3. 1987 NFL Strike
Duration: Sept. 22 - Oct. 15, 1987 (24 days)
Effects on the Season: A total of 14 games (one week) were canceled and 42 games (three weeks) were played with "replacement players."
The owners had been well-prepared for the strike when the players union authorized it on Sept. 22. The coaching staffs of many teams have already assembled replacement squads formed of former college players and even beer leaguers in the event of a walkout. After the games went dark for a week, the replacement players took the field for games that would ultimately count in the standings.
While attendance declined, many fans still turned out for these replacement games, including over 60,000 in Denver and Dallas, respectively. Seeing that their cause was unraveling fast, many NFL players crossed the picket lines and joined the replacement players for the third week of replacement games. The players union capitulated on Oct. 15, but just to make sure the message was clear, the owners locked them out of the Oct. 18 games and denied them another week's pay.
Result: The showdown ended in a resounding victory for the owners, who all but broke the union with their hardline tactics. Star players such as Joe Montana, Randy White and Steve Largent all crossed the picket lines as player solidarity splintered. The owners not only counted the won-loss records in the standings, but also statistics from all replacement games. The Washington Redskins, who were 3-0 in the replacement games, went on to win their second Super Bowl in six years, the other also coming in a strike-shortened season in 1982.
Fallout: The owners' obliteration of the NFLPA paved the way for labor peace for nearly a quarter century as until now the players never seriously contemplated going on strike again. But the legacy of that owners' victory is a bit mixed. Instead of going to the picket lines, the players went to court to resolve their grievances, particularly as it relates to free agency, resulting in first the "Plan B" free agency and then later unrestricted free agency after a victory in court for the players.
While most of the replacement players went back to resume their former lives, some did find a new line of work in football. Saints coach Sean Payton was a replacement player for coach Mike Ditka's New Orleans team, as were current Pac-10 coaches Rick Neuheisel (Chargers) and Mike Stoops (Saints).