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Tribal Warfare
02-24-2011, 04:00 AM
Viewing the NFL labor situation through a 1987 lens (http://www.kansascity.com/2011/02/23/2678001/viewing-the-nfl-labor-situation.html)
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star

Matt Stevens lived the NFL’s worst nightmare and is happy to talk to you about it. He watches this labor situation with an experienced eye, knows that if there is no new deal a week from today the richest league in American sports moves one step closer to possibly becoming a punchline.

Stevens was once part of the punchline.

Go back 24 years, to the strike in the middle of the 1987 season, when Stevens became something like the real-life Keanu Reeves from “The Replacements” — Kansas City’s quarterback during an ugly three-game stretch when the NFL made do with awkward fill-ins.

“I think my center was like 45 years old,” Stevens says.

Nobody can be sure how the NFL’s current situation will work out. The issues are complex, the emotions involved are layered, and it’s all being done with the backdrop of a $9 billion industry that leaves some of its employees with shortened lives and chronic health problems.

Early indications are that most fans have little patience for either side, unsympathetic in an argument between billionaires and millionaires, but the consequences are very real for all involved parties.

In this context, it’s easy to overlook that the fans hold the most power here, even if they sometimes feel helpless as the first real deadline tumbles closer.

“It’s funny how the current players and union president, I don’t know if they remember what it was like back then,” Stevens says. “How the fans, no matter what, just want football. It’s not so much who’s playing the game. The fans like the NFL, and that’s what it’s all about.

“Hopefully there’s an old timer that can tell them the story. Or someone needs to call me, and I’ll tell them what happened.”

• • •

Stevens remembers being chased by a few dozen professional football players waving shotguns and riding in pickup trucks. The story is a legend of sorts in Kansas City, about the day that Bill Maas and Paul Coffman and a handful of Chiefs teammates waited outside Arrowhead Stadium for the scabs to show up.

Stevens and his replacement teammates saw it on TV, at the hotel, before they got on the bus to practice. They had a police escort into the sports complex, but that didn’t stop the pickup trucks from tailing the bus, honking their horns, waving their guns, screaming their insults.

It turned into a chase of sorts, the bus probably going a little too fast and taking turns a little too sharp. The driver made for a side entrance, but when the bus came around the corner Stevens remembers seeing three more trucks coming from the other direction.

That set up a game of chicken, the bus against the trucks. The trucks flinched, and the bus slipped through a gate and dropped the new players off for practice.

“It was insane,” Stevens says.

The games were a blur. An earthquake hit the night before the first game against the Raiders. Ken Lacy fumbled twice at the goal line — “I couldn’t believe he was our tailback,” Stevens says — and the Chiefs lost.

The next week, the Chiefs played the Dolphins in the first-ever game at Joe Robbie Stadium. Stevens suffered a separated (non-throwing) shoulder in the first quarter and the Chiefs lost 42-0.

A few real NFL players showed up for the last game during the strike, most notably Joe Montana nationally and Kevin Ross locally with the Chiefs. Stevens played through the shoulder injury, and earned enough respect that he stayed on the developmental team for a while and mostly avoided any repercussions from crossing the picket line.

“I talked to some friends in the NFL before I made that decision,” Stevens says. “The consensus was the strike was stupid. They told me, ‘Hey, take the money. If they’re going to pay you, take it.’ Sometimes a man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.”

After the strike, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney asked Stevens how much he made. Stevens told him about $25,000 so Kinney (half-)jokingly offered him $50,000 to sit out the next strike.

In all of this, there is a lesson, at the very least, about the history leaning against the players’ union.

• • •

Stevens is one of hundreds of replacement players whose life experience says the union will cave. This has been said so much it is taken as fact in some circles, almost like a character flaw of NFL players. The assumption of many is that if the players miss any games — or, more to the point, miss any money — they will come sprinting back to the sport and its paychecks.

Maybe this time will be different. Union leader DeMaurice Smith is talking that way, and for now the players behind him say the right things.

But they said the right things 24 years ago, too, and put up such a strong and dramatic front with the shotguns and pickup trucks and then just a few weeks later gave up the fight.

If you ever get the chance to talk to one of those old players about the strike, they will probably talk about the impossibly small feeling of watching games go on without them, of watching inferior players make money. The players lost about $80 million during the three replacement games, but the owners’ profits didn’t change much.

Many of the players felt they had no choice but to end the strike. This is the power of the fans. Whichever side you choose — if enough of you choose a side — will win.

Stevens has already made his decision. He’s a Chargers season-ticket holder.

“I want to make sure I didn’t waste my money,” he says. “I’m going to those games no matter what.”

Buehler445
02-24-2011, 07:35 AM
I'm only 27, but I seriously didn't know any of that happened.

Chiefnj2
02-24-2011, 07:50 AM
I'm only 27, but I seriously didn't know any of that happened.

It was really ugly in KC. An old story:

"Del Rio is known for a lot more than that in Kansas City. In particular, fans there still remember Del Rio's role in what is considered one of the ugliest incidents of both the 1987 players strike and in Chiefs history.

Barely three days into the strike, Del Rio was picketing the main entrance of Arrowhead Stadium...How intense were the feelings at the time? At one point that afternoon, reports said that unloaded shotguns were brandished from the back of a player's truck in the parking lot.

