As sad as this is to admit, for the better part of a week I’ve been riveted to what’s been going on with the NFL labor talks. I’ve been one of those devout followers, waiting patiently outside (via television of course) for any sign of progress, like the basic cable equivalent of a pilgrim in Rome looking for white smoke coming out of the Vatican chimney.
I understand it’s the furthest thing from interesting television. But the jackasses on both sides of the negotiating table have my life (or much of the next year of my life anyway) in their hands. As long as these talks drag on, much of what I hold dear — free agency, rookie camps, OTAs, minicamps, training camp, preseason games, even the season itself — is in danger of being replaced with statements by federal mediator George Cohen referring to himself in the third person like he did three times last Friday. So forgive me if I’m a little overly concerned about the goings on in D.C.
Obviously, I’m not alone in feeling like I’ve taken one part frustration, one part anger and one part fear and shaken them together into a giant angst cocktail over all this. I think every football junkie feels the same way. I’m a firm believer that what they say is true: The most popular sport in America is pro football. And the second most popular sport is the NFL offseason.
But I think where I’m at a disadvantage to most other fans is that I have absolutely zero business acumen. As in virtually no business experience whatsoever. So all this talk about meetings, deadlines, decertification, mediation, negotiation, lockouts, revenue sharing, collective bargaining is all a foreign concept to me. The last business dealings I took part in of any kind were during the yard sale My Sweet Irish Rose and I held last year. And I barely cleared enough to cover the gas for all the runs to the dump I made with all our unsold crap. So that hardly makes me an authority.
And I’m not just being cute about this. The reporters standing outside the U.S. Department of Talking About Important Stuff (or whatever it’s called) giving those labor talk updates might as well be talking about jet engine repair or string theory or soccer for all I understand what they’re saying.
The problem for me is I’ve just never had one of those jobs where people in business clothes sit around board rooms and hammer out agreements dealing with difficult, high-stakes issues. I mean, I’m impressed with people who do. I’ve been in WEEI’s corporate office and seen people sitting around conference tables taking notes on PowerPoint presentations and I remember being impressed with how grown up that seemed. Because I’ve never done that. I’ve always had the kind of jobs where you rarely have meetings, and when they do announce one, my question is always, “Will there be refreshments?” and if the answer is, “No,” I prepare myself to just play “Doodle Truck” on my phone under the table the whole time.
But as usual, I’m not going to let little things like my immaturity, inexperience or my complete lack of understanding of the issues get in the way of having strong opinions. Because again, this labor crisis affects me directly. I might not have millions on the line like the people in that room, but I’ve every bit as invested as they are. So I demand to be heard.
And sure, I may never have been in an actual business meeting. I’ve never actually witnessed firsthand businessmen and lawyers negotiating billion dollar deals. But I’ve seen lots of movies that did, so I know I can fake it.
I want into that board room. I want the floor. I want the attention of that roomful of greedheads and ambulance chasers and I want to settle this mess on behalf of every fan, blogger, media member and degenerate gambler in America who just wants a deal done, tomorrow. And I’ll do it by borrowing liberally from every business movie speech I can think of:
Scene: The NFL owners, the NFLPA and attorneys from both sides are gathered around a conference table, talking among themselves. The federal mediator signals me it’s time for me to speak.
“You’re talking about what? You’re talking about ... bitching about that last CBA you signed? The sonofabitch owner who franchised you? Some cheerleader you’re trying to screw? Let’s talk about something important— Put … that coffee … down! Coffee is for closers only! Your name’s Manning right? You call yourself a closer after the way you’ve played in the playoffs you sonofabitch? You’ve made more money than any player who’s ever played and now you’re unhappy? Sit down and listen up.
“Because I’m here from the rest of America and we’re adding a little something to the negotiation. First prize is you get to be the biggest, most popular, most profitable form of entertainment in the country. Second prize is this copy of Madden 2011, which will replace you next Fall. Third prize is you all go broke. Stadiums empty. TV money dried up. Nothing to make those yacht payments or those child support checks with. You think I’m f-ing with you? I am not f-ing with you.
“You. You small-market owners. You think this is funny? Like Ralph Wilson and Paul Brown. Always complaining about how other owners have more money than them. Buncha losers sitting around in a bar saying ‘I used to try to compete with Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft. It’s a tough racket…’ Robert Kraft got paid $30 million by Gillette to name his stadium. You named yours after yourselves. And now you want him to give you more of the money he’s earned? And you want the players to take less because you’re incompetent? Pathetic. You want to know what it takes to run an NFL team? It takes BRASS BALLS. Go and do likewise gents. Money’s out there. You pick it up, it’s yours. You don’t, I got no sympathy for you. 
“So what’s the big issue here, revenue sharing? You owners want to pocket the first $2 billion off the top before you divvy up the rest; the players want you to keep taking the first $1 billion. And both sides are calling the other ‘greedy.’ Is that about it? Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’re not here to indulge in fantasy but in political and economic reality. The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  So why not just agree right now the owners get the first $1.5 billion, be done with it and get down to signing free agents and making the customers happy?
“So what else have we got? You players. There is no question as to whether or not you’ll become a millionaire working here. The only question is how many times over. You think I’m joking? I am not joking. It’s a weird thing to hear, right? I’ll tell ya. It’s a weird thing to say. Notorious B.I.G. said it best: Either you’re slinging crack rock, or you got a wicked jump shot.’ Honor’s in the dollar, kid. But you know what? The money won’t be worth anything if you’re stumbling through the rest of your life brain damaged. But every time the league tries to discipline guys for cheap shots either the players’ association appeals it or the Terrell Suggs, James Harrisons and Ray Lewis among you bitch and complain and say they’re turning it into flag football. So decide what it’s gonna be. You know what I say to that? I say, ‘Hey look, man, tell me you don’t like my firm, tell me you don’t like my idea, tell me you don’t like my neck tie, but don’t tell me you can’t deal with rules to protect your own union members from frigging mayhem.’ 
“And finally, a word to all of you from the only one of your paying customers that’s been allowed in this room all week. Just remember that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying with your ballclubs. Well, is it too much to ask that they work and pay and live and die for a league that treats them like human beings? Because to you warped, frustrated old men, fans are nothing but cattle. Well how about you quit treating the paying customer like walking, talking ATMs in $75 officially licensed jerseys and settle this goddamned thing right this minute? 
“Thanks for your time. Now get to work.”
With thanks to  “Glengarry Glen Ross”  “Wall Street”  “Boiler Room”  “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Follow Jerry on Twitter @jerrythornton1