NFL owners are courting two more costly losses


The NFL owners, who appear to be on pro football's longest losing streak, suffered two more court setbacks yesterday in their legal fight with the players that could cost them between $60 to $65 million.

A five-woman, three-man jury in Washington ruled that the practice squad players in 1989 were entitled to $10 million in damages -- tripled to $30 million under antitrust law -- because the NFL illegally fixed their wages at $1,000 a week.

In a separate ruling, the National Labor Relations Board affirmed a 107-page 1991 decision by administrative law judge Benjamin Schlesinger that they had to pay the players for the final replacement game in 1987.

When the players ended their strike on Thursday, Oct. 15, 1987, the owners wouldn't let them play that Sunday because they hadn't reported for work by a 1 p.m. Wednesday deadline the owners had set. The NLRB ruled the players must be paid for the games that weekend because they were ready to play.

The payroll for that weekend was $20 million, but the NFLPA contends that interest and incentive bonuses may boost the tab to $30 to $35 million.

NFL officials immediately said they would appeal both decisions and said they have no "practical impact on current league rules and policies."

A league spokesman said the jury's verdict "lacks common sense" because the practice-squad players may now get more than some of the active squad players that year.

A spokesman added that the league subsequently negotiated practice squad pay the last three years and that "this type of negotiated settlement is the most constructive approach to all future player management issues."

The league has been calling for a negotiated settlement since a federal jury in Minneapolis determined on Sept. 10 that the Plan B free agency plan violates antitrust law. But the league didn't get around to calling Jim Quinn, the players' lead attorney, until last week and it still hasn't set up a meeting although one may take place next week.

Doug Allen, the assistant executive director of the NFLPA, said the league could have settled both of these cases in the past, "if it had chosen to do so."

He said the rank-and-file now isn't eager to settle because they're winning all the cases in court.

"The players are going to say, 'Settle what?' We've won all the cases. The players understand momentum and they understand wins and losses," Allen said.

Chips off the old block?

Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and Denver Broncos coach Dan Reeves both once worked for Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, but they didn't learn his calm demeanor.

Both exploded Sunday -- Ditka at his quarterback, Jim Harbaugh, and Reeves at the officials.

Ditka wasn't apologizing yesterday for screaming at Harbaugh for calling an audible on a pass that was intercepted by the Minnesota Vikings, starting a comeback from a 20-point deficit to a 21-20 win.

"I've got nothing to regret. I'm a man of few regrets. You don't audible on the other team's turf when half the guys don't hear it. He was dead wrong," Ditka said.

Harbaugh said he won't let it affect him.

"It's not going to discourage me or take away my confidence," he said.

Reeves even got the police involved as he shouted and gestured angrily at the officials in a dispute over a pass-interference call just before the half. Two assistant coaches joined in the argument and were sent to the locker room by Reeves, who then continued the argument. The police moved in to mediate and escorted the officials to the locker room for the intermission.

"There was no question it was a bad call," Reeves said of the interference call against Dennis Smith.

He regained his composure in the second half. "We just had to put that behind us. Our guys were upset at the half, but we just had to forget about it," Reeves said.

Denver rallied to win the game in the fourth quarter.

Kelly will return

Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly will miss a practice after rupturing a bursa sac in his right elbow Sunday in the loss to the Miami Dolphins. But he won't miss Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Raiders.

Coach Marv Levy said the throwing elbow "has puffed up considerably and he had quite an abrasion on it, but he appears to be OK."

Kelly suffered the injury when he dived to force former Maryland standout J.B. Brown out of bounds after an interception.


Coaches usually say their teams don't panic. But Dick MacPherson, the coach of the winless New England Patriots, went against the grain yesterday.

"We are in a panic state and it's going to continue to grow unless we get people to understand that's not the way to operate as a football team," he said.

The odds

With the Detroit Lions off to a 1-4 start, Lions safety Bennie Blades isn't optimistic about the team's chances of making it back to the playoffs.

"If you were a betting man, the odds of us making the playoffs now are about a million to one," he said.

Wicky Wacky returns

Sam Wyche, who got the nickname Wicky Wacky for his unorthodox ways as the Cincinnati Bengals coach, was at it again Sunday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach.

He called for a fake field goal with 4:59 left in the game on a fourth-and-10 play when Ken Willis lined up for a 44-yard attempt while the Bucs were trailing 24-14 and needed two scores at this point.

The fake didn't work when Chip Banks tackled Ron Hall and the Bucs never scored again.

"The fake didn't work," quarterback Vinny Testaverde said. "Maybe it cost us the game. Maybe not. We'll never know."

Wyche said, "The design of the play wasn't too bad."

It just didn't work.

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