ESPN’s latest “30 for 30” documentary, “The Year of the Scab,” premiered Tuesday and told the fascinating tale of the replacement players who crossed the picket line to play for the Redskins during the 1987 NFL strike. Washington’s scabs, as the Redskins’ regulars derisively referred to their replacements, went 3-0 during the labor dispute, including a win over a Cowboys team that featured Tony Dorsett, Randy White and more than a dozen other veterans, on “Monday Night Football.”
Thanks to the Scabskins, Washington stood alone atop the NFC East at 4-1 when the NFL players’ union voted to end the 24-day strike and the regulars returned. The Redskins would go on to finish 11-4 during the regular season and capture their second Lombardi trophy with a 42-10 win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. Most of the Redskins’ replacement players were released after the strike, and while they all received playoff shares worth about $27,000, only those who were kept on the roster and appeared in at least one more game received Super Bowl rings. That slight was the focus of the final few minutes of “Year of the Scab.”
“I don’t have a ring,” said replacement safety Skip Lane, who paid for tickets to watch the Redskins’ Super Bowl triumph in San Diego. “It was an owner’s decision, and he decided not to give us a ring. You know the guy who parks the cars at Redskins Park got a ring? The girl who answers the phone up front got a ring.”
“I was at the White House. I shook Ronald Reagan’s hand,” replacement center Eric Coyle said. “I had no reason to believe I wasn’t getting a ring, until the ring fittings had come and gone and nobody checked me. … After the rings were distributed, one of the coaches, he said, ‘Why don’t you take mine and have some duplicates made?’ That’s a difficult ring to replicate. I was disappointed with the settings. I didn’t think they set the stones very well. Love it and hate it. I love it. I earned it. In some ways it’s kind of a metaphor for the whole experience. It’s not quite the real thing.”
Wide receiver Anthony Allen, who still owns the Redskins’ single-game receiving record for his 255-yard performance in Washington’s 28-21 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the replacement players’ debut, stuck around after the strike. He had one catch for nine yards in the NFC championship game, and while he didn’t play in the Super Bowl, he received a ring.
“The strike team won every game we played for the Redskins, and no matter what happens, they can’t take that from us, whether we got a ring or not,” Allen said in the film. “We did our job for those three weeks.”
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said the replacement player-led wins “helped us win the division and have a chance to play at home and get to a Super Bowl,” but declined to give a definitive answer when asked on camera whether he thought the scabs deserved Super Bowl rings.
“That one would be hard for me to answer,” Gibbs said. “I don’t know that I have a good answer for that. I would say, you know, they certainly deserved a lot of credit, but a Super Bowl ring, it would be kind of hard for me to answer. I think that was a very small portion of Redskin history.”
“They were deserving, but it was a unique situation,” said Charley Casserly, who was largely responsible for assembling the roster of replacement players as Washington’s assistant general manager. “This was a strike and those players got playoff shares. They got a 50 percent playoff share, which was about $35,000 as I remember it. But I think there had to be a difference on the standard for the Super Bowl ring.”
Replacement player Wayne Wilson, who remained on Washington’s injured reserve roster after the strike, sued the Redskins in 1989 in an effort to receive a Super Bowl ring. He said there isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t ask him, “Where’s your ring?”
John Cooke, the son of the late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, offered a laughable explanation in the film for why the team didn’t give all of the replacement players rings.
“We certainly did discuss it, but we didn’t have enough money from the league in order to get another squad Super Bowl rings,” said Cooke, whose father’s estate was worth more than $800 million. “They’re terribly expensive. Those rings were paid for by the National Football League. Then the clubs have to allocate that out to the people who were working at the Washington Redskins — players and coaches and front office staff.”
“I was a little upset that some of the replacement guys weren’t recognized for what they did, because we would never have gotten where we were that year without those guys,” then-Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard said.
A few former Redskins regulars agreed that the replacements should get their due.
“I have to say they were Redskins,” Dexter Manley said. “They wore the burgundy and gold, they wore the uniform, and I think they should be able to have their day in the sun.”
“If they get rings, I’m very happy for them,” said Darryl Grant, who was among the players most vehemently opposed to the scabs when they first crossed the picket line.
“They should be recognized,” Mark May said. “It was a special time, it was a difficult time.”
ESPN 30 for 30 "Year of The Scab Replacement Players" was AWESOME! Really hit home for me & the replacement players DESERVE A SBXXII ring!— Mark May (@mark_may) September 13, 2017
Not every Redskins replacement player feels miffed about being denied a Super Bowl ring.
“For me, everyone’s like, ‘Aren’t you upset you don’t have a Super Bowl ring?’ I’m not upset about anything,” replacement safety Danny Burmeister said. “I got to spend time with Joe Gibbs and Bobby Beathard, who molded me so I could go out and be the business professional that I became.”
“Year of the Scab” director John Dorsey told The Post’s Leonard Shapiro earlier this year that he hopes the Redskins’ current management sees his film.
“It would be a golden opportunity to give those guys rings,” he said. “Do it in a halftime ceremony and close the door on it.”
At least one member of the Redskins’ front office would seem to agree.
“It’s unfortunate that those guys didn’t share in the ring because they did put us in position to go forward,” Doug Williams said in the film.
Williams, who capped off the 1987 season by winning Super Bowl XXII MVP honors, was named the Redskins’ senior vice president of player personnel in June. He should do everything in his power to ensure that the replacement players who made that championship season possible are properly recognized 30 years later.
Update: Former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who retired in 1985, called into the “Grant & Danny Show” on 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday to say that the Redskins’ 1987 replacement players deserve Super Bowl rings.
“I just think it was unfair,” he said. “I think that those guys deserve [rings], as much as any player on that football team, because they had as much to do with the fact that they won the world championship as anybody, and they deserve the same treatment as the other guys.”