The Washington Redskins, previously the only NFL team with 100 percent union solidarity, were set to become the first team to break the strike en masse today, NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said.
'I'm sure that they (the Redskins) are going back, they have said they are going back, but there are still 27 other teams,' Upshaw, the union's executive director, said late Wednesday. 'Even if some more teams go back, it will be interesting to see what type of football we'll see on Sunday if all of the regular players are not back.'
No Redskins returned to work before 1 p.m. EDT Wednesday, the deadline set by management for players to be paid for this weekend's games, as the team became the only one in the league with no players crossing the picket line during the three-week strike.
Redskins union representative Neal Olkewicz, who presided over a team meeting earlier Wednesday, refused to confirm or deny the Redskins would return Thursday.
'They came out together and they decided to return together,' Upshaw said. 'But there is no way all of the players in the National Football League will return (Thursday). The strike continues, the strike will go on until we can reach an agreement on the conditions on which we will return.'
The NFL Management Council said the Redskins still would not be able to play against the Dallas Cowboys Monday if they returned Thursday because they missed the Wednesday deadline.
Meanwhile, striking players feared Wednesday's mass defections had already taken their toll on bonds between teammates.
Over 100 players, led by superstars Lawrence Taylor and Eric Dickerson, crossed picket lines in the largest one-day defection since the union began its walkout Sept. 22.
'What disappoints and discourages me is the Jets haven't stayed together,' New York player representative Kurt Sohn said. 'The Jets haven't stayed together as a team. Everyone can come up with reasons and excuses. That's good and fine, but in the final analysis you're bailing out and that disappoints me.'
Five Jets, headed by backup quarterback Pat Ryan, returned to the team, bringing the number of strike-breakers on the club to 10. The Los Angeles Raiders have a league-high 26 defectors, including 10 who returned Wednesday.
The NFL Management Council reported 109 players joined their clubs Wednesday, bringing the total number of players who have defied the union to 260, or 16 percent of its 1,585 members.
Quarterback Dan Marino, a member of the NFL Players Association Executive Committee, said players who cross the picket line hurt all the players.
'The more people that cross, it gives the owners hope that more guys will cross next week,' he said. 'We're out there trying to get a good agreement, then they go in and they're going to get the same agreement. To me, it's really lopsided.'
Quarterback Gary Danielson and tight end Ozzie Newsome led 16 Cleveland Browns, eight on injured reserve, across the picket lines.
Some of the strike breakers entered the practice facility to cries of 'Scab, scab, you just wait,' from picketing players.
'What you see is a changing of the guard here. We need new captains,' said cornerback Frank Minnifield, referring to offensive captain Newsome and defensive captain Carl Hairston, who also crossed. 'We need guys who are able to sacrifice personally.'
Said Hanford Dixon: 'What upsets us is that we all decided last night that we weren't going to do anything until we met later (Wednesday night). All of us came to the agreement that we would act as a team. I speak for all the guys when I say I feel betrayed.'
Cleveland owner Art Modell said he doubts the defections would cause lingering dissension within his team.
'I respect Frank Minnifield, but I do not accept the fact that walking a picket line is necessarily a sign of leadership,' Modell said. 'Once we get back, I think you'll find that winning will be a fast healer.'