Even as his players are claiming a modest victory, if that, after Judge Susan Richard Nelson granted a preliminary injunction blocking the league's lockout, DeMaurice Smith was more emphatic.
"We're thrilled that it looks like football might be on," the executive director of the NFL Players Association said Monday night.
Speaking to ESPN, Smith added: "If we're in a world where players are actually suing so they can play football ... that tells me we've lost our way."
While the NFL lost this first step in litigation, it appealed the ruling a couple hours later.
Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, put the granting of the preliminary injunction in football terms.
"The players started on their own 20-yard line and I think they gained 15 or 20 yards," Roberts said, "but there's a long way to the end zone.
"We expected it, based on the questions she asked at the oral arguments. We knew where she was leaning."
Several agents suggested that players will begin reporting to team facilities Tuesday unless an immediate stay of the injunction is granted.
"It's definitely a major, major victory for the players," Kevin Poston said. "I know it's going to be hard for a judge to overrule another judge unless there was some major error in law that we don't know about.
"But no one knows what happens now to free agency, to undrafted free agents and minicamps now that the lockout has been lifted. We still have to hear some details from the judge over the next couple of days and those details will be important."
Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who is a free agent, urges everyone to "let the dust settle."
"Football is back to business, but guess what? There's no rules," said Leber, one of nine NFL players who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "There's a lot of positive to that, but there's also a lot of negatives.What happens if a guy goes to work out and blows out a disk trying to squat? All of sudden, there's a question about what rules he's protected under."
Indeed, there are many more questions than answers.
"By no means does this mean that we as the players have all the leverage or have an outright outlook that we're in the winning position right now, because there's still a long way to go," said Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson, who served as the team's union player representative before decertification on March 11.
"But it's definitely encouraging to see that we got the information in the right hands, and the judge took the time to take an objective look at all the information and make a decision that's in the best interest of the league as a whole."
Kicker Jay Feely, Arizona's player rep before the NFL Players Association dissolved, was more vociferous in reacting to the decision.
"The players have said all along, 'The law is on our side.' Judge Nelson's ruling reaffirms our contention," Feely said.
Many of his peers are looking at the long term, though. New York Jets guard Brandon Moore called it a good day for the players, but recognized "there's still some legal wrangling that needs to go on."
"This has been frustrating," Moore said. "You're working out on your own, trying to set up drills, trying to find a field somewhere, trying to find a time to get together. I mean, we're professional athletes here. We shouldn't be going through this. On the same token, these were the only cards we were left with."
It's a high-stakes poker game as the owners and players wrangle over more than $9 billion in revenues. Seth Borden, a labor law expert at McKenna, Long and Aldridge in New York, emphasized that Nelson stuck strictly to one topic in a multifaceted dispute.
"The judge was very clear that the ultimate resolution of the players' claims against the league is not dealt with in this," Borden said. "Only one issue she has addressed here: whether or not the effort of the owners to disallow the players from playing at this time potentially violates the antitrust laws."
"It certainly tilts some leverage back toward the players. The major piece of leverage the owners were employing throughout this dispute was the ability to disallow the players from playing. ... For the time being, this judge has said they cannot do so."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)