On the eve of the first NFL work stoppage in nearly 25 years, two men sat in a restaurant in Washington D.C., drinking beer and discussing both sides of football's increasingly muddled labor debate.
Conversations like this were happening in bars and eateries across America that night, but this was the only one that included Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"I called Roger and I just said, 'Hey man, I'm heading back to my hotel and I'd just like to talk to you,' " the five-time Pro Bow selection and player representative told NFL Network's Rich Eisen in an exclusive interview on NFL Total Access on Monday. " 'I know we've got one more day and I just want to lay out what I feel is important to the players.' "
Saturday called it a "heart-to-heart" conversation with Goodell, with each man explaining his side of the situation.
"I wanted him to feel it from the players and understand that nobody's leading us to different areas. This is player-led."
However, fewer than 24 hours later it was Saturday who would tell league officials the union was pulling the plug on negotiations and decertifying. It was a decision he called the "toughest of his life."
The players want to play. That was the crux of Saturday's conversation with Eisen and it's been the NFLPA's main talking point since the labor battle began in earnest. Despite how it might appear, Saturday said the union broke off talks and decertified so that football could be played.
They're looking forward to the antitrust lawsuit set to begin April 6 in Minneapolis, seeing it as the most direct route back onto the football field.
Saturday told Eisen that after everything plays out in the courtroom, he foresees NFL players in uniform by the end of July or early August.
"I would not see it going past that point," Saturday said.
Saturday and his family live in Indianapolis, and Saturday understands the importance the 2011 season holds for the city with Lucas Oil Stadium scheduled to host its first Super Bowl next February. He also understands his status as a key player in the labor battle might have personal repercussions down the line.
"I can assure you my job stability went way down when I walked in that room," he said.
The NFL Players Association finalized a plan on Monday to rework its signature draft event, "The Debut," expanding it to three days, but not interfering directly with the NFL Draft itself, which begins at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, April 28. Saturday agreed with the NFLPA's decision.
"I think it was smart that they didn't compete necessarily for the actual draft time, I just think you're getting to the point where it affects fans and I don't think anybody wants to do that," said Saturday, who went undrafted before signing with the Colts in 1999. "You leave it up to the player, let them make the decision where they want to be on draft day, however they want to do that."