Power releases entire team just hours before kickoff
After the Arena Football League players union declared a strike Friday, the Pittsburgh Power struck back, releasing its entire 24-man roster just hours before the season-opener.
Power owner Matt Shaner fired his players during the pregame meal at an Olive Garden in Orlando, Fla.
"I'm putting food in my mouth and being read, from a piece of paper by our owner, that the Pittsburgh Power as a whole is now terminated," said former Power center Beau Elliott, who played at Highlands High School and Indiana (Pa.). "Mid-statement, all the players got up and left. Every player got up and left while he was still talking. There were 15 to 20 angry, large individuals."
Power owner Matt Shaner said some members of his team expressed interest in leaving the Arena Football League Players Association and rejoined the team, signing new contracts under the old terms and playing in last night's game against the Orlando Predators.
A similar scene was played out among the Predators, which also fired all 24 of their players only to re-sign some.
The NFL Network, which broadcast the game, reported that the teams agreed to play only five regular players, but the Power was playing more.
"If that's the way they want to play, we'll deal with it," Orlando coach Bret Munsey told the network during the game.
Among those playing for the Power were receivers Mike Washington, Lonnell DeWalt, P.J. Berry, Oderick Turner and Randy Hymes; defensive backs Chris LeFlore and Bryan Williams; and backup quarterback Andrico Hines. The remainder of the roster was comprised of replacement players who had been practicing in Orlando this week.
"A number of them do not agree with what the union is doing," Shaner said.
Among those who did not sign new contracts was veteran quarterback Kyle Rowley.
"Rowley will never play for the Pittsburgh Power," Shaner said. "We have decided he does not fit our system."
Rowley, a 10-year indoor football veteran who was expected to be the Power's starting quarterback, declined to comment earlier in the day. He could not be reached after he was fired.
Shaner said the players who did not re-sign will not travel back to Pittsburgh with the team and will have to return at their own expense.
"The players were released," Shaner said. "Neither the team nor the Arena Football League have any travel obligations to them."
The AFL and its players union have been trying to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement for the past eight months, but they reached an impasse yesterday.
"The league is on strike," AFLPA executive director Ivan Soto said yesterday afternoon.
Players voted Wednesday to approve plans for a strike. Asked if the sides are far apart in negotiations, Soto said. "We are not close."
Players' wages are at the root of the negotiations, but they also involve grievance and medical issues, Soto said.
Most players made $400 per game last season. The league twice offered a proposal that would pay starting quarterbacks $1,675 per game while increasing most players' salary to $500.
"That is just not acceptable," Soto said.
Soto said he is looking for an $850 increase for all players to $1,350 per game.
Soto, who was hired by the union 2 1/2 months ago, said he is determined to work out a fair CBA for the players.
"I'm an ex-Marine," he said, "and I'm not going to take my pack off until I'm done."
C ontributing: Staff writer Paul Kogut and correspondent J.C. Carnahan.