This month marks the 30th anniversary of the last NFL strike, with a 24-day walkout that featured replacement players and that ended in October, 1987. It was a turbulent time, with violence on the picket lines, few spectators in the stands and replacement players nobody had heard of.
But it was also a time when Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins authored one of his greatest victories — a 13-7 upset of the Dallas Cowboys after Cowboy veterans like quarterback Danny White and Hall-of-Famers Tony Dorsett and Randy White crossed the picket line.
The victory was the third for Washington in the three-game series of replacement players, and it propelled the Redskins to their third Super Bowl that decade and their second Lombardi Trophy. But more than that, it was achieved against the greatest of odds, with Gibbs leading a group of nobodies past some of the best and brightest Cowboys — in Dallas, no less — in what then-assistant GM Charley Casserly called “one of the most emotional wins I’ve ever been around.”
Casserly remembers that game. But, more than that, he remembers Gibbs’ pre-game speech to his players. And he recalled it on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast as we concluded our look at the 1987 strike.
“So we’e going to go play the Cowboys,” said Casserly, now with the NFL Network. “The Cowboys are 2-0, and this was Tex’s idea (Hall-of-Fame GM Tex Schramm of the Cowboys) … the replacement games. (It was) his brainchild. He had it figured out. They were going to ace the three wins and get a leg up on the division. The story is that he was going to hold back money (from) deferement payments … this was a story I heard; I never verified it, but this was the story I heard … from players.
“So Dorsett crosses the picket line. Danny White crosses the picket line. Randy White crosses the picket line. Too Tall Jones crosses the picket line. Don Smerek, a defensive starter, crosses the picket line. Those were the ones I remember, see? We had nobody that crossed the picket line.
“So we’re going to pay this game. It’s Monday Night Football, the strike is over, this is it. So Gibbs get up in front of the team … and I thought it was a great speech … and he says, ‘Men, nobody thinks we have a chance.’ I mean, I never thought we had a chance. So Gibbs get up in front of the team and says, ‘Men, this is exactly the situation you want to be in. You came back here to prove you could play in the league. So what better situation could you want than to be on national television, playing the Dallas Cowboys, in front of every other team in the league, with their best players out there. This is what you want, OK?’
“And you know what? Those guys went out there and played their asses off. And the Cowboys? I don’t think they wanted to play. And they got beaten, 13-7. It was one of the most emotional wins I’ve ever been around in the history of my career.”