Vikings alumni weigh in on lockout

While former players have a stake in the terms of a new labor deal, they just want a deal done. See what some of the Vikings' most recognizable alumni are saying about the current lockout and how it relates to past work stoppages.

The history of NFL work stoppages dates back decades. The most noteworthy were in 1982 and 1987 – the second of which came during the season and resulted in the infamous Year of the Scab, players that got many of the top echelon of power in the NFL to vow they would never dilute their product like that again.

Several former Vikings players weighed in on the current labor impasse from their own perspective and, what can be learned from talking to those who paved the road that has led to the current level of success is that there is a belief that a deal can and will get done if, for no other reason, there is too much at risk if the league alienates its fans and corporate partners much more.

While the strikes of '82 and '87 are remembered by history, battles between labor and management occurred decades earlier. Whether it was an individual holdout or an organized walkout in the mid-1970s to make a symbolic point, the working relationship between owners and players has always been something with two distinct sides that are of polar mindsets.

Former Vikings running back Dave Osborn was involved in just one work stoppage – a brief player walkout in 1974 that wasn't unanimous from team to team, but was done to prove a point that would set the stage for the full-blown walkouts that would follow the next decade.

"We had a short little walkout when I was playing," Osborn said. "The issues back then were about the feeling that players weren't being treated right and there wasn't any free agency back then. If you didn't like your contract offer, you were out of luck. I think it was a week in training camp. Some people stayed in, others went out. As a team, all of us stayed out."

Tight end Stu Voigt was part of the 1974 walkout and echoed some of the same sentiments of Osborn. However, he said the reasons for the work stoppages are quite different. The history of work stoppages in the NFL have almost all surrounded players demanding a larger share of the revenue. This time around, it is the owners looking for more than they have been giving, due to the rising cost of operating a franchise and the limited amount of increases teams can make in ticket prices.

"This time around, the main issue is that the owners are looking for a giveback from the players," Voigt said. "For whatever reason, [the owners] signed a deal that was great for the players. Now the owners, whether it's the economic conditions that have affected all of us over the last few years, they want a giveback to level the playing field. They're talking huge numbers – in the billions of dollars – that players from my era can't even identify with. I just hope that, in the eyes of the fans and the general public, this isn't a black eye for a sport that is as healthy right now as it has ever been."

Linebacker Ed McDaniel came into the league in 1992, following the two strikes. He spent his entire career in relative labor peace, although legal battles over free agency dominated his early years in the league. McDaniel said that dividing up the pieces of the pie aren't as easy as it may seem from the outside looking in.

Just as complicated are the variety of opinions as it pertains to which side to back in the current debate. It would seem natural that players would side with players, but McDaniel acknowledged that the owners have a right to a significant portion of the money generated because they take more of a financial risk than players take in the physical toll of playing the game.

"It's a pretty big pie they're dividing up, but obviously that pie tastes pretty good and they all want as much of it as they can have," McDaniel said. "If it didn't taste so good, they wouldn't be arguing as strongly as they are. It's going to get done, because there is a lot of money out there to lose. Too much money. There isn't an owner in this league that is losing money. The owners have the upper hand because they are the ones taking the biggest risks. The players are out there taking a risk for their health by playing, but the owners are taking the risk by drafting guys and paying them $25 million without knowing for sure whether they will play at the level expected of them. They're taking a lot of the risk and deserve a piece of the pie."

Running back Chuck Foreman said that the former players who are now paying the price for the damage done to their bodies should also be part of the conversation. It was in the 1960s and the rivalry between the NFL and AFL that interest in pro football was expanded. Players were fighting for their rights to get a living wage and, as retired members of a labor union, to get better pension and medical benefits that can make all three parties come out as winners in the negotiation process.

"It's a big pie and I think everyone should get a piece – the owners, the current players and the former players," Foreman said. "Everyone should win. Those of us who played before '93 that weren't part of the escalation in salaries – long before I played and after I was done – are the guys that established the success of the league that players today are enjoying. People don't realize how many guys sacrificed their careers to push the cause of the union. They don't get the recognition they deserve. The current players are reaping the benefits of what those players sacrificed over the years to get the union where it is today."

