The hot teams of the 1987 SFL season will be Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Houston, Washington and anybody else who spent the summer telling the rookies and free agents who hadn't made their teams, "Stick around for later kid. We'll be calling you. And here's a G-note to tide you over." The SFL is the Strike Football League, or Scab Football League, shortened simply to scab ball by the NFL players who went out on strike at the conclusion of the Sept. 21 Jets-Patriots Monday night game.
As the strike deadline approached, there was no drama, no feeling that some last-minute offer could avert or delay a walkout. Management's point man, Jack Donlan, and his union counterpart, Gene Upshaw, met in Washington on Sept. 18, and nothing happened. Talks ended. So the strike was on, and teams were advised to fill their rosters with whatever players they could.
Scab ball could be the way of life in the NFL for two, three, five, who-knows-how-many weeks, and regrettably all the results will count. Which teams get playoff berths may well be determined by a bunch of guys the NFL euphemistically calls replacement players. Franchises that didn't hustle for scab ball talent because they thought they had better things to do, like getting real NFL teams ready for the season, or because of loyalty to their regulars, are going to be the patsies of the SFL. Giants, Seahawks, Vikings, Bears. Pretty good names, huh? Not in the SFL.
"Unfortunately we wouldn't win a spitting contest with our scab team," says Dan Hampton, defensive end for the 2-0 Chicago Bears. "It would be a real possibility for us to come back and be 2-5. That would be a travesty."
No one knows how long the strike will last. And nobody knows how many of today's striking players will be members of tomorrow's replacement rosters, how many will join those who have already crossed picket lines. That number will figure in won-lost records, too.
But right now? Well, who would you pick in a Colts-Giants game—Indy, with Gary Hogeboom still playing quarterback, or the Super Bowl champion Giants, with Jim Crocicchia, recently of Penn, taking the snaps? The Colts, with a roster laden with NFL experience (e.g., two of Hogeboom's receivers, Greg Hawthorne and Clyde Duncan, are former No. 1 draft choices who at one time or another have played regularly in the league), should dominate the early weeks of scab ball. They've worked especially hard to line up talent, and with good reason. Coach Ron Meyer's five-year contract has three years guaranteed. If Meyer, who took over as coach late last year, goes .500 or better in any of those three seasons, the last two years are guaranteed as well. With a pre-scab ball record of 0-2, things weren't looking very bright for a 50-50 season. Now? Anything goes.
The Redskins weren't big on handing out those advance payments during the summer, but all of general manager Bobby Beathard's bloodlines and instincts are in scouting, and scab ball is the scout's ultimate daydream—out-bird-dog the other guys and you get instant rewards. "It was like starting a new league, like starting from scratch," says Beathard. "It's like the high school coach hanging a sign outside the gym, saying, 'All those who want to try out for football report at 5 p.m.' "
Hogeboom wasn't the only veteran to answer that call. With shouts of "Scab!" ringing in his ears, Mark Gastineau crossed the Jets' picket line. He didn't get any sacks during the regular or exhibition season, but he'll be a scab ball terror, lining up against the free agents from Yo Ho U. Randy White is back at Dallas (see following story). Marc Wilson, who couldn't beat out Rusty Hilger at quarterback for the Raiders, should be a passing sensation in the SFL.
Tampa Bay dug up 37-year-old John Reaves, who seems to surface every time a new league shows life. Philadelphia resuscitated Guido Merkens, 32, once Bum Phillips's personal project as a combination wideout-quarterback in Houston and New Orleans. He's the Eagles' No. 1 signal caller, which means that at least Philly is better off than Seattle, a team that didn't try to lure scabballers until the strike was a certainty.
On Thursday, with a game against Miami's scabs 10 days away, the Sea-hawks had 28 players practicing, including only one quarterback, Charles Glaze, who had run South Carolina State's option offense last season and was a defensive back in Seattle's summer camp. Midway through practice another one showed up, David Lindley from Linfield College. Hey kid, ya wanna play quarterback for the Sea-hawks? By day's end, Seattle had 35 players, but only one defensive lineman, three linebackers and no tight ends.