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Appeals court puts lockout back in play

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A federal appeals court threw the NFL back into chaos Friday, granting the league's request to essentially put the lockout back in place.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis granted the league's bid for a temporary stay of a judge's order lifting the lockout so that arguments can be heard on whether that order should be overturned altogether.

"The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the motion for a stay pending appeal," the ruling said.

The decision ruined one of the most encouraging days the league had had in weeks, one that saw dozens if not hundreds of players return to their teams to meet with coaches, work out and have a peek at their playbooks.

Will teams lock their doors again• That wasn't clear last night.

"Our attorneys will review the decision, and we will advise the clubs as soon as possible on the next steps," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Minnesota Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said he understood that the lockout would be reinstated. The Vikings hosted first-round draft pick Christian Ponder yesterday and spent the entire day trying to get him up to speed as much as possible before having to send him home.

"When it was not a lockout, they were allowed to spend time here to get (playbooks)," Spielman said. "Now that the lockout's back in, he'll probably be leaving here shortly."

Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak said he was disappointed that the stay had been granted.

"As coaches, we just want to get to work and get the players in the building and get going forward. Today was a positive day in that regard," he said. "It was nice having the guys in and being able to see some of the guys who are in town."

The 2-1 decision from a panel of the 8th Circuit was issued by Judges Steven Colloton, Kermit Bye and Duane Benton. It included a lengthy dissent from Bye, who suggested temporary stays should be issued only in emergencies.

"The NFL has not persuaded me this is the type of emergency situation which justifies the grant of a temporary stay of the district court's order pending our decision on a motion for a stay itself," Bye wrote. "If we ultimately grant the motion for a stay, the NFL can easily re-establish its lockout."

The ruling was the first victory for the NFL in the bitter labor fight, and it came from a venue considered more conservative and favorable to businesses than the federal courts in Minnesota, where the collective bargaining system was established in the early 1990s. Colloton and Benton were appointed by President George W. Bush. Bye was appointed by President Clinton.

The appeals court is expected to rule next week on the NFL's request for a more permanent stay that would last through its appeal of the injunction. That process is expected to take six to eight weeks.

Jim Quinn, lead attorney for the players, downplayed the order.

"Routine grant of stay and totally expected," he said. "The only surprise is that Judge Bye is so strongly against giving them even a tiny stay because the league obviously can't show it is necessary."

The order was just the latest in a dizzying week of legal wrangling. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson on Monday ordered the end of the 45-day lockout, calling it illegal, and denied the NFL's appeal Wednesday night.

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