Bills’ Wilson was right regarding CBA; where are the apologies?

By Connor Byrne  |   Wednesday, May 21, 2008  |  Comments( 61 )

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When the NFL's 32 team owners elected to opt out of the league's collective bargaining agreement earlier this week, which could cause a work stoppage in 2011, the move didn't come as a surprise. The owners, who nearly unanimously approved the present labor deal in March 2006, have become increasingly upset with the amount of revenue (60 percent) their foremost employees, the players, are currently raking in.

"We were fully prepared for this," players association head Gene Upshaw said. "We expected this; we started talking to the players last fall. All this means is that we will have football from now until 2010 not until 2012."

Though opting out was an expected move by the owners, one has to rewind to when the CBA was agreed on.

Back then, the Buffalo Bills' Ralph Wilson was one of two owners who vetoed the plan (joining the Cincinnati Bengals' Mike Brown), which proved to be a disastrous public relations decision at the time by the 89-year-old. With that said, it was also a prudent one. And Wilson, who's been rightly criticized for more than a few poor football-related decisions during his nearly 50-year tenure as the Bills' owner, deserves both praise and apologies for realizing that the CBA was not going to work.

When Wilson originally voted against the creation of the current CBA, it sparked animosity within the league. A heated feud arose between the league's new-school tycoons and the small-market owners just trying to keep their heads above water in a changing NFL. Wilson, at the time, was viewed as antiquated and clueless, while the Dan Snyders, Jerry Joneses and Robert Krafts of the world were seen as visionaries who were more in touch with today's league. As it turned out, though, those three (and others cut from a similar cloth) were far more oblivious than Wilson was accused of being.

Of course, it wasn't just Wilson's colleagues who were bitter toward his dislike over the CBA. The mainstream media, led by a couple of the usual suspects, were also ready to burn Wilson at the proverbial stake.

Chris Mortensen, who has become known for his vitriol toward the Bills because they fired his friend Tom Donahoe -- the franchise's ex-general manager who served a disastrous five-year term earlier this decade -- jumped on the anti-Wilson bandwagon. Others like John Clayton, Mortensen's ESPN's colleague, did the same.

"It was a banner day in the NFL," stated Clayton, who has been proven incorrect over two years later.

Granted, Wilson didn't help himself by claiming ignorance toward the CBA at the time.

"I didn't understand it," said a frustrated Wilson in 2006. "It is a very complicated issue and I didn't believe we should be rushing to vote in 45 minutes."

By impersonating Barry Zuckerkorn, Henry Winkler's character from the short-lived comedy series "Arrested Development," when he said he didn't have enough time to comprehend the document, Wilson opened the floodgates for endless potshots from the public, his fellow owners and the media.

Ultimately, though, it's Wilson who can laugh last on this particular issue. He and Brown were the only two owners smart enough to realize the current plan wasn't feasible. Nobody who insulted the pair 26 months ago will apologize to them, but they ought to.

(Thirty other billionaire owners plus Mortensen and Clayton, that means you.)

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