Former NFL players union director dies at age 76

MADISON — Ed Garvey, the lawyer who led the National Football League Players Association through strikes in 1974 and 1982, has died at age 76.

Garvey was the players' union counsel and executive director from 1971-83.

A 1969 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School, Garvey joined the Minneapolis firm that later represented the fledgling NFLPA. Neither of the player strikes was particularly effective, and the 1982 walkout resulted in the season being shortened from 16 games to nine.

The nationally known labor attorney was a political heavyweight in Wisconsin, where he returned in 1983. Garvey ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Robert Kasten. In 1998, Garvey took on incumbent Gov. Tommy Thompson, but lost after a tough campaign.

He later created a website that featured progressive political content.

Cress Funeral Service in Madison said arrangements for Garvey are pending.

Garvey initially became involved with football when he was assigned to counsel NFLPA president John Mackey, a tight end who would make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as the union negotiated a new labor agreement with the league. Soon after, Garvey became the union's first executive director as the NFLPA was became the certified bargaining agent for the players.

One of Garvey's main objectives was to eliminate the Rozelle Rule that bound players to their teams and prevented free agency of any kind. The union didn't achieve free agency until 1993, when another former player and Hall of Famer, Gene Upshaw, had taken over leading the union.

Upshaw led the players through another strike in 1987, when the NFL used replacement players for three games. Even though he no longer had an active role with the union, Garvey drew some criticism then for yet another walkout.

Short of gaining unfettered free agency, the union won major concessions from the owners, including improved packages of player benefits, and $13.65 million in damages for antitrust violations against the players.