The Washington Times - July 7, 2011, 04:13PM

I hope you enjoyed the story in today’s paper about the 1987 Redskins team that survived the players’ strike and went on to win the Super Bowl. That NFL owners employed replacement players that season creates significant differences between that situation and the current work stoppage, but some of the lessons from 24 years ago still apply today.

As former guard R.C. Thielemann said: “Football is a team thing, and it always has been.”


Most, if not all, of the players I spoke to seemed to get a kick out of reliving those glory years. Time has clouded some of their memories, but many aspects of the strike were unforgettable because it was such a wild time.

Coach Joe Gibbs’ leadership was a common theme in my conversations with people associated with that team. Gibbs, as you might expect, downplayed his role, saying: “We may have stuck together, but I’m not the glue.” His players, however, believe otherwise.

And not only did they respect and trust him, but management also believed he was capable of managing any unrest once veterans returned to a locker room that included a handful of replacements.

“We knew there was going to be some tension,” former assistant general manager Charley Casserly said. “But I think Joe had enough confidence in himself and the coaches to be able to handle it. Joe was a very logical guy, and that’s how he talked to the players all the time.  We knew it would be a tough locker room, but the feeling was that Joe could handle it.”

Gibbs was in an especially difficult position during that strike. Coaches were permitted to speak to the players during that walkout, unlike during the current NFL lockout. So Gibbs stayed in touch with his union players, encouraging them to stay in shape and keeping a finger on their collective pulse, and simultaneously coached a team of off-the-street replacements.

And that’s not even mentioning that he had to manage his relationship with owner Jack Kent Cooke.

“You had to be very careful because you had ownership on one side of the strike and players on the other,” Gibbs told me. “I was very fortunate. I felt Mr. Cooke really understood that. You don’t come out as a coach and make statements and take sides, but you don’t do something that would hurt your relationship with players.”

Considering that today’s owners reportedly are not discussing the use of replacement players if the lockout threatens the season, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan won’t have to deal with a lot of the headaches that Gibbs had to.

In the current situation, the leaders have been players such as London Fletcher, Lorenzo Alexander and John Beck. Players-only workouts might not result in any major on-field gains, but their value cannot be denied—in the Redskins’ case, at least—because they have provided a platform for locker room cohesion and team building.

That’s incredibly important on a Redskins team that has faced way too many distractions over the last two seasons. The 1987 team proved under different circumstances that togetherness is essential, and the 30 to 40 Redskins that have attended this offseason’s workouts have made strides in that regard.

In a lost offseason, that is a rare accomplishment.