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Union: Labor deal not close


DETROIT -- Saying the sides are "significantly" apart on a new collective bargaining agreement, the NFL Players Association is set to take the league to court.

In the union's annual Super Bowl news conference, executive director Gene Upshaw struck a defiant pose on the problematic negotiations, saying discussions about legal action against the NFL will begin March 9 if no deal is reached.

The heart of the discord, Upshaw said, is the players' percentage in an expanded revenue-sharing system with owners.

The current contract expires in two years, but the final one - which begins in 2007 - is an "upcapped" year. If the sides can't agree on a new deal, negotiations on players contracts are expected to be difficult when free agency begins March 3.

"The price of poker will go up," said Upshaw, who had previously been chided for his close relationship with commissioner Paul Tagliabue. "We can not stay in the place where we are now."

Upshaw said the union would only accept a proposal that gives the players at least 60 percent of total football revenues. A couple of months ago, he said the owners have offered to set the cap at 57 percent.

Negotiations are expected to intensify after the Super Bowl.

There has been long-standing labor peace in the NFL since the salary cap took effect in 1993. But the talks have become combative, although Upshaw indicated the union has the leverage.

If the contract expires after 2007 with no new CBA, the union would decertify itself to keep the owners from locking out the players and go to antitrust court to ask for a set of rules under which the NFL would operate.

There is a possibility that the courts would allow the league to lock out players, but Upshaw is confident the league would not let that occur because of the new lucrative television contracts.

"If you paid that amount, you want prime rib and not hot dog," Upshaw said.

Upshaw also warned that if the contract reached that uncapped year, the union would not return to a salary cap system.

Another topic addressed by the union was the retired players pension. Earlier this month, 13 Hall of Famers interviewed by The Charlotte Observer expressed concern that the NFL and the league players association don't do enough to help former players.

"The current players are the ones we legally represent, but morally we represent them all," Upshaw said.

Porter still mad

The trifle war of words was continued yesterday by linebacker Joey Porter, who said the Steelers intend to bully the Seahawks into submission.

"We're going to try to tap out as many people as we can, I'm going to put it like that," Porter said in his final session of the week with reporters. "We're going to try to send as many people to the sideline as we can."

Porter has been riled up since Wednesday, when he responded to tight end Jerramy Stevens' seemingly harmless comment that Seattle planned to spoil Jerome Bettis' final game by winning the Super Bowl.

"It just shows a lack of stories this week if this stirred something up," Stevens said.

Bumps and bruises

The Seahawks had a few battles of their own to deal with yesterday, when a couple of minor scraps occurred. It is not known which players were involved.

"This happened every year I've coached in this game," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. "By Thursday or Friday, they get a little cranky and stuff happens."

Polamalu probable

The Steelers had a slight scare when Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu tweaked his ankle in practice and missed part of team drills. He was listed as probable.

Fullback Dan Kreider (knee) and defensive end Travis Kirschke (groin) did not practice and are listed as questionable.

Besides these couple of injuries, Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher has been pleased with the practices. "These guys are loose," he said.

End zone

The only former Raven in the Super Bowl - linebacker Jamie Sharper - won't suit up Sunday. Sharper, a member of the Ravens' 2000 championship team, started the first eight games for the Seahawks before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. ... The NFL also will honor 30 past Super Bowl Most Valuable Players including Ray Lewis. The Ravens linebacker will be part of the NFL Network's coverage beginning today.


Defending Detroit

Who says that you need a warm-weather city to get in a little beach time? The Alohamoto tent at Detroit's Winter Blast features hundreds of tons of sand and several other summer amenities.

There is even a machine (Flowrider) that circulates 20,000 gallons of water in such a way that five pro surfers can show their stuff under the big top this weekend.

Of course, with the unseasonably warm weather that has hit this part of Michigan this week, the surf dudes probably could have done some wake riding in the Detroit River.

[Peter Schmuck]

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