In the only league that really matters here, we have peace in our time. Despite rampant infighting, sniping and whining from the usual NFL suspects, Steelers fans can all breathe a sigh of relief. It's hard to imagine that we care about the fortunes of this most unlikable group of guys. But it's even harder not to be relieved that they've come to an agreement. The new collective-bargaining agreement pretty much ensures that some deep-pocketed owner, like the Redskins' Danny Snyder (a.k.a. baseball's George Steinbrenner) cannot steal the future for his franchise.
In one corner were the big-market bullies: the aforementioned Snyder, Dallas' tuck-and-snip king, Jerry Jones, and Philadelphia's Jeff Lurie. All were moaning about what they perceive as welfare handouts to less lucrative franchises. They're hardly the poster children for sympathy: I mean, it's kind of like rooting for Exxon.
In the other corner were the small-market crybabies, including Buffalo's octogenerian Ralph Wilson and the Bengals' Mike Brown -- a poor businessman by most accounts, and a worse owner by all accounts. Brown was crying the blues after his team's most successful season in 15 years, with two of the most explosive, exciting players in the game. Yet he couldn't figure out a way to make a buck off that franchise? Wilson even said he didn't really understand the new revenue structure. This is probably the most important agreement he's ever likely to sign, and he did so without understanding it? I wouldn't hire either of these guys to cut my lawn, let alone run my favorite football franchise.
With things getting tight and both sides becoming more acrimonious, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue got together with cooler, calmer heads to push for an agreement. And in the middle of it all was Dan Rooney -- trying to find commonality and with an eye on the health of the league, as always.
Politics does make strange bedfellows, as the Rooneys worked with the Ravens, Broncos, Giants and Pats to find common ground. What all of those owners realize is that they all make money because the league is so strong and so popular. And they realize the danger of a rogue owner like little Danny Snyder -- a spoiled brat and a loose cannon with deep pockets who would just as soon turn the NFL into MLB.
Peter King wrote about a recent poll in Sports Illustrated in which 44 percent of American sports fans indicated that their favorite sport was professional football; professional baseball ranked second, with 18 percent. That's a dramatic drop-off. Think the inequities of Major League Baseball have anything to do with it?
As Pittsburgh fans know better than most, watching a team labor with a payroll of $35 million against teams with payrolls well above $100 million is closer to the theater of the absurd than it is to a baseball contest.
Not surprisingly, the NFL was saved in part by two men who watched their fathers make the NFL what it is. We all know the story on Dan Rooney. But John Mara, son of longtime Giants owner Wellington Mara and a guy with access to the most lucrative market in the country, took a page out his father's book: He did what was best for the league. Because in the long run, it is best for the Giants. And the Steelers. And the Cowboys. And the Bengals.
While keeping tabs on the owners' mendacious folly, I couldn't help but wonder: Why isn't Dan Snyder as reviled as Terrell Owens? How come it's OK for an owner to function with bald-faced greed, but not a player? Wasn't Snyder just as willing to throw his teammates (the other owners) under the bus?
So the next time you hear a player say something stupid like, "I have to feed my family," or you hear that Duce Staley was in a strip club and lost bling valuable enough to pay off your mortgage, ask yourself: What percentage of players are jerks, versus the percentage of owners? And how come the players have their feet held to the fire for avarice, but owners get off scot-free?