Some stories from behind the strike
I don't suppose any of the fans, writers or players involved in the NFL at the time, realised what their actions at the time were going to mean years down the road. I mean, how many people who had boycotted the two games at Tampa Stadium, now realise the chance for them to be part of a unique moment in NFL history had gone.
I remember Channel 4 being so disillusioned with the standard of football they had for their weekly highlight package, switching to cover part of the Blue Jays v Tigers' baseball game as the 1987 regular season wound down. The level of information we received in those days about the game was only a fraction of what it is now too. So none of the players meant anything to me at that time as I had never followed the USFL's Bandits to any great degree either.
The Raiders' QB Jim Plunkett summed up the sentiment of the players towards the strike. "I've got a zero chance of benefitting from free agency from this strike and this strike has about a zero chance of working right now" he told Rob Huizenga, the Raiders' team doctor and author of "You're OK, it's only a bruise".
"So i'm giving up $70K a week in money I'll never make back to help a bunch of kids that are still in college and mabe a couple of our first and second year players."
Plunkett was then asked why he didn't go on strike if he felt that way. "No," he replied honestly. "This is a team sport."
Chris Ford was the Bucs' beat reporter for The Tampa Tribune at the time of the strike. He remembers some real problems in covering the Bucs at that time.
"The regulars weren't so happy with the media, especially when we covered the strike games. Striking players were working out at Jefferson High School the day after I covered the replacements' first game, a 31-27 victory against the Detroit Lions at the almost-empty Pontiac Silverdome. Jeff Davis, one of the league's hardest-hitting linebackers at 250 pounds, taunted me from the middle of the field: ``Scab team, scab reporter.''
"Davis kept talking. At the time, I was 36 years old, cocky and could bench-press 300 pounds. As Davis jabbered, I motioned him to the sideline, saying, ``Come on ... come on.''
I thought about Will McDonough of The Boston Globe. McDonough had responded to being shoved by New England Patriots player Raymond Clayborn by knocking him out with a punch to the jaw. Davis exhibited a bit more maturity than me by remaining on the field, probably a fortunate development for the scab reporter. "
Buddy Ryan was coach of the Philadelphia Eagles at the time and the strike gave him a chance to prove once again was a totally classless individual he was. The replacement Eagles were a pretty poor team as the franchise was then owned by Norman Braman, one of the main instigators of the strike. And of course, Philadelphia is a staunch blue-collar industrial town with no time for scab employees of any kind.
The second-string Eagles lost all three games and the overall record of the 1987 team was not enough to make the playoffs. Ryan tried to deflect any blame from him or his coaching staff by presenting two of the front office staff, Joe Woolley and George Azar, with scab brass rings in front of the entire Philadelphia press corps, to "thank them" for such a bad scab team.
The stunt nearly got Ryan fired on the spot although his comment before the first replacement game of "we might have the worst bunch of guys together we've ever seen as a football team" did not exactly inspire him to his players either.
Chris Ford also remembers a chance to put one over on coach Ray Perkins, something the Tampa media always loved to do at the time.
During the players' strike, I sat for hours in the Westshore Hilton lobby, along with my Tribune collaborators in sneakiness, Joey Johnston and Chris Harry, who shared my enthusiasm for undercover work. The Hilton was where the Bucs put up prospective players. One day, we recognized Jim Zorn, former Seattle Seahawks quarterback, and talked to him. It was exhilarating to walk into Perkins' office - that was easy to do, too - and know something you weren't supposed to know. ``What about Jim Zorn?''
"Jim Zorn, the quarterback.''
"Don't know nothing about him.''
"Sure you do - you just signed him.''
H.Rod Martin, one of the Raiders' backroom staff came out for their first replacement game to be greeted by an almost-empty Los Angeles Coliseum. "It's going to be hard for the gang members" he said at the time. "They're going to have to walk across a whole section just to get close enough to another ticket holder to start a fight."
One of the Raider replacement players summed up their feelings towards the sight of Howie Long and Marcus Allen on the picket line outside the game. "Put your picket signs back in your Mercedes and leave us alone."
One thing to look back on about the strike, is the number of big game players who crossed the picket line and played. Joe Montana did, so did Tony Dorsett and Danny White. So did Lawrence Taylor, and Al Davis pulled enough strings behind the scenes in Los Angeles to ensure 26 Raiders (including Long) were crossing the line by the final game.
This did come to backfire on Davis however as the division he created between the players who did cross and those who didn't, remained throughout the season. There were also tales of replacement players suffering hazing and other such actions if they had been kept on the roster once the strike was over.
One of the regular posters on the Bucs' bulletin board, Tim Brooks, recalls his own memory of the strike. "The Bucs were providing refunds for all tickets that fans wanted to return. you had the option of using your tickets or getting the refund. I decided to use mine because I already had the Sundays available. why not watch football? One of the guys I worked with said all week that he was going to watch the games. He hated that the players were striking and thought it was ridiculous since they already made plenty of money.
"Once arriving at the game and walking to the stadium, he crossed the Bucs' picket line. Jackie Walker (one of the Bucs' LBs at the time) recognized him because he always stood near the tunnel as the players were going on and off the field and cheered for the Bucs players. Jackie told him to never cheer for him again. So he felt bad about it and tore up his ticket. The media happened to be there and made a big deal about it. A fan had torn up his ticket rather than go to the game! What a statement of protest in the players favour! The guy ended up getting on TV and radio as being "for the players cause" and tearing up his ticket at the game. He then went to a park with the players and hung out with them as a hero. He also was on the front of The Tampa Tribune tearing up his ticket.
"Actually, the fans who were on the players side were the ones getting refunds for their tickets. I'm sure Culverhouse didnt mind the guys tearing their tickets up at the game as long as he got his money. But it was a big day for my friend. He got a lot of attention and had a great time with the players. Lucky for him. The funniest thing though was that he went to the next home scab game but made sure to stay away from the picket line."
Chris Ford summed up the overwhelming memory of the strike however when he remembered one of the former Tampa Bay Bandits who had finally got a chance to play in the NFL.
"There was offensive lineman Chuck Pitcock, who never felt so much pleasure as when he stood in the middle of the Bucs locker room, wearing only a jock, a dip of Copenhagen in his bottom lip, realizing that for one brief moment, he was experiencing the lifelong dream of being an NFL player. 'They'll never take this away from me.' "