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Here Comes NFL Strikeball, With No-Name Players and No Asterisks

October 04, 1987|DAVE GOLDBERG | Associated Press

Ed Rubbert was asked how he would feel if he threw eight touchdown passes in one game to surpass Sid Luckman, Y.A. Tittle and Sammy Baugh in the NFL record book.

"There should definitely be an asterisk," said Rubbert, who suddenly finds himself the Washington Redskins' quarterback. "This isn't the real NFL."

Real or not, Rubbert is what the NFL is giving us this weekend. And, says the league, it will all count.

While the stars the nation is used to watching carry picket signs outside the stadiums, the playing fields will become a Fantasy Camp with Rubbert as Jay Schroeder; Anthony Mosley as Walter Payton, Geoff Torretta as Dan Marino and Corey Clark as Lawrence Taylor.

"Somebody has to start," Coach Joe Walton of the New York Jets said when he released a depth chart early in the week that made David Norrie, a former UCLA quarterback he cut in training camp, his potential Baugh or Luckman.

Or, as Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys put it when asked if his pickup team could beat the University of Oklahoma, the nation's top-ranked college team:

"'Oh, give me a month and we might. I'm not sure what level we can play because we haven't even seen our team scrimmage."

Landry is one of the more fortunate coaches. He has quarterback Danny White and defensive tackle Randy White, who both crossed the picket line, to build his team around.

Most of the other coaches must do what they can with the Rubberts, the Mosleys, the Torrettas, and the Clarks, plus recently cut veterans like Keith Browner, Reggie Collier and Tom Cousineau and the long-gone Guido Merkens, Derrick Gaffney, John Reaves and Vince Evans. For all of them, it's either a moment in the sun or a chance to be young again.

"I know I may not be around for long," says Scott Bini, a defensive end from Fairleigh Dickinson who will be with the New York Giants when they face San Francisco Sunday night. "But it's my chance to play in an NFL stadium and wear an NFL uniform."

The owners' catch-phrase for the games is "competitive and exciting," the kind of expression they ridiculed when it was used by the now dormant USFL. Their reasoning is that since the games will count in the standings, players will begin crossing picket lines next week rather than have their records sullied by semi-pros.

The union, on the other hand, is expecting that after one week of curiosity -- "how about one quarter?" asks Doug Allen, the union's assistant executive director -- fans will abandon the so-called "scab games" in droves. That, in turn, will cause advertisers to drop the telecasts and put extreme financial pressure on the networks.

What fans will get this week is probably close to what they see in the last quarter of the opening exhibition game -- a bunch of free agents brought into camp as cannon fodder given one small chance to show what they can do in the NFL.

Many teams already have locally applied nicknames -- the Masquer-Raiders; Shams; Midgets; Phony-Niners; Ill-Eagles and $1,000-Bills, after the retainers given to some players after they were cut to return in the event of a strike.

With the free agents will be a handful of recognizable names who crossed picket lines.

They include the two Whites; Mark Gastineau of the Jets who may play dueling sacksters with Randy White against makeshift offensive lines when the Cowboys and Jets meet Sunday at the Meadowlands; Bruce Clark and Tony Elliott, both starting linemen for the Saints; eight-time Pro Bowler Mike Webster of the Steelers, Pro Bowl safety Leonard Smith of the Cardinals, and quarterback Gary Hogeboom of the Colts, a greater threat than Hubbert to surpass Baugh and Luckman if he can find receivers to hold on to the ball.

Whatever happens, the standings are likely to be skewed -- Hogeboom probably makes the Colts, 3-13 last year and 0-2 right now, a better team than the Bears.

The Colts, for example, began early to build a strike squad and so did Tampa Bay, 2-14 last season. They may have an all-strike offensive lineman in David Jordan, a marginal member of the Giants the last three years who was one of the Super Bowl champs' last cuts.

On the other hand, some of league's better teams -- the Bears, Giants, Rams, Raiders, Seahawks and Vikings -- all appear to be among the weaker strike entries.

The Giants, for example, began assembling a team only after the strike started and finally settled for a squad that includes 12 members of the Connecticut Giants, the nation's 27th-ranked semi-pro team.

Combined with the 0-2 start by their regulars, the strike could knock them out of the playoff race in a hurry, unless the replacement games become an issue in bargaining and the won-lost records are eventually thrown out.

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