Now, where were we before we were so rudely interrupted? Right, right, we were enjoying football as played by the most famous sandwich-board carriers in the universe, the NFL regulars. Accept no substitutes, especially ones like former Washington Scabskin defensive back Charles Jackson, who put on his new uniform one day and announced, "We are the official Washington Redskins. We represent the entire state of Washington."
Now Jackson just represents the entire state of confusion. But who cares for spares now that the legits are back in the pits? The pro is back in pro football! Let's watch how the Redskins do it, for example. Let's watch wide receiver Art Monk drop three passes in a row. Let's watch quarterback Jay Schroeder incomplete 61% of his passes. Let's watch fans make a sign that reads: SCABS MAKE TOUGHER SKINS.
The real New York Jets are back, too, and they look real flummoxed. In a 17-16 loss to Washington on Sunday—a loss that both teams richly deserved—the Jets line gave up seven sacks, which added up to more yards backward (46) than New York's starting running backs got going forward (45). The Jets also twice failed to score a touchdown after moving inside the Redskin five-yard line, and they barely got 200 yards in total offense. Can the replacements for the replacements be replaced?
O.K., O.K., a little Rust-Oleum and everything will be better, but can you blame D.C. fans for not throwing a ticker-tape parade for their returning soldiers? After all, the Scabskins not only went 3-0 during the strike but also beat the detested Cowboys in Dallas. It was Washington's first win there since 1984. "They were the toast of the town," says Skins guard R.C. Thielemann. "Sort of the Rockys of the league. Anytime you beat Dallas, it's a big win around here. I don't care if it's a peewee league."
Still, Sunday was tie-a-yellow-ribbon day at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The hot-dog vendors returned to their stands, their sympathy walkout over. Most all the seats (there were 2,173 no-shows) were actually warmed by fannies, the longest string of sellouts—159—in NFL history having ended when nearly 10,000 fans turned in their tickets for the Oct. 4 strike game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Even the Democrats came back to owner Jack Kent Cooke's luxury box.
So, to welcome the union boys back to work, the 53,497 fans at RFK booed enthusiastically and often. They booed Monk's three straight flubs, which were part of a remarkable string of four consecutive drops by the Skins, which, in turn, were part of eight drops by Washington for the afternoon. They booed Schroeder, who overthrew three outrageously open Smurfs. They even booed the Gibber himself—Redskins coach Joe Gibbs—who ran starting halfback Keith (brother of Archie) Griffin to the exhaustion of their patience. In short, RFK reeked with boos—until, of course, the Skins won the game.
When Ali Haji-Sheikh kicked a simple 28-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining in the game to give Washington a sneaky, come-from-nine-back victory, the formerly bitter customers, the fans who had brought a sign that read: BOY, ARE WE GLAD YOU'RE BACK!? roared with delight. Breaking up is hard to do. Haji-Sheikh was unwooed. "We didn't have to do much to capture the fans back," he said.
Ah, well, Skins loyalists never were any good at holding grudges. And who could be so petty now that Washington has a 5-1 record and a two-game lead in the NFC East? Not one Redskin regular crossed the line, so there are no scars to heal as there are on some other teams (page 86). Only one replacement player, tight end Craig McEwen, made the varsity, and he was banished to third string. Further, the four weeks off gave some Washington regulars a chance to heal. In fact, 10 first-stringers, including Schroeder (shoulder) and standout defensive end Dexter Manley (knee), were damaged goods the day the strike was called. All but two of them, running backs Kelvin Bryant (hamstring) and George Rogers (sprained shoulder and big toe), were close to 100% by Sunday. Perhaps Cooke ought to take union boss Gene Upshaw someplace nice for dinner. Maybe he could buy him a tie while he's at it.
"The replacement team put us in a position to go as far as we like," said Gibbs before the game with the Jets. "That's what I like. Now it's up to our guys to either get the job done or not."
Compare this with the situation confronting the poor Jets, who were 2-0 before the strike and then watched oafs in their uniforms lose two of three games in disunion ball. Ten Jets crossed the line, including their spat-upon defensive end, Mark Gastineau; their captain, Joe Fields; and their guru, Marty Lyons. The Jets had enough ill will left over from the strike to fill Rockefeller Center. "Things will never be the same," said New York wideout Al Toon before the game. "Everything has changed. People are in a different frame of mind. You can't forget what's happened."