Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Game Daze Replacement Refs? Why Not? Twenty Five Years Ago the NFL Gave Us Replacement Players

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Game Daze Replacement Refs? Why Not? Twenty Five Years Ago the NFL Gave Us Replacement Players

Article excerpt

It's perhaps appropriate that the NFL uses replacement officials to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the replacement games it foisted on fans in 1987. Twenty-five years ago, games played on the matching weekend became the first casualty of a players strike. But there would be more before it ended, severely testing a term being thrown around often these days during the lockout of the officials - - the "integrity of the game."

* * * *

The players went on strike after playing two games, and the third games of the season were canceled. That's when the NFL machine went to work on its alternate plan.

Anticipating the strike, most teams quietly had been signing replacement players to continue to play games while their players struck.

You think replacement officials are a threat to the integrity of the game? Try replacement players. It was a preposterous idea that the NFL somehow, some way pulled off. Guys who never belonged in NFL training camps, never mind on rosters, were suddenly wearing the same uniforms that future Hall of Famers wore the game before.

The NFL should be ashamed of itself for the continued use of the sham, scab refs. However, the NFL doesn't shame easily. They used those scab or "replacement" players for three games 25 years ago. If you think the replacement refs are funny to watch, you should have seen those guys in '87.

Those three games counted in the standings, all the records went in the books and you can still find guys who never should have set foot onto an NFL field listed as Steelers alumni.

Two Hall of Famers -- Mike Webster and John Stallworth -- crossed the picket line and joined the replacements. Stallworth, in fact, caught what then was a Steeler-record 500th pass in a strike game.

The strike folded as more and more veterans gave in. The NFL was forever empowered by what it pulled off. But it was taught a lesson as well. It is why the league locked out the players last year instead of waiting for them to go on strike once the season began.

As for the replacement fans, they stayed away in droves from the strike games. The Steelers' first strike game came in Atlanta, where former Pitt and Penn Hills High School star Bill Fralic led a group of Falcons strikers picketing the stadium. They picketed the entrance to where the Steelers busses were supposed to enter, but the busses pulled an end-around and went through another area. The attendance that day in old Fulton County Stadium: 16,667. Not even a good baseball crowd in Atlanta. The crowd for their next game, in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Rams, was posted as 20,219.

They had one home game with the replacements, against the Indianapolis Colts -- the final replacement/scab game. They drew an announced crowd of 34,627 at Three Rivers Stadium. Unlike some other teams, the Steelers offered refunds to those ticket-holders who did not want to watch the un-real players. …

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