Scab Story: The 1987 NFL Strike

The specter of an extended work stoppage means we don’t know exactly when we’ll get to watch pro football again. We’re not experts on the lockout, but we thought this might be a good time to fill you in on the details of the NFL’s last major labor crisis, 1987’s midseason player strike.

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What were the players after?

Free agency. The players had ostensibly had free agency for a decade, but there was a major hurdle to their movement from team to team. The “Rozelle Rule” stated that if a team signed a free agent from another squad, the commissioner could compensate the player’s original team with draft picks or players from his new team. This rule hampered players’ movement in search of bigger paychecks, especially since the compensation to players’ former teams could be as steep as two first-round draft picks.

When did the players decide to strike?

The strike began after the season’s second week of games. The players likely assumed that this tactic would give them leverage, since TV networks would need their games to fill out the following week’s schedules. When the players pulled the same maneuver in 1982, the league’s schedule ended up being reduced from 16 games to nine for the season. The players’ logic was that even if the owners had the nerve to toss together replacement teams, there was no way TV stations would air terrible football.

This time around, though, the owners decided to call the players’ bluff. The NFL canceled Week 3’s games – thereby reducing the season to 15 games – and teams began assembling replacement players. As it turned out, the TV affiliates were happy to show the replacement players’ games. As NFL stars walked picket lines outside of their teams’ headquarters, personnel men scrambled to throw together rosters that could take the field for Week 4.

Did these replacement teams have hilariously punny nicknames?

So glad that you asked. Clare Farnsworth compiled the following brilliant list for a 2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer story: the Los Angeles Shams, the Chicago Spare Bears, the Seattle Sea-Scabs, the New Orleans Saint Elsewheres, the Miami Dol-Finks, and the San Francisco Phoney-Niners.

Did any of the replacement players turn out to be good?

That really depends definition of “good.” Remember, the NFL basically had less than two weeks to toss together 28 complete rosters, so they weren’t particularly picky about whom they suited up. Many of the replacement players were guys who had been cut during training camp or passed over during the draft. Or if a team couldn’t find that sort of luminary, they’d look for random guys who happened to be big, like bouncers.

The best replacement player was probably Houston Oilers linebacker Eugene Seale, who ran back an interception return for a TD in the team’s first replacement-player game. He stuck around with the Oilers until 1992 and even made the All-Pro team as a special teams ace in 1988. Replacement Saints QB John Fourcade kicked around in the league until 1990, too.

Did any of the replacement players go on to better things?

There’s where things get interesting. Hip-hop fans might have recognized a young replacement defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams: Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight, who appeared as a backup in two games.

There was also some legitimate football expertise on the replacement rosters. The Chicago Spare Bears boasted future New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton at quarterback. Payton’s play turned out to be significantly less brilliant than his play-calling as a coach. Payton only completed eight of 23 pass attempts in three games while throwing an interception and taking seven sacks. He racked up a putrid QB rating of 27.3 for his efforts.

Current UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel also suited up during the strike; he went 2-0 as the San Diego Chargers’ replacement starter.

What happened to the actual players in their strike?

The Players Association certainly didn’t put on a clinic in striking solidarity. Some players immediately crossed the picket line, most notably New York Jets star defensive end Mark Gastineau, who claimed he needed the money to pay alimony. (Gastineau would end up scuffling with a teammate who spat in his face as he crossed the picket line one morning.)

Other star players like 49ers QB Joe Montana, Seahawks wideout Steve Largent (who torched the replacement Lions for 261 yards receiving in a single game), Raiders lineman Howie Long, and Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett followed suit, and the Players Association started to realize it was sunk. After 24 days of striking, the players returned to work.

Oddly, even after the strike ended, the replacement teams took the field one more time. The players ended their strike on a Thursday, only to be informed by the owners that they had missed the deadline for being eligible to play in Week 6 by one day. The real NFL squads returned to the field for Week 7.

So who won?

In the short term, the owners won a huge victory. The great Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated opened his article on the strike’s end by writing, “The NFL players association got hammered in its 24-day strike…” The players called off the strike and returned to work without a new collective bargaining agreement. They didn’t get the free agency concession they were looking for, either. In short, the whole episode was something of a debacle.

Eventually the players won a series of court battles that enabled them to snag free agency and a set share of league revenues. The players’ union, which had decertified after losing the strike, didn’t officially reform as a union until 1993.

The other winners were the Washington Redskins, who had an odd knack for winning the Super Bowl in abbreviated strike years. The Skins’ replacement team went 3-0, and when the big boys came back they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, just as they had after the shortened 1982 season.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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50 Years of Monday Night Football's Memorable Theme Music

iStock
iStock

Monday Night Football turns 50 years old today—notably on a Monday! And as the Raiders and Saints warm up for tonight's kickoff, fans will know it's game time when they hear four distinct, descending notes. But it wasn't always that way. The biggest game of the week has been soundtracked by a handful of theme songs, starting back on September 21, 1970.

When Monday Night Football premiered on ABC, it was accompanied by the thoroughly groovy, Hammond organ-heavy “Score” by Charles Fox. The composer had previously written the theme for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and he would later make a name for himself doing the theme songs for Happy Days and The Love Boat, as well as composing Roberta Flack’s Grammy-winning “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”

“No network had ever programmed a regular sporting event in the evening in prime time,” Fox wrote in his autobiography, and though no one could know what a juggernaut the show would become, he set about writing a funky soul-jazz tune. The song was released under the alias “Bob’s Band”—presumably because Fox was employed at the time by Bob Israel’s Score Productions, a music company specializing in theme songs and background music.

Fox retained its rights over that song, but the show moved on to a new opener after a few years. “Monday Night Football is still on the air, but my theme was replaced after seven years by someone named … Bob Israel,” Fox wrote of his former boss. Well, almost. First, there was a version simply called “ABC – Monday Night Football Theme” that aired from 1976 to 1981. Then in 1982, Israel’s Score Productions was brought in to update that song. The three composers of the 1976 piece unsuccessfully sued for copyright infringement.

Then, in 1989, Johnny Pearson’s “Heavy Action” rang in a new era of watching live sports from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy. Though the company had retained the rights to the song a decade previously, they used it primarily as background music and didn't make it an official theme until '89. The first four notes of the British composer’s opener became synonymous with American football, and the song is likely one of the most widely and easily recognized themes in television history.

Also in 1989, country star Hank Williams Jr. reworked his earlier hit "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" into a bar-room blues rocker that spoke of "turning on [his] TV for some pigskin fun." The song was a huge success and ran in various forms on the program for over 20 years. Williams enthusiastically growling "Are you ready for some football?" became as identifiable to the show as the opening notes of "Heavy Action."

Unfortunately, in 2011, Monday Night Football (which in 2006 moved from ABC to ESPN) dropped Williams' theme after he made controversial statements about President Barack Obama on Fox News. The network reverted to featuring "Heavy Action" most prominently, and in 2015 they reworked the theme yet again. That intro, which ran before each of the season's games, featured archive videos and computer generated players to highlight some of the greatest plays and playmakers in the history of the broadcast.

In 2017, Hank Williams Jr. and all his "Rowdy Friends" made their way back to the top of the football broadcast, but they've been replaced again in 2020 for Monday Night Football's 50th anniversary season with a cover of Little Richard's "Rip It Up," courtesy of Butcher Brown.

Yeah, we're definitely ready for some football.