On Sunday millions of people around the world will tune in to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. But could this be the last National Football League game for some time?
The current labor contract between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the players' union, expires March 4. Unless a new agreement is reached, the league could be headed for a work stoppage.
That means no spring practice, no free agency deals and, potentially, no 2011 season.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said repeatedly in Dallas Friday that the owners and league are committed to reaching an agreement before the deadline.
"I think that's only going to happen when there's intense negotiations from your union and the owners," he said. "This is the window of opportunity to get this done right."
The standoff between the league, team owners and players centers on two key issues. First, there's revenue sharing. NFL players currently receive 60 percent of the league's $9 billion in annual revenue, but team owners say that's unsustainable, given the economic downturn. They want to reduce the players' share by 9 percent to 18 percent.
Secon, there's the schedule. The league wants to add two more regular season games, for a total of 18. Players say that would increase their risk of injury, and they deserve compensation.
Goodell said Friday that there are "no deal breakers," but that the status quo is "not acceptable."
On Saturday, Goodell and officials from the NFL Players' Association will sit down for the first formal negotiating session since November. The NFL commissioner met with the head of the players union, DeMaurice Smith, in New York Monday.
Goodell said today that the labor problem will get resolved at the negotiating table -- not through public relations, litigation or congressional strategies. "This is about a negotiation," he said.
In an unusual moment, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco asked Goodell the question he said all his fellow players wanted to have answered: "How far away are we from realistically getting a labor deal done?"
Goodell would not commit to a timeline, but said "in the next few weeks."
The NFL Players' union said fans have been asking the same question -- and worried whether there would be football next year. Last month, George Atallah, the NFLPA's assistant executive director for external affairs, told ABC News that "unfortunately, we can't guarantee that."
Typically, when NFL players come to Washington, it's to celebrate a championship.
Last month, they came to present their case to members of Congress.
Players want Congress to use its leverage over the league -- leverage that they say comes from an anti-trust exemption given to the NFL years ago to negotiate television contracts and share revenues. So far, members have shown little indication of intervening, and players insist they were not expecting them to.
"At this point, we're not trying to get anybody to step in to interfere. We just want to inform members of Congress where we stand," said Pete Kendall, a former offensive lineman and now a permanent representative on the union's negotiating committee.