- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

After months of muscle-flexing, the NFL and NFLPA finally are gathering around the campfire to toast marshmallows. It’s been quite the melodrama, you have to admit. The two sides have held “secret” meetings in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, suburban Boston, the Maryland shore — everywhere but the Bates Motel.

In fact, if they had a sense of humor, they’d try to win back disaffected fans by giving away all-expenses-paid trips to the various places they rendezvoused. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend a weekend in the Goodell Suite, overlooking Nantasket Beach and Massachusetts Bay?

Yes, our long national nightmare appears to be nearing an end. Wednesday was the 111th day of the lockout, for those of you scoring at home, and with July just around the corner — and the smell of Atomic Balm all but in the air — the owners and players have decided to get down to serious business. Indeed, from the sound of things, they’ve gone into their two-minute drill in an attempt to start the season on time.

The only question now, of course, is: Do they have the cardiovascular endurance to finish the job (to borrow a phrase from Mike Shanahan)?

You weren’t worried, were you? I certainly wasn’t. To me, the lockout was just more offseason programming for the NFL Network. Any day now, I expect NFL Films to put together a “Top 10 ‘Secret’ Meeting Places During the Labor Negotiations” — replete with interviews with chambermaids and parking valets. Just think: We’ve reached a point in our civilization where leagues get to cover their own labor disputes (though it would have been a lot more fun if, say, DeMaurice Smith, the players’ man, had been wired for sound).

News folk have taken to calling it the longest labor impasse in NFL history. It’s hard to look at it that way, though, when it hasn’t affected the playing of a single game — not even that faux football in the preseason, that NFL Light featuring backups, practice squadders and future gym teachers. Indeed, if a settlement is reached in the next few weeks, the dispute will be looked upon, in the decades ahead, as largely bloodless (aside from the suffering of club employees who were laid off).

Seven games, remember, were lost in the 1982 strike, and one was sacrificed in the ‘87 walkout. And that’s not counting the three replacement games we had to suffer through in ‘87 — which, years later, spawned a movie, starring Keanu Reeves, that we also had to suffer through. Heck, for that reason alone, labor and management should be hustling to strike a deal. The last thing anybody wants, after all, is another Keanu-plays-quarterback film (unless, that is, he brings along that giant robot from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to protect his blind side).

The reason I haven’t fretted too much about the lockout, by the way, is that it’s a totally different situation from ‘82 and ‘87. Back then, the players were fighting to improve their lot; it was worth it to them, in the long run, to miss a few paychecks if they thought they could make up the money (and benefits) at the other end.

But that’s not what’s happening here. In this negotiation, the players know they’re going to take a hit. The owners have made it very clear they want a bigger piece of the pie. So for the NFLPA, it’s mostly a matter of minimizing the damage. And since the new agreement won’t be as advantageous as the old one, why would the union make things worse by dragging out the talks and jeopardizing part of the regular season? Those lost paychecks would never be recovered.

On Wednesday, Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a non-secret appearance at a rookie symposium in Florida. (That must have been an interesting conversation, explaining to draft picks why, under the CBA being hammered out, they’re going to be receiving smaller contracts than previous draftees.)

When they were done, Smith and Goodell went back to what they’ve been doing — or not doing — for the past four months: reworking the deal between the owners and players. Let’s hope they wrap it up quickly so we can move on to more important stuff, like training camp holdouts and Albert Haynesworth conditioning tests.

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