NEW YORK — The 24-day NFL strike fell apart today as players were sent back to work without a contract agreement only to be told they were too late to play and get paid this week.
NFL players negotiator Gene Upshaw said the players' representatives voted to send all players back but he accused owners of refusing binding arbitration and said the union will file an antitrust suit against them.
"The union sent everyone back to work," player representative Keith Fahnhorst of the San Francisco 49ers said.
William Judson, player rep of the Miami Dolphins, also said he was told the strike was over, but there was no official word from the union.
Confusion reigned. Some teams went back to practice, others didn't.
The Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons reported for practice and then left again, saying they would come back next week when they would be paid. The Minnesota Vikings said they were never told to go back, and they didn't. The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants gathered in the parking lot with General Manager George Young.
In Philadelphia, strike replacements cleaned out their lockers. In Seattle, where a convoy of 25 cars carrying regular players arrived at 10:25 a.m., a bus carrying replacement players was turned back from team headquarters. "We're fired, we're fired," players shouted from the bus.
In other cities, animosity surfaced with strikers and strike-breakers in the same locker room.
"Scabs, get the heck out of our locker room!" one of the regular Los Angeles Rams was heard to shout as the former strikers filed into the practice facility.
Management Council spokesman John Jones said that while players would not be paid regular salaries this week, they would receive $750 a week for veterans and $500 a week for rookies, plus $38 a day meal money.
"They're welcome to report," Jones said. "They will get paid per diem, but since they are ineligible to play this Sunday, they will not receive game checks."
He would not say whether the deadline could be changed if a formal back-to-work agreement was worked out.
Union leader Upshaw and management negotiator Jack Donlan talked by telephone but were still stuck on how long to extend the 1982 contract.
"We are going back in without an agreement," the Dolphins' Judson said. "We are hoping the Dolphins take us back in."
"I don't know about the rest of them, but I'm ready," said Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, a member of the union's executive council.
David Shula, assistant head coach of the Dolphins, said preparing for Sunday's pivotal game against the AFC East co-leader New York Jets in less than 72 hours would be difficult but not impossible.
"The logistics of getting 55 players out of here and getting 55 players in would just be incredible," he said. "But we could get it done."
There were some bitter feelings as the strike ended.
"It's really caving in," said Dave Puzzuoli of the Browns, who had 16 players report before Wednesday's deadline. "I feel betrayed. With friends like this, who needs enemies?"