On the NFL's eve of destruction
Hours from the precipice, remembering another abyss
On the NFL's eve of destruction
The NFL and NFLPA were asked by mediator George Cohen not to speak to the media, but they've been speaking for days. As they appear poised to throw themselves over the cliff, owner negotiator Jeff Pash and unon negotiator DeMaurice Smith both managed to get themselves in front of television cameras on Thursday night to lob bombs at each other. At the same time, public relations guys from both sides found themselves in a mini-Twitter war.
Oh, for the good old days -- when media blackouts were broken in much more civilized fashion.
The strike in 1982 lasted for 50-something days. After it started, for close to 2 weeks, talks were held at a hotel in Hunt Valley, Md. A private mediator with experience in NFL disputes was brought in, an old guy from San Francisco with a great reputation named Sam Kagel. Immediately, Kagel imposed a news blackout.
(About 10 days later, Kagel would very theatrically abandon his efforts, shouldering his way through a group of reporters and muttering something on the order of, "As they say in the islands, 'Big waste time.'" Kagel would come back in a week or so, and a deal eventually got done.)
Anyway, the parties honored the blackout for a day or so, as memory serves. But there were about 20 reporters in the hotel with nothing to write. At a certain point, a couple of us were sitting around the lobby and looking for a way to entertain ourselves. We settled upon the time-honored sport of screwing with the TV people. They were all poised to get some uber-crucial tape of negotiators walking into and out of meeting rooms and saying nothing, and we'd say, "There's Garvey," referring to the head of the union, Ed Garvey. At which point, the TV guys and their camera people would sprint toward the elevators -- only to discover that it wasn't Ed Garvey, but some furniture salesman from Fayetteville. They fell for it every time, too.
Anyway, the blackout was on but both sides wanted to get out their spin -- not so much for the public to hear but for the players. So we all settled upon a highly civilized bit of afternoon business. At about 5 pm every day, we all would head to the big lobby bar. We would array ourselves around the room, three or four reporters per table. And at the appointed hour, the head PR guy for each side would enter the bar. If the management PR guy got there first and headed to the table of writers on the far right of the bar, the union PR guy would head to the table on the far left.
And they would spin. It was all not-for-attribution. Everything was either from an "owners' source" or a "union source." And as we drank and scribbled under the low lights, with Hall and Oates or Rick Springfield or somesuch playing in the background, we would hear each side's take on the day's negotiations. The writers stayed put as they waited for their audience with each side. The PR guys actually would cross in the middle of the room as they worked their way from table to table.
Then we all wrote stories and had dinner and did the same thing the next day. Big waste time.
And we are headed there again.