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Originally published Friday, June 3, 2011 at 7:59 PM

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Players urge court to lift lockout

NFL players urged a federal appeals court Friday to declare the lockout illegal, saying the league had no right to impose a work stoppage that is now approaching three months with no sign of a deal that will save the 2011 season.

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ST. LOUIS — NFL players urged a federal appeals court Friday to declare the lockout illegal, saying the league had no right to impose a work stoppage that is now approaching three months with no sign of a deal that will save the 2011 season.

In a courtroom packed with some 200 people, including out-of-work players and retirees on folding chairs brought in to handle the crowd, attorneys on both sides of the bitter labor fight got roughly 30 minutes each to make their cases.

The appeal centers on the lockout that began hours after months of labor talks fell apart March 11. The players union dissolved, and the fight ended up in federal court. The NFL contends the union decertification was a sham meant to gain leverage in the talks and the conflict remains subject to labor law.

The players argue that antitrust laws apply and the lockout put in place under labor law needs to be put on hold, as it was in April by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minnesota.

"We're asking for a preliminary injunction for a short period of time," the players' counsel, Theodore Olson, said in the hushed courtroom. "We're simply asking that the laws of the U.S. be respected."

The arguments came before a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose two earlier 2-1 decisions have sided with the league and upheld the lockout. The panel took the arguments under advisement with one judge, Kermit Bye, saying only that a ruling would come in "due course" and he suggested the two sides figure things out.

"We wouldn't be all that hurt if you go out and settle that case," Bye said with a smile as he closed the 68-minute hearing. "We will keep with our business, and if that ends up with a decision, it's probably something both sides aren't going to like."

The hearing has been seen as pivotal in the dispute over how to share the NFL's $9 billion in annual revenue.

Hall of Famer dies

Running back John Henry Johnson, a member of the San Francisco 49ers' famed "Million Dollar Backfield" in the mid-1950s, died in Tracy, Calif., on Friday at the age of 81, according to several relatives and close friends.

Johnson's pro playing career spanned 14 seasons, including 13 in the NFL and now-defunct American Football League, and culminated with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Johnson's most productive seasons came with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1960s, when he twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He also was a member of the Detroit Lions' title-winning team in 1957.

However, it was during his three seasons with the 49ers for which Johnson is best remembered. He teamed with running backs Joe "The Jet" Perry and Hugh McElhenny (the former Washington Huskies star) and quarterback Y.A. Tittle from 1954 to 1956 to comprise what many regard as the best backfield in history.

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