According to reports in The Kansas City Star, when one of the replacement candidates accused Del Rio of slashing the tires of his car, Chiefs Hall of Fame member Otis Taylor stepped in and tried to break up the argument. Del Rio reportedly called Taylor "a dirty scab and a lowlife," then slammed the then-45-year-old retired player into the ground. Violence ensued for three minutes before Hackett could break up the fight, and Taylor came away with a bloodied face, the reports said."

Deberg_1990
02-24-2011, 07:57 AM
I'm only 27, but I seriously didn't know any of that happened.


Im 40, and i vaguely remember the local KC news reporting about Maas and a few others with shotguns. The sports media wasnt as big + no internet...there just wasnt as much info out there about it as there would be today....but i was only 16 or 17 at the time, so i didnt follow it too much.

I didnt realize Montana and Ross crossed the picket line.

Deberg_1990
02-24-2011, 08:04 AM
According to reports in The Kansas City Star, when one of the replacement candidates accused Del Rio of slashing the tires of his car, Chiefs Hall of Fame member Otis Taylor stepped in and tried to break up the argument. Del Rio reportedly called Taylor "a dirty scab and a lowlife," then slammed the then-45-year-old retired player into the ground. Violence ensued for three minutes before Hackett could break up the fight, and Taylor came away with a bloodied face, the reports said."



Wow, if thats true....what a piece of trash Del Rio is. Can you imagine if that happened in todays world? The media would be all over it, and Del Rio would be blackballed.

WV
02-24-2011, 08:11 AM
Even still this is a slippery slope and even as a fan its difficult to feel bad for either side. I love football, but everything from the players salaries to ticket prices are out of control. Something needs to be figured out.

Chiefnj2
02-24-2011, 08:35 AM
Wow, if thats true....what a piece of trash Del Rio is. Can you imagine if that happened in todays world? The media would be all over it, and Del Rio would be blackballed.

It's true. It was reported all over the place at the time and Taylor sued Del Rio

ON THE JAGUARS: Player stint with Chiefs brought out Del Rio's fiery side


By BART HUBBUCH
The Times-Union,

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio doesn't look back fondly on his two seasons in the 1980s as a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

-- ADVERTISEMENT --

With the Chiefs in Jacksonville to face the Jaguars today at Alltel Stadium, Del Rio was asked this week what he recalls about those two years on a Kansas City team that went 8-23-1 and ultimately fired coach Frank Gansz Sr.

"What do I remember? Not winning many games," Del Rio said, cracking a smile.

Del Rio is known for a lot more than that in Kansas City. In particular, fans there still remember Del Rio's role in what is considered one of the ugliest incidents of both the 1987 players strike and in Chiefs history.

It's still viewed that way because of the level of violence involved and, most of all, because of who was on the receiving end of Del Rio's fury that day: franchise icon and Chiefs Hall of Fame member Otis Taylor.

Barely three days into the strike, Del Rio -- who had joined the Chiefs a month earlier after being released by New Orleans -- was picketing the main entrance of Arrowhead Stadium as teammates Dino Hackett and Paul Coffman protested nearby.

How intense were the feelings at the time? At one point that afternoon, reports said that unloaded shotguns were brandished from the back of a player's truck in the parking lot.

Taylor, a Chiefs receiving great and star of their Super Bowl IV victory over Minnesota in 1969, was a scout for the team at the time, and was bringing in potential replacement players for workouts.

According to reports in The Kansas City Star, when one of the replacement candidates accused Del Rio of slashing the tires of his car, Taylor stepped in and tried to break up the argument.

Del Rio reportedly called Taylor "a dirty scab and a lowlife," then slammed the then-45-year-old retired player into the ground. Violence ensued for three minutes before Hackett could break up the fight, and Taylor came away with a bloodied face, the reports said.

"I couldn't believe it was happening," Hackett told The Kansas City Star at the time. "Here's Jack and Otis Taylor, a Chiefs linebacker and a Chiefs legend, wrestling around there on the ground. It was unbelievable."

Del Rio claimed he was defending himself, but Taylor later filed a police complaint and a lawsuit against Del Rio that was settled out of court two years later.

Del Rio wishes the subject would go away ("That's old news that I don't care to get into or talk about," he said this week), but it remains relevant because Del Rio admits his fiery side is still a big part of his personality.

The incident also is relevant because several Jaguars say Del Rio has reminded them on more than one occasion of what their predecessors in 1987 went through during that 24-day strike.

The work stoppage shortened that year's schedule by one game and produced some of the benefits -- unrestricted free agency was by far the biggest -- that today's players have come to consider almost a birthright.

Not only does Del Rio refuse to apologize for his emotional side, but that intensity was among the main reasons given by Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver last year for hiring Del Rio over several other more experienced candidates.

In fact, Del Rio considers his emotional side one of the attributes that helped him succeed as a player long after his athletic skills started to fade. The record appears to bear that out: Del Rio made his first career Pro Bowl with Minnesota in his 11th and final NFL season.

"I'm emotional by nature," Del Rio said last month. "That's how I'm wired."

Del Rio's nature got him into trouble that day in Kansas City, but the record show it has worked in his favor ever since.

bart.hubbuchjacksonville.com; (904) 359-4148