NFL STRIKE : Shotguns and Broken Windows on Picket Line : Mood of Regular Players Is Light-Hearted in Some Places, Grim Elsewhere
The National Football League strike got off to a shotgun start Wednesday at Kansas City, Mo.
Linebacker Dino Hackett and tight end Paul Coffman of the Chiefs jokingly waved unloaded shotguns outside Arrowhead Stadium and yelled, “We’re looking for scabs,” before the substitute players arrived for practice.
“We just wanted to keep this as light-hearted as possible,” Hackett said. “But this is serious business. This is our livelihood.”
Things were a bit grim elsewhere.
Striking Houston Oilers pelted a bus carrying substitute players with eggs and broke a window with a rock, and another bus had its windows cracked by angry Washington Redskins.
Union members of the Buffalo Bills confronted a non-union player at a hotel near the Bills’ practice facility, but hundreds of other free agents crossed picket lines without incident.
The free agents were recruited by NFL teams seeking replacements for regular players who went on strike Tuesday. Owners plan to use the new players to field teams that will begin competing on Oct. 4 if the players’ strike isn’t settled by then.
Some strikers were in a jocular mood as they walked the picket lines, which in Dallas included a cocker spaniel owned by Cowboy offensive tackle Kevin Gogan.
“Lacey is our guard dog,” Gogan joked.
At the Redskins’ camp in Herndon, Va., three striking players--Darryl Grant, Cliff Enson and Reggie Branch--stood in front of a bus carrying substitutes into camp. As a police officer persuaded the three to move, other Redskins pounded the side of the bus and shouted at the passengers.
A bus company spokesman said two windows on the bus were cracked during the disturbance, which occurred early in the morning when only 15 of the striking players had arrived to walk the picket line.
“I think it’s pretty low when they sneak them in early, before we get there,” Redskin player representative Neal Olkewicz said.
The Redskins’ management later obtained a temporary injunction against the striking players, prohibiting them from impeding the entrance or exit of the new players, and from committing any violent acts against them.
“If I have to pay for it, I have to pay for it,” said Grant, who admitted he broke a window.
There was a similar incident as a bus carrying non-union players crossed a picket line in Houston.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” Oiler player representative Warren Moon said. “The guys have been calm to this point. It was just a little show of emotion.”
In Berea, Ohio, free agent quarterback Jeff Christensen was confronted by strikers Ray Ellis and Vyto Kab as he tried to drive away from the Cleveland Browns’ practice facility.
Ellis placed a garbage bag filled with leftover pizza on the hood of Christensen’s car, and Kab refused to shake the free agent’s hand when he extended it through his open car window.
“Let me tell you, if you were in my position, you’d both be playing,” Christensen said. The bartender said he will be paid $10,000 a week by the Browns, and needs the money to support his family.
Two well-known defensive linemen, Randy White of the Cowboys and Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets, ignored the strike and reported to work Wednesday.
“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,” said Gastineau, who did not have to cross a picket line because the striking players were not allowed to demonstrate at the Jets’ Hofstra University training site.
Gastineau said he is continuing to work out of loyalty “to the people who have been paying me for nine years.”
“They might not believe I did this out of loyalty,” he said of his striking teammates, “but I am. They do not understand Mark Gastineau.”
White and teammate Don Smerek were jeered by teammates and cheered by spectators as they rode in a pickup truck past the Cowboys’ picket line in Irving, Tex.
“I didn’t expect ‘em to cheer me,” said White, a six-time All-Pro. “I’m doing what’s best for me and my family. I didn’t want to lose one-sixteenth of my salary ($31,000). I’ll be paid whether we have a game this week or not.
“I’m not against the union. I did what I had to do. I respect what they are doing. I hope they respect what I’m doing.”
In several cities, striking players were joined on picket lines by workers from other unions.
At Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., picketers included a cancer victim who has received moral and financial support from the players.
“Knowing these guys, all of them feel to a man that this is something that has to be done,” said Cliff Terhune, a truck driver who lives near the stadium.
In Cincinnati, the picketing was spirited when the regular players returned to protest the first practice session by their replacements. They watched from the gate, jeering their replacements as they ran wind sprints, and blocked the bus that came to pick them up.
Boomer Esiason and teammates Bruce Kozerski and Tim McGee briefly sat in front of the bus but relented when two police cruisers arrived. A path was cleared peacefully for the bus, and players left a while later to attend a team union meeting.
Coach Sam Wyche, watching from the practice field, disagreed with the strikers’ actions in blocking the bus.
“That’s so silly for them to be doing what they’re doing now,” Wyche said. “It makes no sense.”
In Seattle, striking players jeered a busload of about 25 substitutes, while former Seahawk quarterback Jim Zorn changed his mind and said he would not seek to play on an NFL team during the walkout.
Four unidentified AFL-CIO pickets ignored repeated requests from Seahawk General Manager Mike McCormack to move, and blocked the bus from entering the driveway that players normally use.
McCormack, a Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman, then led the new Seahawks past a phalanx of striking Seahawks through a gate onto the playing field in suburban Kirkland, Wash.
About 30 minutes before the bus arrived, Zorn drove into the parking lot and huddled in an animated conversation with Seattle player representative Kenny Easley. Easley had been critical of Zorn’s stated desire to play during the strike.
“I have considered playing,” Zorn told reporters afterward. “But I think with the integrity I have in Seattle and the disappointment I have with the whole strike thing, my decision is not to play during the strike.”