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NFL Strike History: Pt I- Setting the Stage for 1982

New Household names Garvey and Donlan replaced Payton and Dorsett in our vocabulary in 1982.
New Household names Garvey and Donlan replaced Payton and Dorsett in our vocabulary in 1982.

We go about our regular lives working most of our time (those of us lucky to have a job in this day) and spending the little off time we have enjoying our pastime, which in this case, is Football. It's the reward to a hard worked week, and we look forward to it for the 20 plus weeks it is involved in our lives. So when we hear talk of Players unhappy with Owners, and vice versa, we cringe, because we would give anything to trade shoes with either side truth be told. 

The talk is that a work stoppage in the NFL is possible in 2011, and if it happens, we could be without football in the fall for the first time since 1987, the last strike endured by the NFL. The big strikes of 1982 and 1987 are just that though..the big ones; as players and owners have had their differences for many years before the gluttonous '80's! In the 1950's and 60's, the players had to fight to get things NFL players take totally for granted in todays world. Benefits like being paid for exhibition games, being paid while injured, pay for room and board when on the road, things you would never imagine an owner would not have taken care of. However thats pretty much the way it has worked; Players only get what they get because they have to ask, and sometimes fight for it. 

This isn't to say the players are always right, and in the great strikes of the 80's were going to talk about, both sides took their turns absorbing losses, celebrating gains, but for the most part at our expense. But its these gains that have made Football the sport it is today, and the greater we understand the sides that have led up to these battles, the better off we all can appreciate what may happen in the years to come. 

The Beginnings- Chapter One

To understand the owners, one has to learn a little bit about the world in which they lived in at the time. The NFL was an also-ran to the great national pastime of Major League Baseball. No red blooded American would be caught missing a game that was key to a pennant race for attending the Pittsburgh Steelers or Chicago Cardinals play. A lot of this changed in 1958 when the nation was treated to a live telecast of the NFL championship game, the Baltimore Colts at the NY Giants. Played at Yankee Stadium, no less than 18 players or coaches would go on to be members of the Hall of Fame. Shown to the entire nation, the game went into sudden death overtime, as Alan Ameche scored from one yard out to win the "Greatest Game ever played". Football would never be the same.

With their new found success, football minds like Lamar Hunt, after being turned down for NFL franchises, started their own league, the American Football League. This fledling league did more to change the NFL than anything else from its time. Changes like putting names on the back of uniforms, two-point conversions (brought back in 1994), Network Television packages for entire league, Sunday Double header of games, Sharing of Gate revenues, Official Time on scoreboard clock and more well all adopted by the NFL when the merger of these two leagues took place in 1970. The sharing of Gate slips had a huge impact, and the owners got richer, and the players knew it.

The players felt everything hinged on them, and they wanted 55% of the owners money to be distributed to them fairly. They also wanted some type of freedom, because in this day and age, the team you were drafted by, usually became the only team you would play for. 

Getting uniforms paid for, and per diem checks was nice, but by the end of the 1970s, NFL players had their eyes set on a bigger piece of the pie: 55% of owners money with minimum salaries based on not only experience but incentives as well.  The Owners felt this would impeed their ability to run a business, and would not even come close to even half of their money going to the players. 

At the time of initial civil unrest, the NFL players union was a loose outfit that was still unsure about its own identity. Not knowing if it wanted to be a professional organization or a Union, its only real angle was its threat to take the NFL to court; as the NFL did not enjoy an exemption from Anti-trust that its brother Major League Baseball did. That would all change in 1960's as a result of the first of the lawsuits and the merger with the AFL, and was necessary for the sharing of revenue. This exemption exists to this day, and is often threatened to be revoked anytime the NFL supposedly strays into an act of bullying (see USFL).

The irony of the first strike in 1982 is that the biggest benefits that were sought after, such as a form of Free Agency, did not come to  fruition until after not only the 1987 strike, but the Freeman McNeil and Reggie White F.A. lawsuits. Still, greater benefits to the players were realized, when ALL contract copies were now required to be given to the union. A player like former KC Offensive Linman Tom Condon found out his backup was making 10,000 dollars more than he was. Soccer haters will find great joy in the knowledge that Dick Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, won a case against the North American Soccer league, and that is how the players ability to know what everyone else is making, came about. 

And so it happened, on September 21st 1982, house hold names like Tony Dorsette and Walter Payton were being replaced with new household names such as Jack Donlan and Ed Garvey. The strike lasted for 57 days, basically ripping 7 weeks, almost two months of NFL Football, right from our lives.

The networks went to battle-stations, and tried to add content to appease its increasingly angry viewers. More MLB games were shown, and some networks replaced football with more football, Candian, and Collegiate, instead of the NFL. More episodes of "Sports Spectaculars" and such. ABC had no choice, and showed movies on Monday Nights instead.

