case a lot better in the courts because we tried everything we could to negotiate . . . and they just said, 'No, no, no.' And I would think it might take a few years, eventually, hopefully we will get something out of it and hopefully football will be better for everybody in the future."
The present, meantime, does not look as bright, Olkewicz said.
Speaking before the announcement of which players the Redskins would cut to reach the 55-man roster limit, he said that his main regret was that some union players who went on strike would be losing their jobs. He also said that the cutting of union players so that replacement players could be retained would heighten tensions within the team.
"My one regret of this whole thing is that players that I've asked to walk the picket line with me are going to get cut today while other guys are going to take their spots," Olkewicz said. "And they knew that when they came back they were going to be the first one to go -- people like Babe Laufenberg, Cliff Benson, Glenn Dennison, guys who were very supportive during the strike."
Asked if it will be harder to keep the team together now, Olkewicz replied, "It will be harder having replacement players while our friends are out in the street. But that's something we're just going to have to work through."
But Olkewicz said he now was glad that the Redskins' personnel staff was prepared for the strike and signed replacement players beforehand.
"It's funny, because when that first happened that was one of things that made our team mad -- the fact that they were signing these guys for $1,000 to be ready in case there was a strike. But then the strike wore on, it's good they did it. I mean look at the Giants and Minnesota and a lot of other teams that really got nailed by the strike. As much as I hate to say it, I'm glad they did it because we're in a good shape right now and, like I said, I hated for it to happen, but at least if they did it, they did it right."