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The Strike Years

Rodger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith
Rodger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith

The NFL has been one of the more successful professional leagues since its inception in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association. It has endured many tumultuous times including the Great Depression, World War II and has seen incredible growth over the years. There have been many unforgettable moments that include the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, Franco Harris's immaculate reception and the Ice Bowl in Cincinnati. Lasting memories forever etched in NFL history.

However, not regularly mentioned but a big part of the leagues' history is the player strikes in 1982 and 1987.  The cause for each strike included players growing disgruntled with the lack of a favorable contract that restricted their share of the league's revenue. Despite ongoing negotions during these seasons, agreements were not met by the deadline and the players walked off the field. The strike in 1982 wiped out half the season, the strike in 1987 introduced the Replacement Players.

The Bengals had just come off of their first franchise appearance in the Super Bowl and were favored to return in 1982. Beating Houston 26-7 during opening weekend gave little doubt that this should materialize.  With the sound of "strike" echoing louder around the league, the following game on September 19th against Pittsburgh ended with a 26-20 overtime loss for what was presumed to be the final game of the season.

The strike lasted an agonizing 57 days; fans grew impatient with the process and the greed of both sides.  Many felt that if play resumed at any point of the season, the fan reaction would not be favorable, staying away or simply coming to jeer. The strike officially ended on 17 November with play resuming on November 21st.  To complete the season, each team was scheduled to play seven additional games.  The Bengals first game back was against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Fans did stay away at many games around the league, but a crowd of 65,172 showed to watch the Bengals beat the Eagles 18-14.  Knowing Philly fans, I am pretty sure booing ensued.

The Bengals continued winning and drawing large crowds. Four of the remaining six games, attendance was over 51,000 with the team going 5-1 to finish the strike-shortened season with a 7-2 record and the division title.  Since the season was compacted, the NFL decided to scrape the usual playoff schedule in favor of a Super Bowl tournament style playoff, seeding the top eight teams in each conference. The Bengals ended up as the AFC's three seed and drew the sixth seeded New York Jets in the first round.  Unlike the playoff run from the previous season, they failed to get out of the first round losing to the Jets 44-17.  Despite the nearly two-month layoff, the offense finished second overall landing Ken Anderson, Chris Collingsworth, Anthony Munoz and Tight End Dan Ross in the Pro Bowl.

Labor turmoil struck again just a few short years later in 1987. Unlike the first strike, it was decided that "replacement" players would be used. Just as in 1982, the players walked off the field after week two was complete.  But the season picked up just two weeks later with replacement players.

Expectations for the Bengals were high coming off a 10-6 season in 1986 and possessing the third highest scoring offense in the NFL.  The first two games were split before the strike. The next three games were with replacement players was a meager 1-2 record.  Despite the lackluster overall record for the replacement players, the lone victory against Seattle featured 61 rushing attempts for 270 yards rushing by the Bengals. Marc Logan and David McCluskey lead the way with 103 yards and 70 yards respectively, each scoring a touchdown. This may have been the sole bright spot in what became a disappointing season, with the Bengals finishing 4-11. Logan was the only replacement player from the Bengals who went on to a sustained NFL career, playing ten years recording 1,391 yards rushing and scoring 15 touchdowns.

The fan reaction during this strike was mixed as well, with several Bengals home games seeing near capacity crowds but road games falling way short. The Bengals home game attendance after the strike was over 52,000 until week 12. With their record at 3-8 heading into the game against Kansas City, attendance dropped below the 47,000 mark. Despite winning in overtime 30-27, the final regular season finale at Riverfront against New Orleans saw a smaller crowd of 43, 489 witness the 41-24 loss.  Nose tackle Tim Krumrie and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz were selected to the Pro Bowl.

Now, once again there is talk is in the air that football will not be played after this season.  Labor harmony between the league and players union for the past 24 years is in jeopardy with both sides looking to gain an edge. There is talk by some player representatives that the owners may lock them out in 2011.  If this is the case, will players form their own league and play scrimmages to raise money for charities? Or will the players decide to strike leaving the owners to consider signing replacement players in hopes of satisfying their football starved fan base?  No matter the outcome, those who will be affected the most will be us, the fans.