Now that a settlement to the football strike has the sheen of inevitability, it's time to direct our attention to the labor force that tipped the balance of power to the owners.
What happens to the scabs?
What happens to all those wanna-bes, the bar bouncers who wound up playing offensive line in the NFL, the stockbrokers-turned-DBs?
They're gone, out of here, like on Star Trek when they're zapped by a Fazer Gun.
(Or they go on injured reserve. But more about that later.)
Teams that seriously stressed unity -- like the Redskins, Bears, Seahawks and Giants -- would embark on a counterproductive path by retaining scabs on the active roster. It's a wise coach who'll resist the owner's impulse to flaunt the boys on the scab bus.
First of all you're only talking about a few of the replacements -- two or three per team -- who have sufficient talent and skill to claim a spot on the roster, even an expanded version. Most of the players have been in and out of camps before and judged wanting. They might have looked great on Sunday, but you have to consider who they looked great against. "These guys won't fool the personnel men and the coaches," an NFL management veteran said yesterday.
More importantly, putting these players on the roster is like daubing a fresh cut with lemon juice. Rewarding the jobs done by the scabs in this way, management only refuels labor's resentment. "It's going to be tough. Anywhere you cross the line someone's not going to like you," conceded Ed Rubbert, one of the few replacements who guaranteed himself an invite to a training camp. Regardless of how much internal disagreement there was about the merits of staying on strike, there were teams that held tight. Too many players invested too much emotion in the picket line to accept these interlopers graciously. Just after the strike started, Russ Grimm was asked about Lionel Vital's chances of sticking with the Redskins. In a tone as chilly as bathroom tile, Grimm said, "I'll never block for him."
As soon as this strike ends most of the replacements will collect their gear, and the bus that drove them in will drive them out again. Sure, they'll have tales to tell -- generations will gather round to hear them -- and maybe they'll be lucky, their names won't be purged from the record books so there'll be proof of their great adventure. But scab labor is a cynic's marketplace: Brought in on a whisper and dangled like fish bait, they inherit the wind.
"Obviously, we can't play a season with these guys," the NFL management source said. Originally the owners had hoped to sign a team heavy with last cuts: those whose skills were virtually interchangeable with numbers 30 through 45 on the real roster. But most of those players -- ex-Maryland linebacker Chuck Faucette, for example -- refused to cross the line, convinced the less turbulent path to the NFL lay in not being a scab. "Some of those guys could get jobs even if the squads weren't increased. But they shocked us by not coming in," the source said.
So Scab Ball was a level below what the owners envisioned. Still, some of the players -- the Redskins' Anthony Allen, for example -- demonstrated they merit another look. They're the ones coaches already are maneuvering to keep. "You can't afford to screw up your team by putting them on the roster," the source explained. "But you liked what you saw. You want to train them and work with them so you can bring them to camp next season, but you've got to stash them the rest of this year."
"If you want a kid, you've got to get him hurt this week."
Here's the plan, Stan: If this Sunday's games are Scab Ball, you'll be able to discern which are the prospects: They'll be the ones getting injured. If the strike ends soon and Sunday's games are either postponed or played by Real Players, the same prospects will conveniently get injured in practice. You'll see so many phony injuries, you'll think you're in small claims court.
The prospects will go on injured reserve, perhaps replacing players who were sent there during training camp -- players who wouldn't have made the team anyway and were stacked up on IR until they healed enough to be fired. There'll be charges that striking players got cut simply because they were on strike, uncomfortable accusations for management to rebut. But the traditional way the NFL Players Association gets new members is decidedly un-union: by having them displace old members. In a sense, the bumping goes with the territory.
Savvy teams will ship their prospects elsewhere to "rehabilitate" their injuries. Keep them at least out of sight and perhaps even out of mind of the rest of the guys. Next year, when the wounds have had some time to heal, bring them to camp with an equal chance to make the team. That's all the replacements crossed the line in search of -- another look, so maybe they could get another chance at the golden goose of the NFL; in their eyes they were free agents, no different than a pile of guys starting in the league right now.
When they return to work, union members will be preoccupied with paybacks. Next year they'll be more concerned with paychecks. By then, anyone who can help them win could be welcome.