- Associated Press - Friday, April 29, 2011

EDEN PRAIRIE, MINN. (AP) - The NFL unlocked its gates and opened its doors Friday, allowing players to get back to football for the first time in nearly two months.

Four days after a federal judge ended the 45-day lockout, dozens, if not hundreds, of players showed up at team headquarters, exchanging smiles and high-fives with their teammates and picking up playbooks from their coaches. Tony Romo and Jason Witten even did some sprints on a Dallas Cowboys practice field.

“From the players’ standpoint, I think everybody is pleased we’re not locked out anymore, especially the rookies,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said on CNBC, his first public comments about the dispute since he became one of the 10 plaintiffs in a federal antitrust lawsuit still pending against the NFL.

Players from Seattle to New York warmly greeted a little bit of normalcy in the most unusual offseason in league history, fully aware that it might not last very long.

Despite the halting steps toward football, the legal fight is far from over. Attorneys for the players filed a brief Friday to challenge the NFL’s request that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis restore the lockout as soon as possible.

Attorneys for the players wrote that the owners failed to offer any evidence that they will suffer irreparable harm if the lockout is not restored. They also suggested that the public and the players, with their short careers, are at far more risk when the $9 billion business is stalled.

“Professional football is part of the fabric of American life,” the attorneys wrote. “Because the uncontroverted record of evidence shows that the 2011 season could be canceled or significantly curtailed without an injunction in place, a stay may deprive the public of professional football altogether.”

On Friday, at least, the players were back.

“It’s time to get started, get this ball rolling,” Seattle special teams captain Roy Lewis said.

Giants receiver Devin Thomas flew in from Michigan on Thursday night so that he could be sure to get in a workout and talk to his coaches.

“I was geeked; I had to get back,” he said.

Schedules started to take shape, too. The Detroit Lions scheduled organized team activities for Wednesday, the Chicago Bears plan to hold a rookie minicamp next weekend and the Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars and many other teams planned to begin offseason workout programs in earnest on Monday.

The Tennessee Titans’ main gate, which had been chained, was open after players were turned away by two armed security guards earlier this week.

“I was just glad to be in the building again,” New York Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “I was able to come into the building and I’m able to rehab and everything, so I’m embracing this moment right now.”

Center Ryan Kalil was one of about a dozen Carolina Panthers players who showed up to get their playbooks from new coach Ron Rivera. Kalil said he was able to rest and spend more time with his family during the lockout, but he was eager to reunite with his teammates.

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