Today marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the 1987 NFL players strike. It was an emotionally charged month and I was caught in the middle of it.
About a month earlier, I had suffered a fairly serious neck injury in my second training camp with the Dallas Cowboys. I had been placed on injured reserve and was undergoing two lengthy therapy sessions daily. The night before the "replacement players" were to going to show up at the Cowboys facility, the veterans held a meeting. I got up and explained my situation---that I didn't want to cross a picket line but that I needed to continue my therapy. I told the players I would stay away and not cross if they felt like I was doing something wrong. They assured me that they had no problem with me crossing to get rehab. I told them I would not under any circumstances play in a replacement game should I get healthy at some point.(in those days, players could come of the injured reserve list after six weeks if they were healthy.) So I thought I had avoided a problem.
The next morning I had to drive through a vocal and angry picket line at the team facility. Based on the meeting the night before I had no worries about driving into the facility. It turns out some of the vets had very short memories. My truck was rocked by several of the guys and my windshield was splattered by dozens of eggs. A sizeable rock hit the side of my door and left a noticeable dent. I wondered how I was going to get through that angry line every day of the strike. As it turns out, that was the only day I was hassled going past the players. They saved most of their venom for the replacements who arrived by bus every morning.
The replacement games lasted just three weeks. They were sloppy, rag tag games played in front of mostly empty stadiums. After the third week, the players caved and reported for duty. The players netted nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not even a promise by the owners to re-open negotiations. The union didn't have enough solidarity. Too many guys crossed the pickets and played. In Dallas, seven starters including Randy White and Tony Dorsett crossed. In Pittsburgh, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth crossed. Steve Largent crossed in Seattle and Howie Long crossed in L.A.
It's arguably the darkest month in NFL history. But, at the very least, it left a lasting impression on both the owners and the union. There has not been a labor stoppage in the NFL since then.