Upshaw plans for 'worst' if NFL scraps labor deal

Times Staff Writers

The head of the NFL players union said Thursday that members are prepared to strike or decertify if owners choose to opt out of the current labor agreement next fall.

"I have prepared the players for the worst," Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Assn., said at the union's annual Super Bowl news conference.

The collective bargaining agreement reached in 2006 allows either side to opt out in November. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen have reportedly suggested the agreement gives too much to players.

If the owners opt out, there would be no salary cap in 2010 and the agreement would expire in 2011. Upshaw said the union has no plans to accept a reduced percentage of revenues.

"I just don't want the owners to believe that somehow there is a Santa Claus," he said. "There's not one."

Upshaw also said that during the off-season the union will discuss its position on the Pro Bowl -- when it should be played, where it should be played and "should it be played at all."

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A Google search of "Patriots" and "perfection" retrieves 338,000 results. The team has gotten as much or more attention than any NFL franchise in recent memory and is a two-touchdown Super Bowl favorite.

So is it possible the Patriots defense could be underrated?

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork says he thinks it might be.

"All year there's been something wrong with the defense, whether it's stopping the run up front, covering in the back, linebackers too old," he said. "We heard it all this year. We still managed to be at the top of the league in everything defensively. We like a lot of doubters, because when there are doubters that gives us more to play for."

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New York Giants players received T-shirts that read, "Talk is cheap. Play the game!," and it apparently had an effect on defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

Earlier this week, Umenyiora accused Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light of dirty play, but on Thursday he offered a T-shirt-inspired apology.

"I'm wearing mine and this is my motto from here on out," he said. "I'm sorry Matt Light, I didn't mean anything by that. I didn't mean to cause a whole hoopla or ruckus. It was between me and you and we'll see each other on Sunday.

"I love you man."

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Tom Brady's ankle hasn't been much of a story this week because, according to pool reporter Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, he has looked fine in practice.

The Patriots followed an inconsistent practice Wednesday with a crisp one Thursday, when, in an unusual development, they wore pads. They rarely do that on Thursdays.

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Unlike many NFL players, Brady doesn't have rituals the night before a big game. His concern Sunday will be preserving energy for a late-afternoon game that could stretch a little longer than most.

"It's a pretty draining game, it's pretty emotional," he said. "You wake up in the morning, you're excited, and you've got to find a way to kind of keep that pressure and intensity inside. It builds up throughout the course of the day until kickoff.

"It's a long game, especially after those five-minute commercial breaks."

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Tom Petty, who will perform during the halftime show, was asked if he will be thinking about the millions of people watching on television or try to focus on the 70,000 or so in the stadium.

"A lot of it is just trying to remember the next chord," Petty said.

Earlier this week, Belichick said he might listen to Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers, while preparing for the game. Told that, Petty said: "Well, it's never kept anybody from winning."

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Jordin Sparks, the "American Idol" winner who will sing the national anthem, is the daughter of former Giants cornerback Phillippi Sparks. She recalled telling her father that she had been selected for the big game.

His response: "At least one of us made it."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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