Pete Rozelle, National Football League commissioner, was identified by several sources Tuesday as the "mystery man" whom union leader Gene Upshaw hoped could resolve the day-old player strike.
And there were strong indications Tuesday night that Rozelle had worked some magic, that his influence had helped bring about a scheduled negotiation start Wednesday, the first meaningful negotiations to date. The negotiations are scheduled to be held in Philadelphia.
"We plan to meet around the clock," Upshaw said after arriving at NFLPA headquarters in Washington. "We have a format set up where we have the owners in one room, the players in one room, Jack (Donlan) and I in the middle and we're going to try to hammer this thing out."
John Jones, a spokesman for the NFL Management Council, said the owners' regular bargaining team would be joined by two members of the council's executive committee -- Tex Schramm of the Cowboys and Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rooney was instrumental in negotiating the agreement that ended the 57-day strike in 1982.
Upshaw also said Tuesday night that whether or not there would be games this weekend depended on the progress of those talks.
A union spokesman had said earlier that this weekend's games were "almost definitely off" even if an agreement were reached immediately.
"It would take three days to hammer it out in writing," the spokesman said, "and we're not coming back until we have something definite."
The NFL office has said the schedule will pick up with Week 4, on Oct. 4, with non-union squads, if necessary.
It has been Rozelle's policy to stay out of the negotiations, leaving that to the NFL's Management Council, headed by Donlan.
Upshaw, however, had expressed doubt that Donlan has enough authority to bargain meaningfully for the owners, so Monday he went directly to Rozelle.
The union filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board Tuesday, protesting $1,000 bonus payments to dissident players and guarantees of 1988 roster spots. The charges singled out the New England Patriots for trading Brian Holloway to the Raiders because of union activities.
The Management Council last week filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union for failure to negotiate.
Meanwhile, players started walking picket lines around the league, and the 28 teams were preparing to start practices today or Thursday with non-union free agents they had cut in training camp and others available and willing to cross picket lines.
Some established players, perhaps not willing to join the non-union players but not willing to join the strike, either, were quickly identified. They included quarterbacks Marc Wilson of the Raiders and Gary Hogeboom of the Indianapolis Colts, defensive end Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets, defensive tackle Randy White of the Dallas Cowboys and safety Leonard Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals.
"It was a tough decision because I don't want there to be problems in the team," Hogeboom said. "The main factor, financially, was I have some things in my contract that are too important for me to strike.
"If each player in the NFL knew what was specifically in my contract, then they'd know there was no way I could go on strike. I'm not talking about a couple-hundred thousand dollars. I'm talking about a lot of money--one-fourth of my annuity."
Gastineau said he was in the middle of efforts to come back from a season of injury and it was not the right time to "give up on it."
"I'm going to do what's good for my family," he said. "I've got a little girl, 5 years old, and I want her to have a college education. You have to build for the future for the family."
Running back James Jones, the Detroit Lions' player representative, said he does not expect any physical confrontations if players cross the union's picket lines.
"We're not going to try to prevent guys from coming," Jones said. "What are we going to do, use force on them? You can't do that on the picket line for any union. We're not going to slash a guy's tires or beat a guy up--although that wouldn't be a bad idea."
There was some ill feeling as players removed belongings from their lockers.
Luis Sharpe, St. Louis Cardinal offensive tackle, said, "We had to get our stuff out of here before a scab player would come in and steal it."
Several New Orleans Saints waved picket signs and yelled "scab" at three injured reserve players who left the team's training facility after crossing their picket line. First a car occupied by free-agent tackle William Leach and rookie fullback Todd Steele left the parking lot. Later, five-year veteran Steve Korte left through a different parking lot exit and drew more abusive shouts from players.
One player slapped the top of the car occupied by Leach and Steele.
"How's your spine?" tackle Bill Contz yelled at Korte.