- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2018

David Windham never thought of himself as a “scab.” He just wanted to play football.

When NFL players went on strike in 1987, Windham was one of the “replacements” who crossed the picket lines for a chance to chase a football dream. For three weeks, Windham and the other replacement Redskins practiced at the team facility, wore the burgundy and gold on game days and played in front of the RFK Stadium crowd.

The replacement Redskins went 3-0 during the strike, then returned to obscurity when Doug Williams, Art Monk and the other regulars came back and put together their run to a Super Bowl title. Aided by the replacements’ winning streak, the regular Redskins cruised into the playoffs and on to a championship — a debt the team is acknowledging with a ceremony Tuesday in Ashburn to present Super Bowl rings to the long-overlooked contributors.

15 minutes of fame

After the strike, Windham fared better than most, spending the rest of the season as part of the Redskins’ reserve squad. Windham didn’t dress during games, but he was on the sidelines. He was invited to the Super Bowl in San Diego for free, and he even met President Ronald Reagan at the White House ceremony.

But Windham wasn’t included when other players were sized for their Super Bowl rings.

“A lot of things led me to thinking I was somehow special,” Windham, now 57, said, “only to be negated at the end.”

While they had gone a perfect 3-0 as part of a season that culminated with a 42-10 drubbing of the Denver Broncos, most of the replacements have gone unacknowledged — until Tuesday’s event.

“It would’ve been nice to get one back then, but, you know, better late than never,” replacement quarterback Tony Robinson said. “It’s good to be recognized … that we played a big part in them winning the Super Bowl.”

“I always felt like we were forgotten Redskins,” Windham said. “It’s never too late to get that type of accolade.”

The replacements

Darryl Grant stood outside old Redskins Park in Herndon, Virginia, with other Redskins players forming a picket line. The defensive lineman, who played nine seasons with Washington, waited for the busload of replacements to arrive.

When the bus turned into the practice facility, he leapt up and smashed a window as it passed.

During the 24-day players’ strike, Washington was the only NFL team to have no players cross the picket line. Initially, that unanimity helped foster animosity toward the “scabs.” When the replacements first arrived, Windham remembers fans chanting that they were taking food off the regular players’ tables.

But for the replacements, the strike represented a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream: To play in the NFL.

Robinson joined the Redskins on a work-release from a drug-related jail sentence. For as long as he could play football, he was free. Once his career ended, he needed to serve the remainder of his sentence.

“It was a chance for me to show that I could play in that league,” Robinson, 54, remembered. “Everything else, I didn’t think about.”

As the strike set in, organizations scrambled for replacements to avoid a similar outcome to the 1982 strike, which shortened the season to nine games. Windham said rosters were filled with players hoping for one last chance in the league, or their first opportunity to play professionally.

The replacement games still counted. The “scabs” wore the burgundy and gold. Washington’s replacements opened with wins over the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants in the first two weeks, winning over the city.

The one Washington remembers

Against Dallas in the final week of replacement games, Robinson scrambled to the right, out of Ed “Too Tall” Jones’ reach, and fired a pass on the run for a first down in his first play in the NFL.

It was the moment Robinson had been waiting for. As a starter at Tennessee, Robinson had toppled a Bo Jackson-led Auburn with a four-touchdown, 259-yard performance in 1985. But his NFL hopes were derailed by an injury and a drug arrest.

Against a Dallas squad that featured 21 regulars — including two future Hall of Famers who had broken the strike — Robinson pulled out a hard-fought win.

“Those guys put their pads on the same way I do,” Robinson said. “It was a great feeling to get out there and play against these guys, but … I’m out here trying to win.”

Robinson completed 11 of 18 passes for 152 yards and a 13-7 win at Texas Stadium.

Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, Robinson supported Washington and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most of his friends were Dallas fans. It added another dimension to his one contest as a Redskin.

“I said, ‘Oh man, this would be nice if we win this game, because I can go home and all those friends that were Cowboys fans? I could talk a little trash,’” Robinson said. “But it was hard to talk trash to them when I see them because they were all Redskins fans that night.”

‘Set the tone’

Trailing the New York Jets, 16-7, in the fourth quarter, the 53,497 fans at RFK Stadium lost patience with the returning regulars in their first game back.

“We want the Scabs,” rang down from the bleachers.

“That made me feel better than playing in the first three games,” Windham said.

Two late scores secured Washington’s 17-16 win. Several replacement players made the regular roster while others, such as Windham, were retained on the practice squad.

Those new additions created a spark in camp.

“We set the tone,” Windham said. “Those guys knew they had to play because they were being pushed, not only by the second-team guys, but the guys on the practice roster. Like, ‘Yo, don’t get hurt. Don’t mess up. Because I’ll take your job.’

“Those guys played very well the rest of the season. They had, like, serious momentum going after that.”

Finally, rings

Something replacement players have faced since their three-game stint of glory in 1987 are three words: “Where’s your ring?”

After the Super Bowl victory, after the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and after the visit to the White House, something was still missing. The replacements, who had won three tough divisional games, were given a share of the playoff money, which worked out to about $27,000.

But they didn’t get the coveted rings.

“I’ve known some guys to lie and say, ‘Oh, I got it in a safe, I got it here, I got it there,” Windham said. “But a lot of guys had to explain to them why they played, why they got TV time, and then disappeared into obscurity.”

Thirty-one years on, the Redskins will honor the replacement players who didn’t receive rings with that hardware. Robinson has already been offered as much as $75,000 to sell the ring. He’s not interested.

“I’ve waited 31 years for this,” Robinson said. “I don’t care who you are, whatever you offer, man, I’m not selling my ring, man. That is out the question. That’s something for me to leave my son.”

So, after all the years, is it worth the wait?

“Getting the ring on Tuesday is going to make up for a lot of stuff,” Windham said.

“We’ve all been waiting on this moment,” Robinson said. “Finally, we’re getting our due.”

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