Jon’s Jottings: Reflections of National Football League strikes pastA national crisis has apparently been diverted. The Associated Press reported this week the National Football League owners and players’ union have all but settled a strike started in March and the lockout of players will soon be over.
By: Jon Echternacht, Hudson Star-Observer
A national crisis has apparently been diverted.
The Associated Press reported this week the National Football League owners and players’ union have all but settled a strike started in March and the lockout of players will soon be over.
There will be NFL football this fall, and more importantly, at least two games between the defending Super Bowl champion Packers and Vikings.
In my former day as a sports writer, I lived through two NFL strike situations. One was with the Vikings and one with the Packers.
The first was mild by comparison and the second disrupted a season and the playoffs.
The first was the summer of 1974 when I worked for about six weeks in the Minnesota Vikings training camp in Mankato. In those days, Bud Grant was the head coach and he always was the last to go to training camp.
Because of this and the fact the Vikings had a veteran team, I believe Minnesota was earmarked for solidarity by the players’ union to lead the strike. The rookies came to camp and the veterans held out. The strike forced two pre-season games with replacement players.
Football players from various semi-
pro leagues throughout the country joined the Vikings for the first two games. These were kids with real jobs during the day that played football for the love of it.
Two particular players I remember were two linemen from the Las Vegas casinos. One was a lifeguard at the MGM Grand Hotel and the other was a high school football coach and teacher.
Veterans started trickling into camp one at a time, finally after two weeks.
Veteran kicker Fred Cox was one of the first to come in. He lamented the fact he missed the first pre-season game in Denver where he loved to kick in the light air of the Mile High City.
Shortly after, the rest of the team massed together at the bottom of the hill leading to the practice field and came in. The strike was over and things returned to normal.
The next serious labor action was 1982 after the season started. I was with Ray Nitschke’s Packer Report then and the players didn’t call the work stoppage until after the second game of the regular season.
The Packers played the last game before the strike started — a Monday night game in the Meadowlands against the New York Giants and won 27-19 for a 2-0 record.
Nobody really knew what to expect. It wasn’t clear until the next day the players were locked out.
A number of players stayed in Green Bay and worked out at a high school field. It was a particularly challenging to put together a football magazine with no football. The advantage in Green Bay was the long history of the Packers.
Packer Report columnist Art Daley had covered the team since the 40s and Hall of Fame photographer Vern Biever had photos of the glory years on up.
We did everything we could think of to get a paper out each week: printed photos of the players working out in their own gear, published stories and photos of significant games and players from the past, promoted Paul Hornung for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Hornung deserved a spot in the national football shrine but it was widely believed he was held out of the nominations because of a gambling incident that forced his suspension for a season in 1963.
One diversion that helped sports fans in Wisconsin as football was on hold, the Milwaukee Brewers won the American League East Division and the American League Pennant and played in the World Series. They lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, four games to three.
Finally after seven football games had been lost, the strike ended. On a Tuesday night as I remember it. Local radio stations announced the strike was over. Head coach Bart Starr held a news conference in his home that evening. TV wires and cables were thick through his front doorway and lights and cameras were set up in the living room.
The Packers hosted Minnesota in Milwaukee the first game after the strike and beat the Vikings 26-7 to go 3-0.
A significant historical incident occurred during the layoff. The oldest continuous rivalry in the NFL ended when the two games between the Packers and the Chicago Bears were wiped out by the strike.
It also affected the remainder of the season and the playoff schedule. The season was extended two games that fell the day after Christmas and on Jan. 2. It made Christmas and New Year’s travel days.
The playoffs were dubbed the “Super Bowl Tournament” and the season was shortened to nine games. The Packers made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1972.
With a 5-3-1 record, they hosted St. Louis in the first round playoff and beat the visitors 41-6 on Jan. 8.
In the NFC Divisional playoff at Dallas Jan. 16 the Packers spotted the Cowboys too many points early and lost 37-26. And a most unusual football season ended.