1975 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings: #19 Blaine Nye
When Blaine Nye opened up to the press in the spring of 1975 that his intentions were to play two more years and then call it a career, emotions and pens came to a standstill. Nary a tear was shed. Hardly a report was filed. Such is the life of a lummox who toils weekly in the trenches. Like his actions on Sundays in the Irving pea patch, even Nye’s words were deemed obscure and uninteresting.
Of a philosophical disposition, Nye was neither surprised nor distraught that his announcement somehow missed out on making front-page news. Not only did Nye consider himself a boring specimen of football potential, he also was reliant upon a belief system that strongly discouraged him from attempting to make headlines. His personally crafted maxim “Thou Shalt Not Seek Publicity” applied to every member of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.
Coming off a Pro Bowl season in 1974 in which he was voted the Cowboys’ best lineman, Nye was quick to shrug off any public declaration that had him ranked anywhere close to the galaxy of the NFL’s great blockers. Before the regular season started, Nye was asked to describe his style of play. Nye said, “That’s tough to do. Once before I was asked that I said I overwhelm my opponent with mediocrity. But I’m not really sure what my style is… My style of play isn’t an average of highs and lows. It tends to be more of a flat.”
With rookie Burton Lawless feeling his way, and the trio of Rayfield Wright, Ralph Neely, and John Fitzgerald still rusty from off-season surgeries, Nye was the unquestioned benchmark performer along the Dallas offensive line through the first month of the 1975 season. But as the regular season progressed, Nye’s steady performance level was soon overtaken and surpassed by the three veterans, as the Cowboys rolled to a surprising playoff berth.
Perhaps Nye’s greatest contribution to the 1975 Cowboys team came in his role as the team’s player representative. One year after NFL players authored a bitter summer strike against league management, Nye was faced with the question of doing so again just days before the Cowboys were scheduled to face the Rams in Week 1 at Texas Stadium. The origin for this particular uprising came from the great northeastern Metropolis of Foxboro, where a frustrated head coach was forced to draw a line in the sand.
As the New England Patriots prepared to play their final preseason game against the New York Jets, frustration over the labor relations reached a boiling point. The conversation amongst players had long since gone beyond the point of malleability for head coach Chuck Fairbanks, as he watched the mood in the locker room devolve from frustration to anger to mutiny. It no longer did any good to try and calm them down. The players were adamant that they were fed up with their salaries, with their lack of negotiating power, and fed up with those rich, greedy, cigar-smoking owners. The Players Association was $200,000 in debt and borrowing money just to stay afloat. To some, a demonstration seemed to be in order.
Fairbanks had heard the talk amongst teammates of boycotting the next day’s game against the Jets. So rather than take a chance on allowing the rebellion to carry over into the regular season, Fairbanks brought matters to a head on the practice field. Standing at the fifty-yard line, those who favored a strike were invited to step across.
Much to Fairbanks’ dismay, all forty-six players did. Even after threatening them that all who participated would be blackballed from the NFL, the players’ vote remained unanimous. New England’s exhibition date with the Jets was cancelled, and the NFL regular season had suddenly become something less than a certainty.
A delay to the season appeared inevitable when the Patriots were joined in their holdout by four other franchises – the New York Giants, the Jets, the Washington Redskins, and the Detroit Lions. All eyes were now on the Cowboys. As a model franchise with a litany of well-respected veterans on their roster, the Cowboys were in a unique position to influence the decisions of other teams in this matter. Whichever way the Cowboys leaned, others would inevitably follow.
Enter Nye onto the scene, a 6-4, 255-pound bull who, only months earlier, had replaced Jean Fugett as the team’s player representative. Nye was quick to perceive the pros and cons of either side. He was equally as quick in pointing out the factors that would make this situation even more costly for the players than the previous one, reminding his teammates that for every regular season game lost, a paycheck was lost as well. This, perhaps more than any other part of Nye’s arguments, resonated with his audience.
After listening to Nye, and recalling to mind Tex Schramm give three consecutive months of testimony in the Rozelle Rule trial, Cowboys players opted to stay out of any more strike scenarios and let the argument be settled in the court system. While on the witness stand, Schramm had backed Rozelle’s position wholeheartedly. For now, Cowboy players thought it prudent to do likewise.
Sensing an advantage with two of the Cowboys’ divisional foes going on strike may have given Schramm the notion of trying to pressure other owners into pushing ahead with the start of the season. The teams had already lost an entire off-season in 1974 while owners and players haggled over financial incentives, so why jeopardize the entire regular season schedule while trying to re-hash what amounted to the same problem?
But any thoughts Schramm may have had on this front were nixed when Union president Kermit Alexander duly challenged the NFL Management Council to make a quick and concerted effort to strike a new labor deal. The onus was now on team owners to at least give the appearance of a fair negotiating process. With less than seven days till the opening weekend, the owners weren’t about to fool around this time, and submitted a proposal without delay.
Under this new offer, no player with four years experience would be forced to change teams. The proposal also stated that any player with four or more years experience who signed a contract of three or more years may become a free agent at the end of that contract, without having an option year. Additional points therein would set minimum salaries of $18,000 for veterans with increases to $21,000 in four years; establish a maximum $31,500 for the Super Bowl champion players, while considerably increasing medical, life insurance, and pension benefits.
It was the owners’ best endeavor to date, but not good enough to satisfy the players union. The dotted line remained unsigned. No deal was reached.
Yet by displaying a willingness to strike a bargain, the NFL was able to convince players to go back to their jobs and come back in the winter, when negotiations would then be taken up again in all good faith.
A mess had been avoided. Thanks in part to Nye, the season had been saved.