Monday, September 17, 2012

Freddy the Scab Zebra

Full disclosure: I was not around in 1987 for the NFLPA strike of that year. But, as a devoted student of the league, I know an awful lot more about the wild 1987 season than I would have otherwise, thanks to Youtube.  This might have been the NFL's darkest hour, when the games of Week 3 were cancelled and the games of Weeks 4 through 6 were played with replacement players, or "scabs".  "Chicago Spare Bears", "San Francisco Phoney Niners", "New Orleans Saint Elsewheres", and "Washington ScabSkins", were just some of the very interesting names that were used to describe the teams of castaways, journeymen, and in some cases, guys off the street. Anyone who covered or watched the league in 1987 will tell you that the replacement players were much worse than the replacement refs of today, as well they should. So why then, am I bringing up these apples and oranges in the same breath, and trying to compare them?

It all goes to a quote Joe Flacco said about the replacement refs after the Ravens Week 2 loss in Philadelphia. He said that the scab refs, "are affecting the integrity of the game". In NFL buzzword bingo, that might get you the win instantly. But, he has a point. It seems everyone around, and inside the league wants the real guys back, well, everyone except the League of 32 men plus 1 comish. The replacements have been, for the most part, innocuous. But, whenever they make a mistake, it's blown up tenfold. Week 1 went off without any major hitches, sans a timeout fiasco in the Seahawks/Cardinals game. That almost gave Seattle the win, but, thankfully for the PR guys in New York, it didn't. Week 2 came around with more missed and questionable calls than ever, including many times where you just wondered if these guys had ever read the rulebook. Games are taking longer than ever now, thanks to officiating screw-ups and general misunderstanding of the game. They aren't controlling the game well enough, which is why it seemed that in a good chunk of them, control of the players was lost. It doesn't help that there are now questions about the intergrity of the refs themselves, see examples from Seattle and New Orleans for that.

So, both the scab players and scab refs have affected the integrity of the game to some extent, and that's not arguable. But, why is what NFL fans are dealing with now, so much different, and much worse for the same fans?

During the 1987 strike, TV revenues went way down, and by the end of the season, they went down overall by 20%. The NFL wasn't budging. The fans were paying for a terrible product, and they let the league, and mainly the players, know it. Even the solidarity of the players was broken down enough to get everyone back on the field and get the hell on turf show gone. That strike affected the league's bottom line, so much so, that it will never happen again. But with the replacement refs, ratings are at record highs. People are still flocking to the stadiums, and watching the games on TV just as much, if not more, than the 2011 season which came hot off a lockout. What's worse, is that Mr. Goodell can continue to sit in his office and laud the ratings success and the notoriety of his league, because everyone is talking about the mistakes of Freddy the Scab Zebra. So much for, "Integrity of the Game".

That makes the thought of the real guys not returning until the fake ones cost a team a game easier to stomach, momentarily at least. We all know that coaches and players in the NFL complain about the real guys all the time, but it never gets press. Complaining about the scab refs though, is a hot button item, and can make it easier for guys like me to get to their keyboards and type away. And Roger Goodell will continue to stare out at the New York City skyline thanking you for your efforts. 

We all play into his hands with pieces on the scab refs. Whatever the difference is between the 2 sides in bargaining is irrelevant to Goodell, and anyone else right now. We play the cards he dealt us, and we're doing exactly what he wants us to do. 

And unlike with the scab players of 25 years ago, there's no way we can tell Goodell to stop the charade, because we'll keep watching, and writing, while he counts his money, and our fingers grow sore from hitting the same keystrokes. 

When the players went on strike in 1987, everyone lost. Someone has won here.

Whether the real refs come back in Week 3, 13, or for the playoffs, Goodell has won, and everyone else has to watch him enjoy it while we long for the biceps of Ed Hochuli to return. 

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