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NFL lockout conjures images of 1987 work stoppage

TAMPA — Mark Carrier stood outside One Buc Place 24 years ago, holding a sign with other striking union members while replacement players stepped off buses and filed past, trying not to make eye contact.

As a rookie receiver in 1987, the last time there was a work stoppage in the NFL, Carrier would gather with his teammates at local parks two times a week for hastily arranged practices, during which they tossed the football around with quarterbacks Steve DeBerg and Vinny Testaverde.

"It wasn't as intense because we had no gear on. But we'd meet together and run routes with the quarterbacks," Carrier said. "The defensive backs would be out there. We had organized it to be that way.

"The strike lasted (24) days. But attendance for those workouts dwindled every day because there was a lot of uncertainty."

This time around, there will be no Counterfeit Bucs, no San Francisco Phony Niners.

In fact, there are very few simi­larities to the NFL's last labor impasse. On Friday, the players union decertified after 16 days of mediated talks, a move that was countered when the league's owners instituted a lockout.

In 1987, players were striking as a way to gain free agency.

This time, players simply would like to make a goal-line stand and prevent losing to owners another $650 million of the more than $9 billion in annual revenue the league generates.

Thanks to the inclusive style of union boss DeMaurice Smith — and the age of instant communication with text messages and Twitter — players appear to be more galvanized than ever before. In 1987, about 16 percent of the 1,585 players crossed the picket line, including stars Joe Montana, Tony Dorsett and Lawrence Taylor.

The last work stoppage occurred after two weeks of the regular season. There was one week of no games. Then the owners brought in replacement players for three games.

This time, it'll be six months before players have to face the prospect of missing a paycheck. But success of the union will depend on how it can maintain the resolve of its members.

Players won't receive any insurance benefits or bonuses, and more than 450 players who are scheduled to become free agents could, eventually, create pressure to get a deal done.

"You always thought it wouldn't last long. I think that's the mind-set of a lot of players," Carrier said. "It's not affecting them as much now because all they're missing is the offseason workouts. But when you start missing games, you feel like (the owners) can't survive without us and we can't survive without them. But as the weeks go by, you start to ask yourself, 'Is it really worth it?' And that's when you see guys fracturing.

"I'm concerned about the players from this standpoint: Back in '87, there was something we were fighting for, fighting to achieve. That, to me, is the scary thing. What is the one thing during this work stoppage that the players are fighting for where they can say we want this or that? All the players want now is to keep what they have. I think that's the hardest thing, to keep what we have already earned as players."

In many ways, Tampa Bay was at the center of the last labor storm. Then-owner Hugh Culverhouse was president of the NFL's management council. Bucs offensive lineman Marvin Powell, a former Jets standout nearing the end of his career, was chairman of the nine-player executive committee and a litigant against the league.

The USFL had folded a year earlier, so owners had enormous leverage over players, whom fans blamed for the strike by a 3-1 ratio. In Tampa Bay, only one player, center Dan Turk, crossed the picket line. Turk, who played 15 seasons with five teams before dying of cancer in 2000, said he didn't see enough urgency to get the dispute resolved.

"I didn't see two sets of people at the (negotiating) table sitting there with their sleeves rolled up and sweat on their eyebrows," Turk said at the time.

Another major difference was bargaining sessions were held in Tampa, New York, San Francisco, Washington and Philadelphia to limit media coverage. No public announcements were held ahead of the sessions.

The replacement Bucs went 2-1, equaling the number of wins Tampa Bay had that season with their regular players — the first under coach Ray Perkins.

"The younger players who are just getting to the NFL, they're the ones who are going to feel the crunch of uncertainty,'' said Tyrone Keys, a defensive end for the Super Bowl champion Bears in 1985 who was entering his second season with the Bucs when the strike hit.

"They really want to come in and impress during the offseason, and they're going to be dealing with a lot of internal things that happen. They've been in a routine playing football their whole lives, and that is going to be disrupted.''

Carrier said he is not optimistic about an agreement getting done soon.

"The players have to know the guys who went (on strike) in '82 allowed me to have some things. And there was no free agency when I came into the league," he said.

"But I don't see this thing working out until August. I don't think a lot is going to happen until then."

Lawsuit: The owners added two lawyers to the players' antitrust lawsuit. David Boies, who represented Al Gore during the recount fight in the disputed 2000 presidential election, and Paul Clement, a former U.S. Solicitor General, will join Gregg Levy, who has represented the league before the Supreme Court. The suit — Brady et al vs. National Football League et al — seeks to block the owners' lockout. Plaintiffs comprise nine current NFL players, including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and one incoming player, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, who is expected to be a top-10 pick in April's draft. A hearing has not been scheduled. But it likely will be heard in Minneapolis by Judge David Doty, who has overseen NFL labor matters since the early 1990s.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

NFL lockout conjures images of 1987 work stoppage 03/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 8:16pm]
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