Remembering the strike games
by Chuck Hershberger of The Houghton Lake Restorer, Michigan
I was among the fewer-than-5,000 fans who attended the 1987 Lions' home opener in the Pontiac Silverdome. The visitors were the Central Division's Tampa Bay Bucs. Whilst not taking sides in the labor dispute, my purpose in attending the game was strictly a historical/journalistic endeavour.
I had a fantastic seat on the 45-yard line, lower level, 15 rows up on the West side of the Silverdome. There were four people in my row. It was a weird feeling seeing an NFL game in a nearly deserted Silverdome. Before the game started, there were 60 seconds of silence for the recently deceased Henry Ford II, brother of William Ford, the owner of the Lions.
The Lions got off to a quick 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. There were some interesting incidents that were taking the place off the field. Some fans started the Wave. In fact, the Wave was done with three different speeds, fast, medium and slow motion. You had to wait at times because some sections were devoid of human life. Then there were the two male fans with paper bags over their heads. The bags said "Scab fan" and an uncomplimentary remark about NFLPA President Gene Upshaw on their backs.
Four banners adorned the stadium. An Albion College fraternity banner wishing Joe Felton, a reserve guard for the Lions, good luck. Felton, an Albion alumni, never got into the game. I watched him put his helmet on, take it off and pace the sidelines. Another banner read "Everyone deserves a change - good luck to our NEW Lions." One sign was confiscated saying "PATCO NFLPA - what’s next?" and an uncomplimentary but not obscene remark about Gene Upshaw.
The second quarter was played with less intensity and Detroit's lead had shrunk to a 24-21 at the half. One fan wanted the game stopped at half-time because his football pool total was 45 - he lost.
In the fourth quarter, Detroit punter Mike Black fumbled whilst attempting to punt and Tampa Bay recovered on the Lions' three-yard line. A few plays later, Harold Ricks rushed over the right side for a TD. After the conversion, Tampa Bay led 31-24.
At 3.42pm, the scoreboard flashed the Detroit baseball Tigers' 1-0 lead over the Toronto Blue Jays and mentioned Larry Herndon's home run. The sparse crowd roared its approval. A Lions' fieldgoal narrowed the score to 31-27 but a late Detroit comeback failed and the Bucs ran out the clock. As I left my seat, a guy passed me wearing a USFL Michigan Panthers jacket which seemed to say it all.
Whilst on the way out of the stadium, each fan was given a red or blue NFL cap. In fact, some fans got more than one as the supply was greater than the attendance. Another class act by the Lions management were free numerical roster lists given to the fans. You couldn't have told who the players were without a scorecard.
As I walked into the Silverdome parking lot, I received an information pamphlet from pickets supporting the striking players and wasn't either bothered or verbally harassed. The parking lot I used charged only $3 whilst all others were charging $5. I talked to the owner after the game and he estimated his receipts were off by over 75%.
By the way, the Central Michigan University marching band put on a great show.