As the NFL world turns, the most recent public infatuation is the debate over the player-led workouts. A lot of fans are fretting over the fact that the lockout has sapped us of true football things to discuss, but in reality- we'd be in some sort of funk regardless. Around this time, football gets pretty boring. Sure, we get the occasional lift from rookie mini camps and OTA's, but by mid-May we have normally gotten over the draft and the high profile free agency period. When I hear some fans say they've been turned off by the impasse to the point that the NFL has already lost their business, I scoff. With no games missed? I completely support everyone's right to feel furious about the situation, but come on.
The argument over whether or not the players are doing right by themselves in conducting these practices, is a healthy one to me. Even though I quietly rooted against the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII while sitting in front of a tiny radio, I really didn't know anything about professional football. I guess I was just that type of kid growing up in the DC region, contrarian by nature. The 1987 strike however, that captured my attention. I was 11 years old, and was starting to gravitate away from following baseball. Everywhere I turned the discussion was about the Redskins players that were striking and the scabs that crossed the line. Now at a point where I could appreciate the concept of the rivalry, I signed on to casually root for the Dallas Cowboys.
Unfortunately the Redskins leveraged the work stoppage to their ultimate advantage that season. Not only did the team go 3-0 during the replacement player games, but the original players ability to stick together and remain organized while out is widely credited for the teams success. That history has been the building block of my support for the Tony Romo led workouts. Who am I kidding? I'm ecstatic about the team turnout because of this history. So now I figure it's time to review how previous seasons that were affected by a work stoppage played out.
The Player's Union went on strike July 1st. The strike lasted for 44 days until the players decided that court was their better course of action than missing games. The court case lasted two years during which no games were missed, with the courts finally agreeing that players should get some form of guaranteed compensation. The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl that season defeating the Minnesota Vikings 16-6. Both teams had strong defenses and both teams had been in the playoffs the season before, with the Vikings appearing in both Super Bowls. During most of the 70's, teams played six preseason games. Records are hard to come by, but it appears that training camps and at least the first part of the preseason schedule were sacrificed.
Of the eight playoff teams (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Miami, Oakland, Washington, L.A., St. Louis and Minnesota) five had made the tournament the previous season.
This time, the players didn't strike until the regular season had already begun. This changes the dynamic as teams were able to implement their systems completely and instead had to reconvene. Previously the longest lasting work stoppage in NFL history (prior to current), the players struck for 57 days starting September 21st and lasting until November. Seven games had been missed by the time teams retook the field November 21st. Because of the shortened regular season, the league went to a 16 team tournament with seeding based solely on record. The Redskins defeated the Cowboys and then the Dolphins in the final four. The three teams finished the year as the top three teams in terms of points allowed.
The players struck on September 22nd, again after two regular season games.This time, the owners refused to lose the revenue from missed games and held replacement ones after missing just one week of action. As referenced above, the team that won the championship was undefeated through the scab games and reportedly did the best job staying in game shape for their core personnel. Both finalists, Washington and Denver, were at the top of the league in both total offense and defense.