Linebacker Tim Green was the only Atlanta falcon regular to play in all three replacement games held during the NFL strike. As he looked ahead to his teammates returning to work this week, he feared the worst. "I will be ostracized," Green said. "A lot of guys have so much anger and frustration over the strike. Of course, they'll take it out on me. Physically, I can handle myself. What I'm more afraid of is being shut out."
Green has always stood apart from his fellow players. While becoming an All-America at Syracuse, he majored in English and graduated with a 3.83 average. That was good enough to make him covaledictorian of his class of 3,000. Atlanta selected him in the first round of the 1986 draft, and his Falcon teammates discovered immediately that the 249-pound Green was different. He read Dickens in the locker room.
When Atlanta voted to strike, Green went along with the crowd, taking direction from kicker Mick Luckhurst, the Falcons' player rep, and tackle Mike Kenn, a vice-president of the NFL Players Association. Green and his roommate, Joe Costello, a linebacker on injured reserve, walked the picket line side by side. Costello carried a sign that read: THE ONLY GOOD SCAB IS A DEAD SCAB.
After a few days Green began to question the strike. "When I heard the negotiations were caught up in free agency, I started to see a lot of inconsistencies," he says. "[Union chief] Gene Upshaw called free agency both a bargaining tool and an American right. Which was it?"
The pro-union pronouncements of Luckhurst and Kenn started to ring hollow. "The union reps gave us the truth as they knew it," Green says. "It's dangerous for people to accept what is told them by a biased source. Unquestioned obedience is necessary to win football games, but I can't see unquestioned obedience in one's personal life."
Green grilled his agent, John Marchiano, who is also a labor lawyer, about the bargaining history of the NFLPA. He consulted family friends—Walt Norley, president of Eastern Prestressed Concrete Corp., in Warrington, Pa., and Bob Congel, head of Pyramid Companies, a shopping-mall developer based in Syracuse—for pro-management views of the strike. "Both of them told me that unions had become self-serving entities," Green says, "that they seldom represent the wishes of all their workers."
Green lay awake at night trying to sort things out. He remembered a scene from last season, when an official from NFLPA headquarters spoke to the Falcons and mentioned the possibility of a strike this year. Cornerback Herman Edwards, a 10-year veteran, blew a fuse when he heard the word strike. Green recalls that "Herm began yelling, 'Why are you talking strike again? We struck for 57 days in 1982 and came out with what we could've had on Day 1!' I didn't want to come out of this strike saying what Herm did, that it was a waste of time and money."
So Green phoned five of his closest friends on the Falcons and explained why he was breaking rank. On Day 11 of the strike, he and Costello crossed the picket line. Some of the Falcons lashed out at them. "They're going to have to live with their decision," said tackle Brett Miller. "The steps the real Atlanta Falcons take against them remain to be seen. I'm sure life for the two of them won't be easy."
"The players have told me that I'm not their teammate anymore," Green says. "I guess they've accepted themselves as stewards of the team. They have no right to hold a grudge against me, just as I have no right to hold a grudge against them. In this country each person is free to think, believe and fight for whatever he wants. It was the right decision because I did what I believed in. My teammates were welcome to come with me. In fact, they are now coming with me."