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Colt Versus the 1987 Replacements: What’s More Improbable?


In his Wednesday appearance on the Sports Reporters on Sportstalk 570, Kevin Blackistone called the Redskins win over the Cowboys Monday night, “the most improbable Redskins victory in Dallas since the scab game in 1987.”

I have great respect for Kevin’s perspective on this.  Kevin grew up in this area, going to Redskin games at RFK with his family’s season tickets.  He also spent 20 years working in Dallas, the last 15 as a sports columnist at the Dallas Morning News.  He knows this rivalry from both sides.  So, I figured it would be worth a look back at that “scab” game 27 years ago, to compare it on the improbability scale to what Colt McCoy and the Skins accomplished Monday night.


McCoy’s story is incredible.  He grew up in a small Texas town, was the star quarterback on his high school team, coached by his dad, and went on to a great college career at the University of Texas.  McCoy was drafted by the Cleveland Browns to be their quarterback of the future, but like most of the Browns quarterbacks, lost more than twice as many as he won, and was discarded.  To start the year as the Redskins third string quarterback, rise all the way to starter, and then to go back to his home state and knock out the fabled 6-1 Cowboys in front of a nationwide audience – well, that’s tough to top.  But let’s give it a shot.


As you may remember, the NFL owners were prepared when the players went out on strike two games into the 1987 season.  Each team signed entire rosters of what they called “replacement players.”  Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard took the process seriously and brought in 55 players who he thought could win games.  Meantime, Coach Joe Gibbs, who had won a Super Bowl after the last strike in 1982, understood what it meant for his team to stay together.  Gibbs said to his regulars just before they walked out, “Guys, whatever you decide to do, do it together.  If one player crosses the picket line, that breaks everything.


On September 23, 1987, a new training camp opened with new players, who would wear the same NFL uniforms, in the same NFL stadiums and play the same schedule that the league had laid out, and most importantly – play same television schedule the NFL was pulling down millions from with it’s broadcast partners.  That of course included Monday Night Football on ABC.


The Redskins replacements, or “Scabskins”, as some called them, beat the St. Louis Cardinals and home and then clobbered the Giants on the road 38-12.  The real Redskins stayed together, practicing daily at George Mason University on their own.  All of those players could have crossed the picket line and gone back to work for full pay, but not a single player did.


Such harmony didn’t exist around the league, however, as some of the biggest names in the game went back to collect their checks.  The owners were winning and the players knew it.  October 15th was the day set by the league for the players to report and be eligible to play and be paid for that weekend’s games.  The union players agreed to show up, but were then told never mind, they were going with replacements for one more week.  The strike had ended, but just to rub their noses in it, the owners made the union players watch the scabs one more week.


The last game of that final replacement week had the “Scabskins” playing in Dallas on Monday Night Football.  The Cowboys union players had been among the least united, with 21 regulars crossing the picket line, including future Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Randy White.  Starting quarterback Danny White had also crossed.  The Redskins started Ed Rubbert, who had hooked up with Anthony Allen for 255 yards in receptions in a win over the Cardinals, a Redskin record that still stands.  But in reality a large percentage of “America’s Team” was facing a Redskin team that didn’t have a single union player on the field.


It looked like even more of a mismatch in the first quarter when Rubbert went down with a shoulder injury.  His backup was another story altogether.  Tony Robinson had been star a Tennessee, but after a knee injury ended his senior year early, he was arrested on drug trafficking charges.  Jail is where Beathard found Robinson in ’87 and he cut an unusual deal to get him out.  If Robinson agreed to serve the last three months of his nine-month sentence after the season ended, he could play for the Redskins on work release.  So there he was at Texas Stadium in front of the eyes of the nation, ready and able.


Meantime, the hungry Redskin defenders had incredibly been dominating the Cowboys, sacking White six times in the first half and forcing Dorsett to fumble twice.  The Skins were up 3-0 when Robinson began to hit his stride.  He threw a 42-yard pass to Craig McEwen and handed a reverse to Ted Wilson, who carried it in for a 17-yard touchdown run and a 10-0 lead.  A 39 yard touchdown pass from White pulled the Cowboys within three, but Robinson set up another field goal, forcing Dallas on it’s final drive to go for a touchdown.


With seconds left on the clock, from the Redskins 13 yard line, White threw a pass to Kevin Edwards at the six, but Joe Cofer broke it up and the Skins won 13-7.  Robinson had completed 11 of 18 passes for 152 yards.  Gibbs was carried off the field and called the post game locker room, “one of the most emotional I’ve ever been in.”


Since the replacement games counted, the regular Redskins were able to return to the field with a 4-1 record, a helpful cushion on their way to winning Super Bowl XXII.  The replacement players got no ring, but did collect a $27 thousand winning share.


As part of his work release deal, Robinson was back in jail for that Super Bowl game, betting fellow inmates that his former team would beat Denver – which they did 42-10.


There would be no storybook ending for Robinson.  He would spend the next 20 years in and out of jail, never playing another down of professional football.  But the story he was a part of caught the attention of Hollywood.


In 2000, “The Replacements” premiered.  Keanu Reeves starred as quarterback Shane Falco on the team based on the ‘87 Redskins replacements.  And just like the real thing, the movie climaxes with a Monday night win in Dallas.


For what it’s worth, Falco’s jersey number in the movie is 16, just like Colt McCoy – who just like Robinson and the replacement Redskins – may be the real life stuff of Hollywood legend.






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