When the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to its free-agency rules last week, it not so much solved the issue of labor peace in the NFL as it merely shifted the acrimony to yet another arena.
The owners had hoped to force the players back to the bargaining table in negotiations for a new contract. But the NFL Players Association instead plans to continue pursuing its agenda legally, an option that will prevent a labor solution at least until August, when the next antitrust case against the league comes before a federal court.
Jack Donlan, head of the NFL management council, contends the McNeil vs. NFL case, scheduled to be heard in Minneapolis, probably won't be ruled on for ``a couple more years'' because of pretrial motions.
The McNeil case, filed on behalf of eight players and taking the name of Freeman McNeil, former Jet running back, contends the league's Plan B system of free agency illegally penalized the 37 players who are protected by clubs each year. Donlan called McNeil a weaker case than the recently resolved Powell vs. NFL case, which attacked the crux of the free-agency issue.
``The Powell case was their big case,'' Donlan said.`` At some point, the players have to look at themselves and say we have not had a lot of resounding success.''
The NFL hardly can be cast as the moral superior, though, in this labor mess. In the best tradition of Vince Lombardi, they continue to play smash-mouth negotiating and were determinedly smug in victory last week.
The Justice Department, two Supreme Court justices (including former NFL player Byron ``Whizzer'' White, and the Bush administration all backed a hearing for the Powell case. Despite clear division on the issue, the NFL is giving no indication it plans to compromise in a return to the bargaining table.
SUPER CHANGES `UNLIKELY'
-- Still feeling the sting from Pete Rozelle's widely criticized 1963 decision to play NFL games two days after the assassination of President Kennedy, the NFL announced last week it would consider not playing the Super Bowl as scheduled because of the Persian Gulf crisis.
But league spokesman Greg Aiello calls the chances of a postponement or cancellation of the Jan. 27 game ``unlikely'' in the event of war. He cites a lack of precedent for calling off a title game on the basis of symbolism, and the value of entertainment as a diversion in troubled times.
Nonetheless, the NFL wants to avoid being viewed publicly as insensitive to national tragedy. With the threat of terrorism as backlash, it also wouldn't want to be unprepared in terms of security if the game is played. Thus, the league held meetings considering the issue of how to react to a war.
Rozelle, the former commissioner, has called playing games soon after Kennedy's death among his worst decisions - even though Kennedy's press secretary, Pierre Salinger, urged the league not to interrupt its schedule.
``Baseball postponed the World Series because of an earthquake,'' Aiello said. ``So some people might wonder, well, we just had 1,500 servicemen killed and you're going to play the game as scheduled?
``We don't know what the situation will be, so we don't know'' how the league will respond.
YOUNG DEAL GETS BETTER
-- With Fredd Young's probable retirement, the trade two years ago of the linebacker to Indianapolis only continued to look better for the Seahawks. Forced out when Brian Bosworth asserted himself briefly in Seattle, Young brought the Seahawks two first-round picks.
The Seahawks used the 1989 selection on Andy Heck, an offensive tackle with Pro Bowl potential. The other draft choice, in 1990, was used as part of the package that gained defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.
The trade now appears to be perhaps the club's best since 1983, when the draft rights to Curt Warner were obtained from Houston for three choices.
GOOD TACKLE, BAD RECORD
-- If the Seahawks go shopping for a young offensive tackle when the trading period begins Jan. 28, Gerald Perry is certain to be available. He was playing better than ever earlier last season, and the Denver Broncos want to trade the second-year, former second-round player.
But Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is skeptical the club can get anything for Perry, who will be arraigned later this month on an assault-and-battery charge in which he's accused of choking a man who testified on his behalf in a previous assault case. Three days later, Perry is in a Denver court again on charges he sexually assaulted the fiancee of former teammate Orson Mobley.
``It sort of looks like this latest episode might be the one that puts him out of football,'' Bowlen said.
REST MAY BE DIFFERENCE
-- The Chicago Bears, among the most physical teams in the league, would have liked to spend last weekend behind a television in anticipation of the playoffs. Instead, they had to beat New Orleans in cold weather to gain the right to face today perhaps the only other club as rugged (and bruised) as the Bears.
Suffice to say that extra week to heal and rest may prove the difference in today's NFC semifinal game.
``I was sore and beat-up,'' said the Giants' Erik Howard, former defensive tackle at Washington State. ``Not having to play last week, I feel a lot better. I wasn't alone. There were a lot of guys feeling that way.''
``Chicago plays the same style as us, physical. They had the extra game. I feel sorry for them.''
-- Seattle will never see a trim Cortez Kennedy. The Seahawks like their 293-pound defensive tackle at his current weight. But Kennedy and Philadelphia's Jerome Brown, both former University of Miami players, have hired a nutritionist during the off-season.
-- Raghib Ismail has said that he plans to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, but The National reported Friday that he's likely to enter the NFL draft.
THE LAST WORD
-- Giants Coach Bill Parcells, on the differences between the Bears and Giants, both of whom use backup quarterbacks, play in cold weather, and have running attacks that feature Andersons (Neal and Ottis): ``They are in the Central time zone and we wear white shoes.''
Tom Farrey covers the NFL and Seattle Seahawks for the Times. Some of the information was obtained from other reporters.