Hail to the Redskins … and not because of anything that happened with the roster or on the football field.
Nope, the NFL franchise deserves a round of applause for correcting a mistake … albeit 30 years later … and awarding its 1987 replacement players Super Bowl rings that were distributed the following year. Granted, they should’ve been given them way back when, but the fallout from a bitter strike and the players who crossed picket lines was so white-hot then that it made it difficult.
I said difficult … not impossible. It should’ve happened. And now it has.
So file this one under “Better Late than Never,” and you can probably credit an ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary entitled “Year of the Scab” for making it happen. If nothing else, it brought to life what NFL players on both sides of the strike endured during the three weeks the league carried on with replacements — an ugly episode that featured violence, harsh words and, later, a Hollywood film centered around a fictional Washington replacement football team and called — what else? — “The Replacements.”
But that season also featured a real-life Washington replacement team that won all three of its games, including the finale against the Dallas Cowboys — in Dallas, no less — after striking veterans like Randy White, Too Tall Jones, Danny White and Tony Dorsett crossed the picket line and decided to play. Washington was given no chance, and why should it? Dallas had many of its regulars back in uniform, and the Redskins did not.
Nevertheless, Washington prevailed, 13-7, in a Monday Night upset that former Redskins’ GM Charley Casserly later recalled as “one of the most emotional wins I’ve been around.” The reason? Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Gibbs’ pre-game speech to a bunch of nobodies he knew, in all likelihood, were playing their last NFL game.
“So Gibbs gets up in front of the team,” Casserly said on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast that aired last September, “and he says, ‘Men, nobody thinks we have a chance.’ I mean, I never thought we had a chance.
“So Gibbs gets 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 his players responded … holding off America’s Team in their final appearance as Washington Redskins and carrying Gibbs off the field on their shoulders. It not only was one of the biggest upsets in modern NFL history, but it completed a 3-0 run for Washington’s replacement players and led to an 11-4 finish, the Redskins’ third Super Bowl appearance in six years and their second Lombardi Trophy.
Thirty years later we caught up with the star of that game, former running back Lionel Vital, who ran for 136 yards that evening. Now the director of college scouting for Dallas, Vital was asked if he thought he … and his replacement teammates … deserved rings for what they did that season.
“I do,” he said on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “If you’re going to use and count those three games toward you winning your division and having an opportunity of going to the Super Bowl, well, then, you need to reward the people who helped you gain that distinction. We never got that gesture presented to us, unfortunately.”
Well, now they have.
Congratulations to the Washington Redskins and owner Daniel Snyder for correcting a mistake and getting it right. Their replacement players of three decades ago deserved to be recognized and rewarded, even if it was 30 years later.
Hail to the Redskins.