They are like two quarterbacks looking for the end zone, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and player representative DeMaurice Smith.
Goodell, the 52-year-old commissioner of the National Football League, has lived his life for football. He rose from serving in the NFL office as a intern in the 1980's to the boss who is trying to ensure the future of his sport.
"He imposed a lockout, he has gone to court to keep it in place, so a part of his legacy, if not his main legacy, will be the outcome of this," says Daniel Kaplan, NFL reporter at the financial paper, Sports Business Journal. "You have to remember he is a businessman, he is all about protecting the brand of the NFL. He talks about the shield, the logo of the NFL, and that's what is important to him...I would rate him a B plus."
"I do believe that Roger has the best interest of the game at heart," observes Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Jim Trotter, who has been covering the lockout. "But the reality is, Roger Goodell is not the one who makes the deal here. It is the owners, and he has got to get 24 owners who will sign off on a new collective bargaining agreement."
Goodell is the son of former Republican New York Senator Charles Goodell, and is married to former Fox News Channel Anchor Jane Skinner. His experience and exposure to the bruising public arena has come in handy, like when he was greeted by boos from some fans at the 2011 NFL Draft in New York City.
"I think he's handling it well," says the lawyer for the team owners, David Boies. "I think he appreciates the frustration that the fans face. He faces that frustration. We all face that frustration, and I think he recognizes that he is the most visible symbol and it's natural for fans to express that frustration to any visible symbol like the commissioner."
Kaplan notes that, "as can be expected in a situation like this, a lot of players are unhappy with him, as you can imagine. The owners seem to be behind him and have his back."
The public is not as familiar with Goodell's counterpart, player representative DeMaurice Smith, known as Dee Smith.
Smith is a veteran Washington, D.C. corporate lawyer who has held the job of head of the now de-certified NFL Players Association for two years. He had previously served as counsel to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
"Smith is a remarkable guy," notes the players’ lawyer, Theodore B. Olson. "As the American public gets to know him better, he is a warrior for the players, but he is really defending not just the players, but he is defending the fans and community in which football is played."
Smith has accused the owners of lying to and tricking the players, and the courtroom battles have seemed as rough as two frontlines colliding.
"The owners feel that he has wanted to get to court all along, that that was his objective," notes Trotter. "On the other side, the players brought him in because he thought outside the box, because he has a legal background, because he is a litigator. He is smart and intelligent, and from their stand-point, he has been on point. Since he has come in, he has won three cases in court...the one case he has lost, to this point, is the most recent."
Some say that case, the appellate court ruling that backed the owners' right to continue the lockout, has thrown the union for a loss.
"I think it could significantly backfire on Smith," notes Kaplan. "It's the first significant loss the players have received in court, not just in this process, but in many, many years. It was a huge one. They lost yardage, significant yardage. They went from first and goal, to back on the other team's goal line, if you ask me."
The lockout could continue until at least the next court hearing in St. Louis on June 3rd, as Goodell and Smith call the plays they hope will make their respective sides come out on top. But as the lockout continues, the prospects for football’s kickoff remain uncertain.
"You could lose an entire season, if not more," predicts Kaplan.