For Dennis Curran ’67, going to the Super Bowl is just another day at the office.
That’s been true for the past 32 consecutive seasons, during which Curran has served as general counsel and senior vice president of labor litigation and policy for the National Football League.
After beginning his career as an assistant district attorney doing wire-taps on drug traffickers in Miami, Curran got his start as in-house counsel for Pan Am Airlines. “If it had paid more I would’ve stayed,” Curran says of being a prosecutor. “But we had our first kid on the way.”
In 1980, the NFL hired Curran in its labor legal department. “It was just a mom-and-pop operation then,” he recalls. “Most of the teams were family owned and their business was football. Now its owners whose primary business is not in sports.”
In three decades, Curran’s primary job has been to negotiate contracts with the players’ union. As evidenced by last summer’s panic, this has not been a cushy job. Add to that the changes regarding free agency, performance enhancing drugs, substance abuse and football-related injuries in the past thirty years. It’s been exciting times for the NFL’s lawyer.
Like a good attorney, Curran is quick to point out what you may have missed: the NFL always had a substance abuse policy. It always had free agency. But the drafting of new measures and policies, ones which suit the times and the players’ demands, has brought a lot of work to Curran’s desk, on the 6th floor of NFL headquarters on New York’s Park Avenue.
Currently, the NFL is facing suits from individual players and from groups of players. Last year, Pats QB Tom Brady put his name on the salary cap suit against the NFL.
Curran, who once held Patriots season tickets in the 1970s, doesn’t find it odd to now be lining up on the other side of the line of scrimmage with Brady. Although he did find it strange, at this year’s Super Bowl, to root for both John Mara’s Giants and Bob Kraft’s Patriots. “They’re both on our labor committee and good friends,” says Curran. “I had a hard time rooting for one, although I’m not supposed to root at all.”
Also weighing on Curran’s mind these days are suits relating to concussions, and what the league knew about concussions causing dementia. The union and owners agreed to a dementia clause in the current contract, which is one of the best contracts for retired player benefits, says Curran.
“These claims and related lawsuits will be ongoing,” he say. “I think we have a lot of valid defenses. We never misled anybody.”
This article first appeared in CM Magazine, the Catholic Memorial alumni magazine.