ORLANDO, Fla. -- There is little doubt Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who is only about 13 months removed from heart transplant surgery, is one of the NFL's true gentlemen. And Richardson, who looked physically terrific at the league owners meetings here earlier this week, is one of the NFL's most influential members, a key person in ramming through the extension to the collective bargaining agreement only three years ago.
But Richardson, typically a moderate, displayed on the first day of the meetings that he has plenty of spunk left in him. Richardson -- described by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft as "an E.F. Hutton-type [speaker]" -- unleashed a powerful diatribe about unity in the ranks that one AFC owner termed "a pep-rally kind of speech."
Talking passionately, and at times resorting to salty language, Richardson exhorted his colleagues to toe the line financially in discussions with the NFLPA and challenged his fellow owners to "hold the ranks" and "stay in this together." Translation: It's time to take back the game and roll back an unsustainable Paul Tagliabue-forged agreement Richardson and Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney once staunchly supported.
Apparently, the only thing even close to Richardson's address in terms of fire was the passionate Tuesday speech of Indianapolis Colts team president and competition committee member Bill Polian in support of a change to the overtime rule. Richardson has long held sway among his peers, but his words on the opening day of the meetings reportedly set the overall tone for the sessions.
"I don't know," Kraft said, "that I've ever seen us so united."
And for that, the owners apparently owe Richardson, who has always carried a big stick, even if he generally spoke a little more softly.