Given the enormous amounts of money available to both sides, Matt Blair, part of the 1982 players strike, said he finds himself in the same position as most fans – wondering how so little progress can be made when both sides have known that the current collective bargaining agreement was coming to an end and have had two years to get a new deal done – or at least frame the issues that they differ greatly on and reduce the amount of negotiation that is needed.

"As a retired player, it's hard to understand that it is taking so long," Blair said. "There is a lot of money for both sides that neither side has to knuckle under and come out as the loser in the negotiations. They can both win. It's disappointing to see that happen, because they're setting the stage for having a longer holdout than is necessary. They've known this was coming more than a year ago, but they don't seem to get it and it's hurting them in the eyes of fans and former players alike."

Hall of Famer John Randle said that, like most Vikings fans, one of the rites of passages as a Minnesota fan is that the season ends and then you have a couple of months left of bitter cold. With the spring comes free agency and the draft and, by the time summer emerges, so does the build-up to the coming NFL season. He said the lockout has robbed fans of that right and effectively kept them in perpetual winter.

"I just hope they get it resolved for the fans," Randle said. "They've been going through a long winter and one of the things that lets you know summer is coming is when you see players on the field and talk about how your team shapes up against the rest of the division. Right now, it's been like fans have been locked up for two more months of winter."

There is growing sentiment that the ominous tone of the judge in last Friday's hearing in a St. Louis appeals court might get both sides to work more diligently to get a compromise reached before things like training camp and the preseason are eliminated. The former players, who have become fans since their own playing days have ended, are finding themselves neither on the side of the players or the owners. They're on the side of fans who just want this long, cold war to be finalized.

"I understand what the players are doing, but I've got season tickets and I paid for them," McDaniel said. "Now I'm a fan. I don't care what they do to get this done, just do it. I want them to go out there and win and please win more games than you did last year. I'm a fan and those tickets cost a lot of money."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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Whether it was an individual holdout or an organized walkout in the mid-1970s to make a symbolic point, the working relationship between owners and players has always been something with two distinct sides that are of polar mindsets. Former Vikings running back Dave Osborn was involved in just one work stoppage – a brief player walkout in 1974 that wasn't unanimous from team to team, but was done to prove a point that would set the stage for the full-blown walkouts that would follow the next decade. \"We had a short little walkout when I was playing,\" Osborn said. \"The issues back then were about the feeling that players weren't being treated right and there wasn't any free agency back then. If you didn't like your contract offer, you were out of luck. I think it was a week in training camp. Some people stayed in, others went out. As a team, all of us stayed out.\" Tight end Stu Voigt was part of the 1974 walkout and echoed some of the same sentiments of Osborn. However, he said the reasons for the work stoppages are quite different. The history of work stoppages in the NFL have almost all surrounded players demanding a larger share of the revenue. This time around, it is the owners looking for more than they have been giving, due to the rising cost of operating a franchise and the limited amount of increases teams can make in ticket prices. \"This time around, the main issue is that the owners are looking for a giveback from the players,\" Voigt said. \"For whatever reason, [the owners] signed a deal that was great for the players. Now the owners, whether it's the economic conditions that have affected all of us over the last few years, they want a giveback to level the playing field. They're talking huge numbers – in the billions of dollars – that players from my era can't even identify with. I just hope that, in the eyes of the fans and the general public, this isn't a black eye for a sport that is as healthy right now as it has ever been.\" Linebacker Ed McDaniel came into the league in 1992, following the two strikes. He spent his entire career in relative labor peace, although legal battles over free agency dominated his early years in the league. McDaniel said that dividing up the pieces of the pie aren't as easy as it may seem from the outside looking in. Just as complicated are the variety of opinions as it pertains to which side to back in the current debate. It would seem natural that players would side with players, but McDaniel acknowledged that the owners have a right to a significant portion of the money generated because they take more of a financial risk than players take in the physical toll of playing the game. \"It's a pretty big pie they're dividing up, but obviously that pie tastes pretty good and they all want as much of it as they can have,\" McDaniel said. \"If it didn't taste so good, they wouldn't be arguing as strongly as they are. It's going to get done, because there is a lot of money out there to lose. Too much money. There isn't an owner in this league that is losing money. The owners have the upper hand because they are the ones taking the biggest risks. The players are out there taking a risk for their health by playing, but the owners are taking the risk by drafting guys and paying them $25 million without knowing for sure whether they will play at the level expected of them. 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