The NFL Players Association gained another foothold in its continuing quest for disputed pension fund money yesterday when a federal judge in Baltimore ordered the owners to pay more than $29 million to cover the missed payments and interest.

In the damage phase of a case decided in July by a six-person jury, U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Howard ordered the NFL's three management trustees -- Phoenix Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, Minnesota Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn and former New York Jets president Jim Kensil -- to turn over nearly $17.9 million in missed payments from 1985 and 1986, more than $163,000 in interest from 1984, plus interest on both amounts at 12 percent per year.

Sargent Karch, an attorney for the NFL Management Council, the owners' bargaining arm, said more than $26 million of the money already lies in an escrow account with the court's registry as a result of a previous court-ordered payment.

"Most of this is old news," said Karch, who added the case will be appealed.

The case began shortly after the last collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expired in 1987. At issue is whether the owners could decrease payments to the pension fund.

Under the agreement, they were to pay $12.5 million annually into the fund. But the level of those payments was based on them being tax deductible, and when the fund performed so well that the Internal Revenue Service ruled the payments were not entirely tax deductable, the owners decreased them.

In addition to ordering payment of damages, Howard directed that the money be used to increase pension, disability and survivor benefits. The amount of those increases will be determined by a special actuarial master Howard will appoint. The NFLPA, which now says it is no longer a union, said the average monthly payout to those currently being paid under the plan is $385. Those payments could be increased to $500 per month "and still be actuarially sound," NFLPA attorney Jospeh A. Yablonski Jr. said.

"Now, two different judges and one jury have said what they {the owners} did is wrong," Yablonski said. "I don't know how many times they have to be told that what they did is wrong, that the interest of the players is paramount and supersedes their playing games with benefits that some need desperately. These are people who have negotiated multibillion-dollar TV contracts. Talk about welchers. It's outrageous."