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SEASON FOR NO REASON
Rick Reilly
November 30, 1987
The late, unlamented strike has made this NFL campaign a forgettable one
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November 30, 1987

Season For No Reason

The late, unlamented strike has made this NFL campaign a forgettable one

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Not that there's much to see. Dorsett ran for a career-low three yards on 14 carries in one game and five yards on one carry in another. Now he's Tony Dor-sit. Against Miami on Sunday night he had zero yards on zero carries. Randy White had more tackles in three replacement games than he has had in six regular games. Quarterback Danny White has been benched in favor of Steve Pelluer, which won't make Dallas's fans happy. They didn't want White or Pelluer. Hooted one banner, WHITE'S A WEENIE, WE WANT SWEENEY. Kevin, that is. The Cowboys' Tex Schramm is even making unveiled threats against (gulp) Tom Landry. "Some of the things we're doing are frankly mystifying," said Schramm recently. "There's an old saying, If the teacher doesn't teach, the student doesn't learn."

In New York literary agents for the 3-7 Giants will have a slow off-season. A representative sampling of the way New York has played could be seen in its Nov. 2 Monday night game in Dallas. After taking a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter, the Giants had two passes deflected, two intercepted (one of which was returned for a touchdown), two false starts and one delay-of-game penalty; they gave up a sack, and lost two fumbles and one quarterback. Final score: Dallas 33, New York 24.

In Los Angeles the Irwindales have lost seven consecutive games. Their new Prince Arming, Rusty Hilger, is just that, rusty. Marino gets Hilger's 55.8 quarterback rating by climbing out of bed on Sunday morning. As for the Rams, kids had eaten all their Halloween candy by the time Jim Everett threw his first touchdown pass, on Nov. 1. Everett's 33.3 rating going into that week's game was lower than any other signal caller's has plunged this year. Now you know why players are wearing those dark face shields on their helmets. To protect the innocent.

In Manhattan, ABC-TV executives are fighting over ledge space. Monday night games that looked tasty in February now look like two-month-old meat loaf. Imagine being stuck with a schedule that gives you the Rams three times, the Giants three times and the Raiders twice. As of Sunday, only two Monday night games had been decided by a touchdown or less. Last year seven were.

Across the land the season has been largely forgettable. New York Jets coach Joe Walton accused his players of "stealing money." Parity has gotten ugly in the AFC East, which features a five-way tie for first place. Every team is 5-5. Pay ton is averaging 3.5 yards a carry. Just nine of this year's 28 first-round draft picks are first-string. For the first time in their 21-year history, the Dolphins lost to the Colts and Buffalo Bills in Miami in the same season. Mark (43% completion rate) Malone is going so bad in Pittsburgh that a local deejay hung up a tire in Market Square and invited people to throw footballs through it in hopes of finding someone to replace him. Atlanta is trying to become the first team in 15 years to give up the most points and score the fewest. The Raiders, Dolphins and Tampa Bay Bucs have set team records for penalties. The New York Times's computer lists the New Orleans Saints as the best team in the NFL. How about if we pretend it's August and start over?

What happened is that the strike changed everything. The players were beaten so roundly, so soundly, so run-into-the-groundly by the owners that some people are asking whether the owners' tactics backfired. "Here's a bunch of guys who went out on strike for something they believed in, and all they got for it was a kick in the butt," Ditka told Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune. "It's almost like they're coming back here every morning wondering, What was that month of my life for? And it's like they expended so much energy on the strike that they're tired now of the whole scene."

If the players' credo used to be Let's win one for good ol' Mapleville, for the people of Mapleville, for the organization, now, after so much anger between fans and players, players and owners, and players and other players, the credo is simply Let Mapleville go suck an egg. Just give me my check. The biggest mistake the owners made was not allowing the players to play the sixth week of the season when they were back in plenty of time. "The league policy was clear," says Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien. "They were going to ream the players one last time, not only the players, but the fans also. The owners are shoving it down our throats."

And that made the players gag. Somebody asked Jets tight end Rocky Klever if the strike took away some emotion. "Yeah, at least emotion toward liking football," said Klever. "That might be the reason why guys haven't played with emotion."

Emotionless football isn't much of a kick to watch or coach or play. Ditka: "I used to maybe yell at them and get them mad, but they'd go out and play like hell on Sunday anyway. Now I don't know whether to criticize them, offend them or what. It's almost like, when I talk to them, they don't really want to hear me anymore."

It has been that kind of year, a season for no reason. And there may be only one cure for this year: next year. Either that or take that one last, horrible, desperate measure. Yes....

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