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Sport: New Formation: Odd Man Out

4 minute read
Tom Callahan

Speaking for more than one regular on more than one team, Dallas Linebacker Jeff Rohrer had sworn, “If some scab is in my locker, I’m going to toss his stuff right out in the middle of the floor.” But no clothes or fits have been thrown. And the air is almost as clear as the linoleum. In the aftermath of the football strike, pickets, defectors and replacements are cohabiting fairly well.

A few small messages have been delivered. Cincinnati Veteran Dave Rimington, who allowed himself to be videotaped scraping keys on replacements’ cars, returned to find there was a cost above the $250 fine leveled by the Bengals. Temporary Defensive End Willie Fears took Rimington’s favorite chair and left a note. If he wanted it back, he would have to come to Fears’ usual workplace, the maximum-security unit of the Arkansas State Penitentiary.

Twenty-one defecting Cardinals prompted Runner Ron Wolfley to dub St. Louis the “jellyfish capital of the N.F.L.” But the brothers Noga, at least, have made their peace. While Niko was striking, Peter was standing in, usurping his sibling’s linebacker position and even his jersey numeral, 57. “It was like seeing another image of myself,” says Niko, who grumbled at the time but only for show. “I’m glad he had a shot at it. If nothing else, he has a memory. Besides, it wasn’t people like my brother who hurt us.”

The most noticeable damage has been done in Dallas, where the first man through the picket line was Co-Captain Randy White. “Captain Scab,” Tailback Tony Dorsett called him. In the next instant, threatened by the fine print in his contract, Dorsett followed. Quarterback Danny White too. “White’s a weenie! We want Sweeney!” the fans clamored. Tired of decay, they actually preferred the rhinestone Cowboys, led by a small and appealing Doug Flutie- type, Kevin Sweeney. Repaying Tom Landry for a lopsided replacement loss three weeks ago, Philadelphia Coach Buddy Ryan gleefully ran up the score last week, and not everyone in Dallas (not even everyone in the Cowboys locker room) took offense.

Other fans found the strangers irresistible. In San Diego, where the Chargers won three straight games on the road for the first time since 1963, a platoon of colorful replacements was retained. An actor from HBO’s 1st & Ten series, Joe Phillips, got a real sack and a job. Les Miller, who fell on a fumble in the end zone, no longer has to make plastic handles for ice coolers. Of the good teams, the Redskins in the National Conference and the Browns in the American survived as well as any. The Super Bowl champion the year of the last strike, in 1982, Washington was the only team without a veteran strikebreaker, though a few old hands were bumped last week for their trouble. Glenn Dennison lost his reserve tight-end slot to a man he had beaten out earlier, Craig McEwen. “If I knew then what I know now,” Dennison said, “I’d have never left.” Quarterback Babe Laufenberg, who ended a third Redskins episode with still no playing time, squandered his best chance on the picket line. “I have one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave,” he said, “and I didn’t even get to eat the banana.”

When the dissolving strikers were not immediately welcomed back by the owners, the Browns players held a private meeting. Quarterback Bernie Kosar, 23, did much of the talking. Whatever the wages, they decided to start practicing immediately. Several wanted to go to Cincinnati and cheer for the scabs, but they practiced instead. Kosar’s backup, Veteran Gary Danielson, had crossed the line just in time to play the Bengals game. Some suspect he was dispatched to win it, and in that company he did look like Otto Graham. Last week Kosar and Danielson were as thick as ever.

Cleveland General Manager Ernie Accorsi is not putting all his faith in harmony, though. After all, he says, “pro football is a game that can feed off antagonistic attitudes. It’s not My Fair Lady.” But a happy team in a peaceful clubhouse is still the way to bet. “In the final analysis,” says San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh, “if a player can perform, the other players will overlook a lot.” He adds, “I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.”

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