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Original Issue


Reflections on the not-so-great football strike of 1987

Oh, this was a beauty of a strike. Players picketing in fur coats. Owners charging fans $20 to watch Guido Merkens remember how to huddle up. John Madden video-chalking the crucial movements of aspiring actors and gas-pump jockeys. America watching it. Do you realize Week 1 of placebo ball drew more viewers than the last game of the Detroit-Toronto series for the American League East title? All guilty parties should stop right now and say two novenas.

You may have started out on the players' side. You may have started out on the owners' side. But by the end, you just wanted to step aside, so as not to get any of it on you. This strike was like watching a fistfight between Geraldo Rivera and George Will. You don't care if neither of them wins.

Look what we got: a 24-day work stoppage of the NFL Jellyfish Association. Nearly 15% of the players crossed their teammates' picket lines. For loyalty? For principle? No, for better than that. For annuities! Teams dissolved. Friendships ended. And what did the players win? Well, they may get 49 players on the roster instead of the 45 they had before this business began—with the new spots being filled by scabs.

As for the owners, we let them serve up the Rotary Club All-Stars for fun and profit. And last Thursday, when they had the real players back in plenty of time to perform in Sunday's games, they rubbed everybody's nose in it for an extra week. Other than that, the NFL is doing everything it can for you, the fan.

The strike is something we will want to remember forever. That is why I propose we collect some mementos and seal them in a time capsule. It will be cramped, but to capture the spirit of this historic period, we would be well-advised to include the following:

•A dozen eggs, to remind us of what the striking players threw and, after a week in the capsule, how the whole thing smelled.

•The gas money saved by striking Pittsburgh players, who decided 70 miles was too far to drive to picket Steelers practices in Johnstown, Pa., and stayed home the first week.

•The engraved words of Raiders owner Al Davis, who said, "Every week they stay out, it saves me another million dollars." Just compound, baby!

•The taped-together autograph of picketing Bronco linebacker Karl Mecklenburg, who ripped it up after signing it for an eight-year-old fan. He did this because the kid was going into the scab game Mecklenburg was picketing. Imagine! A kid coming to a game unversed in the workings of union-management conflict.

•The soon-to-be-orphaned teeth of Giants linebacker Robbie Jones, who, after he heard his team's most celebrated player would cross the line, warned others: "You follow Lawrence Taylor, you can burn in hell. I'd rather be known as a man of integrity who stood for something."

•Thirty pieces of silver for Cowboy Tony Dorsett, who called teammate Randy White Captain Scab after White crossed the line, and then crossed the line himself a week later.

•Newspaper clippings describing how, on the day before the strike ended, Rams coach John Robinson tried to sneak 13 veterans onto the eligible roster for Sunday's game against the Falcons. Problem was, most of the 13 had no intention of coming back, which was too bad, because their names were carried by the news wires as "defectors" as the result of Robinson's action.

•A videotape of the ultimate scab-ball play: A New Orleans Saint Elsewhere quarterback throws a bomb that's picked off by an Also-Ram safety, who returns it to the Saint Elsewheres' 40 and then flips it to another Also-Ram, who goes 10 more yards before fumbling, whereupon the ball is picked up by that same Saint Elsewhere quarterback, who runs with it 77 yards the other way for a touchdown. Then a penalty expunges the whole mess.

•Ticket stubs from music-loving Cardinal lineman Luis Sharpe, who encouraged some workers at the Cards office to honor the players' picket line, and then crossed another union's line to attend a concert.

•A copy of Gene Upshaw's Eat Your Words and Lose, Lose, Lose diet book. The regimen: Convince ambivalent players to hold out for free agency; don't get it; ask for changes in pension and severance pay; don't get it; settle for binding arbitration; don't get it; settle for mediation; don't get it; settle for an extension of the old contract; don't get it; refuse to bring your players in without a contract; bring them in, but not in time to be paid that week. After this, even Ed Garvey looks good.

Take all this stuff, load it into the time capsule, seal it, transport it by special convoy to a backyard in Whittier, Calif., where the earth will probably open up and swallow it, and we'll never have to look at the sorry mess again.