They marched by, union by union. The plumbers. The machinists. The truck drivers. From places like Allentown, Bethlehem and Harrisburg, they came to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia on Sunday, Day 13 of the NFL strike, to denounce the scab ball game scheduled to take place between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears.
Called upon by Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, especially to shut down this game—"We will haunt the game," Upshaw had threatened—and by Ed Toohey, the 80-year-old president of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, the 3,000-plus demonstrators shouted obscenities at fans and occasionally shoved them to the ground. The Philadelphia police department had beefed up its normal contingent for an NFL game at the Vet to an estimated 350 officers. No arrests were made. The lone injury was suffered by a policewoman, whose foot was stepped on by a police horse. In all, 4,074 fans would brave the picket lines to see Chicago defeat Philly 35-3. It was the smallest Eagles home crowd since Oct. 1, 1939.
Well before the one o'clock kickoff, the wide sidewalks along Pattison Avenue in front of the stadium were overflowing with multicolored waves of windbreakers. Glaziers and glassworkers in yellow. Steamfitters in green. Teamsters in navy. Some protesters weren't color coordinated—e.g., Waiters and Waitresses Local 301 and United Aerospace Workers Local 1069. Some pickets carried the Stars and Stripes.
John Spagnola, the Eagles player rep, wanted a peaceful demonstration. "We are not here to intimidate anyone who chooses not to honor our picket line," he reminded the members of supporting unions. And until midmorning the atmosphere was carnivallike. You'd be surprised at how many players' autographs a picket sign can hold. "I'm going to frame this and put it on the wall in the union hall," said Barbara Gordon of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers. "Our coordinator is getting his signed to use in the union paper."
But at about 11, the mood of the crowd changed. The Teamsters started walking up and down Pattison Avenue, chanting, "No scabs, no scabs." A convoy of 36 honking semis circled the Vet. More Teamsters. At the stadium entrances, union activists formed human walls. A sheriff read Spagnola an injunction, stating that only 10 pickets could be at each gate. "Please, you're not helping our cause," Spagnola said pleadingly with the group at Gate A. "Move back. If not, the players will be arrested. You'll have to post my bail tomorrow."
But Spagnola's words seemed only to excite the picketers. "All the working people of Philadelphia are out here," said Danny Chmelko, who is with the machinists union. "We'll stay as long as we have to to show the NFL owners that these games are unrealistic. I'll get arrested today, tomorrow, whenever. Some people are bigger than the law—those in the labor movement. We're the ones who produce the goods in this country. We are America."
Spagnola, a 6'4", 242-pound tight end, wore a worried look. "The difficulty is that so many people have been enlisted, I don't know the track records of who's here," he said. "I've told the players to keep their hands in their pockets. In the end, I'm only responsible for my own actions."
At 11:30, the first fan, a young man, tried to cross the Gate A picket line. A middle-aged man wearing a jacket of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees pushed him back. "Scab! Scab!" people in the crowd cried.
"Nobody loves a scab," bellowed one demonstrator, "not even a mother."
Trembling, the young man sought police assistance. "My wife is in there!" he said. "I want to go in."