The NFL tried to put together a couple of "ALL STAR" games, one being at RFK stadium in Washington and the other in Los Angeles. 8,760 showed up in Washington, DC and 5,331 to the game in California.

The stike news ebbed and flowed like a current, sometimes giving daily updates with heated discussion about this...and then it would be quiet for weeks without even so much as a get together. The owners felt they were in no hurry in this occasion. Because the difference between what they were making and the players demands, that it was pocket change compared to the 55% the players were asking for in comparison. The players meanwhile, were not getting paid, and had no sources of income. The owners felt they could break the union once and for all. Coaches urged players to stick together and not fight amongst each other. This sentiment would be a key part of the players collapse in the 87 strike. 

On November the 17th, it was over. The owners lost 275 million dollars; the players 72 million in salaries, but gained 1.28  Billion to be paid over the next 5 years. Minimum salaries for rookies went from $22,000 to $30,000; While veterans pay went from $32k to $140,000. Equally important, the players got severence pay from $5,000 up to $140,000 for players with 12 years experience. In the end, the union gave up its demand for 55% of the gross, at least for the time being, instead asking for and receiving 1.6 Billion dollars, which is the same amount management was offering weeks before, but over 4 years instead of 5. In lieu of a percentage of the gross, the Union got half of the leagues 2.1 Billion dollar TV Package (Salary cap anyone?).

As for the NFL season, the league quickly removed any hint of a divisional alignment, going instead to two conference standings. Simply put, the top 8 teams would advance to a SuperBowl tournament, similar to Basketballs sweet 16. WIth that many teams in the playoffs, the first round would have multiple games, and is the only time in NFL Playoff history that two playofff games were being played at the same time and unable for one network to cover them all. Nine games is what the NFL season amounted to in 1982, and you may wonder how the Bucs did? This was a period when the Bucs were very competitive in the NFL.  Doug Williams was the Quarterback, James Wilder the running back, Kevin House and Jimmy Giles were deep threats, Lee Roy Selmon and Hugh Green were the defensive heroes, and little  Bill Capece of Florida State made a name for himself by kicking the game winning FGs in several games.

The Bucs lost their opener, at Minnesota's brand new Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome (Trivia for you, Bucs were first team to play a regular season game in the dome), and then came home to lose to the eventual Superbowl Champion Washington Redskins in a rain soaked field. That was it, the strike came and killed several good marquee games, like a Monday Night Football game vs the  SB champion 49ers team in Tampa Stadium! When the Bucs and NFL returned to play, they took on the Dallas Cowboys in Texas Stadium, and despite having the ball 5 times inside the Dallas 10 yard line, only came away with 3 FGS and lost 14-9.  So Tampa Bay was 0-3 and not looking good as they had a Monday Night Football game against cross state rival and 3-0 Miami Dolphins. The Bucs ran the ball right through Miami's defense to a 24-17 win. The Bucs would need to win every game but one to have a chance to get into the playoffs, and after a loss to the NY Jets in snowy New York, the Bucs faced three straight home games to end the year, needing to win each one. They were 2-4 and faced the Bills first.

With Buffalo behind 24-23, the Bills were driving under the 2:00 warning inside the Bucs 25 yard line, and trying to get closer for a sure FG. LeeRoy Selmon stripped Rosevelt Leeks and Cedric Brown recovered...Bucs won 23-22.

Facing the Detroit Lions and Billy Sims, the Bucs were down 21-6 with only 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Doug Williams ran a 3 yard TD in, and passed to James Ownes for another and trailed Detroit 20-21 with minutes left. Driving with 25 seconds left, and facing playoff elimination, Bill Capece nailed a 27 yard FG for the win 23-21. The Cardiac Bucs were born.

Final game of the year at Tampa Stadium ever for Doug Williams as later we would find out, and he was one of the heroes. Facing the Bears under rookie Head Coach Mike Ditka, Chicago took an even more dangerous 6-23 lead half way through the 3rd quarter. Earlier in the Game, Doug Williams hurt himself making a TD saving tackle on Steve McMichael, who was running down the field after recovering a Williams fumble. Doug hawked him down, grabbed the big lineman by the head and threw him to the ground. The Bears were held to a FG. In the 3rd with 5:00 remaining, Williams hit Jimmy Giles for a 35 yard TD. Then, with 8:00 in the 4th, hit Giles again for a 31 yard TD.  With :26 seconds left, Billy Capece hit a 40 yard FG to tie the game, and send it into overtime.

The Bucs won the toss and received. The Bears were expecting pass, instead, Williams pitched to James Wilder. Wilder took off for 47 yards and instantly into FG range, where Bill Capece hit a 33 yarder, and the Bucs clinched the Playoffs, and a date with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys won, but had to score two 4th Qtr touchdowns  including a 19 yard interception return and two questionable calls. A 17-14 halftime lead for the Bucs didn't hold up, but Bucs fans forgot all about the 57 days of football that were missing.

Coming up tomorrow, part two: 1987- The Replacements.