Given Roger Goodell’s fixation with player safety and eagerness to discipline those who impugn the game’s integrity, there’s no way to reconcile the NFL’s current labor dispute with referees as anything other than the former being equal parts cheap and full of shit. However, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette reminds us, “If you think the replacement refs are funny to watch, you should have seen the replacement players in 1987.”
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. Enough took them up on their offer that the Steelers acknowledged the game was not sold out, breaking a string of sellouts that had begun in 1972.Like revisionist Russian history, however, the Steelers since have changed their mind and decided that game was a sellout and their string of sellouts since ’72 stands.