Ed Garvey died two weeks ago with minimal attention in the national media, considering his status in the battle to obtain economic rights for NFL players. He was my all-time favorite on the labor side of the never-ending competition between players and owners in major American team sports.

The most oppressive foes in those battles always have been NFL owners, and Garvey was both fierce and funny in his duel with those parasites. He was a young lawyer at Lindquist & Vennum in Minneapolis in 1970 when Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey, the president of the NFL Players Association, came to the firm seeking representation for his downtrodden union.

The players went on strike for two days in July 1970 and earned these kingly new concessions in a four-year collective bargaining agreement: minimum salary of $13,000, dental care, improved (yet modest) pension benefits and, get this, the right to use agents to negotiate.

That was the one-sided fight Garvey, then 31, entered in 1971, when the NFLPA hired him as executive director. He took on the owners relentlessly in court and in two work stoppages until he lost the job in 1983.

The NFLPA statement marking his death included: “… and no one will ever forget his biting and effective wit.”

For sure.

Pete Rozelle, the commissioner who built the NFL into a financial juggernaut, loathed Garvey. One reason was Garvey’s campaign to have a neutral commissioner agreed to by both owners and the union.

“The owners don’t like the idea,” Garvey said. “It smacks of fairness.”

Garvey feared no audience. He appeared before a Minneapolis business group as construction of the Metrodome was taking place.

Garvey painted a picture of the great cathedrals he had visited on a trip to Europe, built centuries ago in the spirit of mankind’s hope for the future. And then he said: “In America, we build such cathedrals to [Vikings owner] Max Winter.”

One audience member laughed ... a reporter.


Western Michigan and P.J. Fleck:

• That was a non-denial denial by Fleck on contact with WMU’s Robert Spillane before the linebacker decided to transfer. “We’re not recruiting any WMU player’’ isn’t the same as “I never talked with him.’’

• Why was it tawdry for Fleck to sign nine WMU commits for Minnesota? Because he had recruited them while on WMU’s dime.

• As for “Row the Boat,” does anyone think WMU wanted to keep that corny slogan after Fleck’s back-stabbing on recruits?

Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at preusse@startribune.com.

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