With apologies to Chamberlain (that would be Neville, not Wilt), it appears that NFL labor peace in our time is nearly at hand. We can spend the next few days quibbling about how "close'' the two sides have to get before they're unequivocally "close to a deal,'' but why bother with the tedious contractual details? Let's jump the gun and get right to the many lessons we've learned throughout this four-plus-month national ordeal of injunction filings, court hearings and dueling press conferences.
• It was a catchy little slogan, and made for a rather slick but unconvincing video on behalf of the NFL Players Association's cause, but we all know the "Let Them Play'' spiel was never really what this long stand-off was about. "Let Them Pay'' would have been more accurate, because from day one the players were trying to protect as much financial ground as possible, and the NFL owners were trying to seize some back.
Fundamentally it didn't get any more complicated than that. It wasn't about the love of competition and players who just want to play the game. It was about the love of compensation, and both sides trying to keep as much as possible of it for themselves. A business negotiation from start to finish. Case closed.
• He may be a Yankee Doodle Dandy of a federal mediator in most cases, but George (S.) Cohen didn't really move the ball forward very much when he had the players and the owners meeting together in his Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service office in Washington D.C. back in those frosty days of February and March (both inside and outside of the building).
Though he initially won praise from both sides for his steady-handed work in trying to get the two sides to agree at the bargaining table, his luster eventually faded. In fact, a league source told me last week that face-to-face negotiations got off to such an acrimonious start last winter in part because Cohen requested the two sides meet in a series of small groups at his office, which led to the players feeling greatly disrespected by the owners and taking exception with the lack of direct involvement by the principals on the league side.