ARLINGTON, Texas - The Pack is back. NFL football? Well, nobody's quite sure when that's going to return.
It was yet another thrilling capper to the NFL's season, but this time, when they turned out the lights on the championship game, there was no guarantee they'd be back next fall.
A labor war that pits rich athletes against richer owners could shut down the game.
The collective bargaining agreement that led to unprecedented success for the NFL expires at the end of the day on March 3, and barring an agreement before then, owners are threatening to lock out players.
They are pondering the unthinkable: The first play stoppage since 1987. The shutdown of the only form of entertainment that, as the sky-high TV ratings this year have shown, consistently brings people together in a tweeting, texting, TiVo-ing country where viewing habits get more fragmented by the day.
''For a sport at the height of its popularity to self-destruct by lacking the will and creativity to solve economic problems would be the height of folly,'' agent Leigh Steinberg said. ''Who wants to be the person to kill this golden goose?''
In all the pregame hyperbole, each side insisted they intended on being back for next season. But they are far apart on how to get there.
Owners say it's time to pocket more money for a league that hasn't started a stadium project in more than five years. They want a bigger slice of the roughly $9 billion in revenue, a rookie wage scale and to increase the regular season by two games to 18.
The players think those two extra games will cause an exponential rise in injuries and don't want to give back any percentage of the revenue pool, a massive slice of which comes from the networks, which combine to pay around $4 billion a year to televise the NFL.
In an interview on Fox on Sunday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the owners are committed to finding a solution and that a negotiating session between the owners and players the day before was ''beneficial.''
''My focus is on the next three or four weeks,'' Goodell said. ''I've often said, our agreement expires on March 4th. We have to use that period of time to reach an agreement that's fair for the players, fair for the clubs, and allows our great game to grow for our fans.''
In a recent poll by The Associated Press, people who identified themselves as NFL fans were asked which side they sympathized with. Eleven percent said the owners, 25 percent said the players and 64 percent said neither.
The takeaway message: They simply want their football.