The National Football League's open-door policy lured a few more striking players back into the fold Wednesday, and there were others shuffling their feet outside, trying to make up their minds.
The latest notables crossing picket lines include quarterback Danny White of the Dallas Cowboys, center Mike Webster and running back Earnest Jackson of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and wide receiver Roy Green of the St. Louis Cardinals.
That brought the total of strike defectors to 38, including 11 players listed on injured reserve who seem to be making remarkable recoveries. Because the league dropped its reserve list restrictions after the strike was called, all of the latter are eligible to play in the non-union games this weekend.
Five New Orleans regulars returned, and half a dozen other players--quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers, wide receiver John Stallworth and safety Donnie Shell of the Steelers and running back Tony Dorsett and defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones of the Cowboys--seemed ready to take the big step.
If the NFL owners hope to weaken the strikers' resolve by continuing to play without them, the strategy may be working. They said that players who return by 9 a.m. Friday (local time) will be put back on the payroll immediately and will miss only 1/16 of their annual salaries, because of the cancellation of last week's games.
Referring to the 57-day strike in 1982 during which the owners did not stage non-union games, management negotiator Jack Donlan said, "Last time when we shut down, the Management Council got a number of calls and the clubs were inundated with calls from players who wanted to play and had no opportunity to play. This time, we're leaving the gates open for the players."
Out of 1,585 striking players, 38 (or 2.4%) is considered an insignificant number of defectors by experienced labor observers, who say any strike with such a small defection rate is almost always considered a great success.
They concede, however, that this strike is unique in that some players could be influenced by the defection of "name" players or team leaders.
One of those, Webster, an eight-time Pro Bowl center, and Jackson, the team's top rusher, reported to the Steelers' training camp in Johnstown, Pa.
Webster met earlier with union leader Gene Upshaw but said, "I'm not ready to turn over control of my career to Upshaw or Donlan."
White, citing financial reasons, became the third Cowboy to defy the strike. In St. Louis, Green, a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, and defensive lineman Curtis Greer crossed the line. The five Saints reporting are nose tackle Tony Elliott, wide receiver Eric Martin, defensive backs Reggie Sutton and Michael Adams, and defensive end Bruce Clark.
White said he cannot afford to miss another weekly paycheck, reportedly $45,000. His manufacturing business is said to be $250,000 in debt and he is being investigated for possible mail fraud by the U.S. Postal Service.
"Gene Upshaw says the union is prepared to stay out all season, but I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm not,' " White said.
White will earn $750,000 if he starts eight games this season and $500,000 if he starts fewer.
Dorsett and Jones got letters from management warning that they could lose their annuities if they didn't report.
"My mind was made up for me," Dorsett said. "I have no choice."
Player representative Doug Cosbie said he understands why White had to return, and added that even if Dorsett crosses the picket line, "He will still be behind what we are doing. We have strength in numbers."
At Denver, quarterback John Elway continued to refuse to picket, out of respect for Bronco owner Pat Bowlen.
"As good as Mr. Bowlen is to us, I don't think we need to be walking in front of his office," Elway said.
Asked if he will break ranks and play with replacement players Sunday, Elway said, "I'm not going back. Whether I believe in (the strike) or not, I'm going to go the way we voted as a team."
Elsewhere, Otis Taylor, former Kansas City Chiefs receiver, filed a $1-million lawsuit against the NFL Players Assn. and striking player Jack Del Rio for injuries Taylor says he received during a picket line scuffle last week.
Nick Lowery, Chief kicker and the club's player representative, was also named in the suit, which was filed in Jackson County (Mo.) Circuit Court. According to the suit, Lowery failed to control the striking football players.