Montana Crosses Line
Thirty-seven more players, including Joe Montana and 11 of his San Francisco 49er teammates, crossed NFL picket lines Wednesday in time to pick up this week’s paychecks and prepare for this weekend’s games.
The defections brought to 129 the total of players who have returned to their teams. The union says 1,585 players are under its jurisdiction, so that means just slightly more than 8% of the union’s membership has crossed over.
Meanwhile, Gene Upshaw, the union chief, and Jack Donlan, management negotiator, met for a second straight day in the Washington area. While both sides agreed there was little chance for a quick settlement, Doug Allen, a union official, said Upshaw was “encouraged, and progress has been made.”
John Jones, Management Council spokesman, said only some secondary points were discussed--injury and non-injury grievance procedures, discipline by the commissioner, injury protection and safety and welfare. Allen said such major topics as guaranteed contracts and protection for player representatives were “touched on.”
After Wednesday’s session, Donlan met at a hotel in Tysons Corner, Va., with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, head of the NFL’s broadcast committee. Later Wednesday night, Donlan and Upshaw conferred by telephone, and, according to Jones, planned to meet again today.
The biggest rift in union ranks came in Redwood City, Calif., where 12 members of the 49ers crossed, including Montana, wide receiver Dwight Clark, running backs Roger Craig and Joe Cribbs, and cornerback Eric Wright.
The union, however, noted that it was holding the line in most cases.
“We’re disappointed, but not surprised by the number of 49ers who reported,” Allen said. “Other than that, though, only a few trickled in. We’ve still got around 1,500 on the picket line, and right now we’re not focusing on the scabs but on our strength.”
There were some near-defections from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who are 0-3 and saddled with what appears to be one of the NFL’s weakest replacement teams.
Three players--NFL MVP Lawrence Taylor, Pro Bowl defensive end Leonard Marshall and third-string quarterback Jeff Hostetler--reported to Giants Stadium, then left after meeting with team officials. Taylor got into a car driven by nose tackle Jim Burt and said he was going to play golf.
General Manager George Young denied they were asked to leave.
In addition to the 12 players from the 49ers, 4 more from St. Louis crossed, giving the Cardinals a league-high 18 defectors, and 3 more from Dallas, giving the Cowboys 11. Minnesota and Buffalo each had two players return, and Cleveland and Miami had one each. That left just 7 of the 28 teams with no defectors--the Giants, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs. Four more teams had just one, including the Chicago Bears, who had rookie defensive back Votie Patterson, a member of the team’s injured reserve list, cross the line.
One of the Dallas defectors, defensive lineman Kevin Brooks, said he got a letter from the Cowboys, saying he might lose $250,000 of deferred income if he stayed out. Tony Dorsett and Ed (Too Tall) Jones cited similar reasons for reporting last week. That led the union to claim that such threats institute a breach of contract.
“NFL players who are illegally threatened by management to cross picket lines could go to court and seek free agency because their contract has been breached,” Dick Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel, said in a statement.
The union already has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the Cowboys and New Orleans Saints for “unlawful coercion” of players such as Dorsett and Danny White.
Berthelsen said that since their contracts have expired, players receiving “threats” can “go directly to federal or state court to pursue free agency.”
Donlan and Upshaw resumed talks Tuesday night, ending a string of 11 days without negotiations.
Management has insisted progress could not be made until the union softened its bid for free agency, and the NFLPA early Tuesday declared it will not let one issue stand in the way of a settlement.