Sunday noon. They've been six days without a fix and they're hearing band music in their heads. Just an hour or so to wait for the connection, but time moves slowly and then hands are twitchy, their mouths dry. Finally the moment arrives and they move with delicious anticipation across their dens and living rooms to their TV sets and turn on—a nation of pro football junkies, pitifully hooked every fall. But the word was out that the supply might dry up! The NFL Players' Association was on strike, the club owners refused to buckle and millions of fans were faced with the prospect of kicking the habit cold turkey.
In what seemed a cruel tease last Friday night, in Chicago's Soldier Field, under lights that young Abe Lincoln couldn't have read by, an NFL team played a game for the first and, it then appeared, possibly the last time this season, the world champion Kansas City Chiefs beating the College All-Stars 24-3.
At that point it looked like Len Dawson (who completed 17 of 21 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown) would be 1970's Most Valuable Player; Mike Garrett (see cover), who gained 47 yards in eight carries, as well as catching four passes for 34 yards, would be the rushing champion; the All-Stars' Bruce Taylor, a defensive back from Boston U. who also runs back kicks, would be Rookie of the Year; and for Comeback Player of the Year, take your pick of anybody who played poorly in the first half and well in the second.
But three days later the owners, after having met for nearly 24 hours, reached an agreement with the Players' Association, and the strike was settled. Earlier in the week the owners had tried, and failed, to break the strike by opening the training camps to veterans. "We knew that would happen," said Jim Tyrer, the Chiefs' player representative. "The owners are trying to weaken the players and get them to go to camp and bust the Players' Association."
August 9, 1970
When a handful of veterans reported, Players' Association leaders said no action would be taken against scabs, but as Ben Davidson of the Oakland Raiders put it, "Football is a rough game, and it's conceivable that a team that went against all the other teams in the dispute might find itself suffering an unusual number of injuries." Later he said he had just been joking. Tee, hee.
After the owners threw open the camps, 25 of the 26 player reps (Tyrer was working out with the Chiefs) and 56 other players met at a hotel near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. The next afternoon they notified the owners that the players were officially on strike.
"Bart Starr made one of the most impressive presentations I've ever heard," said Bennie McRae of the Bears. "He said we had to show our strength, that we're at a crossroads and that the survival of our association depends on sticking together."
The main cause of the strike was a difference of about $8 million in what the players and the owners thought the owners should contribute to the pension plan in the forthcoming four-year contract. (The settlement called for the owners to ante up $4.5 million annually, which just about matched their original offer, but they made concessions in other areas.) Owner Lamar Hunt of Kansas City had called the players' figure "unrealistic." He said there would be a season even if retired players had to be brought back and minor-leaguers brought up. "In '60 we started from scratch," he said, "and we can do it again."
Philadelphia Owner Leonard Tose disagreed. "I think there is a possibility the season is over now," he said. Charles (Stormy) Bidwill, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, lined up with Tose: "We'll go just so far, and then we'll cancel everything."
The players were equally direful. "We've waited this long, and it's been costly," said Lionel Aldridge. "I'm not going to go to Green Bay until the Players' Association tells me to or this thing is settled."
Players' Association leaders claimed their side of the conflict had not been presented accurately, if at all, in the nation's press. (In fact, one player, Joe Green of Pittsburgh, was so outraged he spat in the face of a sportswriter.) They issued a rebuttal to an NFL memorandum, charging that the owners' negotiating committee "remained rigid in its proposals while the players have reduced their offer six times."
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs managed to get ready for the All-Star Game in only six days. While their colleagues were out on strike, they justified playing because a) the All-Star Game is really an extension of last season, an honor due to the world champions, b) the game was for charity, and c) they wouldn't gain an advantage over the idle teams because, as Jim Tyrer said, "One week of practice isn't going to mean anything when the championship game is played in January."
As the All-Star Game drew near, the pressure grew. The Chiefs were working out on their own at a high school field on the outskirts of Kansas City when, according to Lamar Hunt, Head Coach Hank Strain showed up. Stram pushed for participation in the All-Star Game. At that time, the majority of the players probably were against playing.
They met again on the same field at 6 p.m. Tyrer had been in contact with the association, which said to start workouts, but, if no settlement were reached, to walk out of camp before the game. Most of the Chiefs bridled at this, the consensus being, "If we're going to camp, we're going to play. We'll prove we're with the association by walking out after the game."
Stram had a personal reason for wanting to play. He was a sophomore halfback at Purdue in 1942, and since it was wartime, undergraduates were allowed to participate in the All-Star Game. Stram was invited to play in 1943 against the Redskins. However, he got another invitation—to join the Army. Stram wanted to play so badly he considered going AWOL but was talked out of it.
At least two of his players, Dawson and Garrett, also had personal incentives. Len was on the 1957 team, which was coached by Curly Lambeau, who started Stanford's John Brodie. Dawson never got into the game. "They were saving Jimmy Brown and me," he says.
Garrett, fresh from winning the Heisman Trophy, played in 1966 under Coach John Sauer who made him the fifth and last running back. When he finally got in he didn't play well, and he remembers Sauer telling him, "You'll never make it. Too small. No good."
At the 1970 All-Star camp all was tranquil, according to Coach Otto Graham, until the Players' Association sent Alex Karras and Mike Pyle to talk to the players. Karras and Pyle were "trying to disrupt our practice sessions," said Otto, and they succeeded in getting "the kids all mixed up." The next day the players boycotted practice to show their solidarity with the association, even though they are not eligible to join it until after their third NFL game.
That night Graham moderated a meeting at which the coaches told the players the "association was using them," that the game had no effect on the negotiations. Whether the players believed this or not, they resumed practicing.
Otto also had troubles of his own makings. He couldn't decide which quarterback to start, Mike Phipps of Purdue or Dennis Shaw of San Diego State, so he flipped a coin and Shaw won. Neither was effective, Shaw completing only two of 14 passes. The star of the Stars was Bruce Taylor, who did a good job covering Frank Pitts and Gloster Richardson. He also returned two kickoffs for 42 yards and a punt for 28, and one of his returns was reduced because of a clipping penalty. Taylor, the property of the 49ers, has a brother, Brian, a freshman at Princeton, who is one of the finest basketball prospects in the country.
The game was neither the "terrifically outstanding contest" that Stram predicted nor "the nation's No. 1 football spectacle" the sponsoring Chicago Tribune called it the next day. It was dull and one-sided and the seventh consecutive win for the pros.
Kansas City scored on a Dawson-to-Pitts 36-yard pass play and a Jan Stenerud field goal in the first quarter to lead 10-0, and with the help of two interceptions (one off Shaw, one off Phipps), led 24-0 at the half. The All-Stars got their three points in the third quarter on a 29-yard field goal by Mike Delaney of American International College, as the Chiefs sat on their lead.
Most of the Chiefs were pleased with their performances. Dawson had certainly made up for not playing 13 years before, and, coincidentally, the marching band from his old high school in Alliance, Ohio had been on hand to serenade him. Garrett, playing at 181 pounds (down 10 from last year), seemed faster and slipperier than ever.
Jim Tyrer spoke up. "We're a team, an association, a family," he said. "We pro players are unified in what we're fighting for, but on the field we'll be knocking each other's heads off."
The hitting will start this weekend. And in the nick of time. Withdrawal symptoms were setting in.