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In these times of difficulty, who will emerge to save the NFL?

Morry Gash / Associated Press
Gene Upshaw, union chief from 1983 until his death in 2008, always operated with the good of the game in mind.


"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."
-- Albert Einstein

A rock with those words etched into it once laid on my desk while I was working for the Oakland Raiders. The message inspires me. Frequently in the NFL, there are difficult times, but today, in the early part of June, the league faces its biggest challenge. There is no better place than today for someone to seize the opportunity to be a dealmaker.

In the middle of this lockout mess, an opportunity exists for someone to step forward -- from the owners or players -- and take control. We must get past the rhetoric of who is right, who is wrong, and put the good of the league at the forefront of the conversation.

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The good of the league is what former union chief Gene Upshaw always had in mind when he represented the players, and out of that approach the two sides worked out the best deal the players have ever made. It was a deal that didn't need lawyers or lawsuits to be reached, just straight talk from someone who experienced the scares of past work stoppages.

The strikes of the past have never been worthwhile. Each side was affected with each strike, the game took a step back, and in the end, the sides made a deal that should not have required the players striking to get there. However, the past strikes proved to both sides that the only winners were the lawyers, therefore the next time a deal ended, both sides made sure they put the good of the league at the forefront.

I sense from talking with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell he is ready to take the leadership role and get a deal done, but it's hard to do that with a group that would rather have the courts set the landscape of the league. Now, we can argue the point of who wants the courts to rule, but once again it takes away from dealing with the core issue of getting a deal done. And, in reality, does anyone think the courts have the good of the league at heart?

As Bill Parcells said last week in a radio interview, "It looks like there could be a little blood in both corners before this is over."

Goodell is in a box, in part because it's hard to be the leader/dealmaker when the other side feels there is an agenda in every word uttered. The common denominator over the last four months is the absence of trust -- on both sides. In the end, Goodell can and will make a deal, but he can't be the conduit to bringing peace and football back. We need someone else to take a giant step forward.

While working with the Cleveland Browns for owner Art Modell, he always talked about the good of the NFL, always resisted making a move that might put a scare into the league. Much to my youthful dismay, I was always bothered by his love of the league, as I was just trying to help our team win games. Youth does have its benefits, but wisdom coming from age is what Modell had when thinking of the league first, as he knew the forefathers of this great game followed the same good of the league journey.

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Modell was willing to take a back seat because he felt the sum was greater than the part. Yes, he did move a team from Cleveland to Baltimore and was vilified for it, but in reality, having worked for Modell for more than nine years, his heart was always with the league. The move to Baltimore unfortunately cast a shadow on his true love of the shield.

What we need now is someone from the outside to enter this mess and get the ball moving toward a deal. We need someone like Robert F. Kennedy (my personal hero), who died 43 years ago this week, to be the voice of reason, to let both sides know that football is the fabric of this great country and without it we are lost.

We need someone without an agenda and without a dog in the fight to take over and bring both sides together to stop arguing over who said what and who is wrong, and instead focus on the real issue -- which is bringing football back.

Having worked mostly in management, some might say my views slant in favor of the owners -- which is natural. But my love of the game is my only point of view right now. We need everyone to understand the good of the game is now at stake.

The league and the players have done a masterful job of creating a product that can drive television ratings as well as bring fans out in the heat or the bitter cold to support their teams. They can make people live pay check to pay check just to be able to cheer their teams.

Fans have always been for the good of the league. Now we need the owners and players to follow suit.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi

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