CINCINNATI — Boomer Esiason, the Bengals' regular quarterback, walked around the outside of Riverfront Stadium signing autographs on picket signs.
Some picketers had autographs of almost the entire Bengal offense on their signs.
It was shortly after 10 in the morning, but on this unusual Sunday, Esiason's work began three hours earlier than usual. Esiason was on strike.
Esiason and about 30 of his teammates--wearing NFL Players Assn. baseball caps--were placed strategically around the stadium. They chatted with fans, signed autographs and handed out strike literature.
The players were joined by approximately 300 supporters from local unions. There were picketers from the Teamsters, sheet metal workers, letter carriers and members of the Private Police Local 13130.
"Quite a few people showed up," said Esiason, the Bengal player representative. "It gives the players a boost to their morale."
There had been speculation that members of the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, both of which had road games, would drive to Cincinnati to picket, but they never appeared.
Along with fans and players, there were also plenty of signs:
--"No Fans League," from a group of fans who said they were on strike.
--"This is a Scab Training School" and "Scab Football Ain't Pro Football."
--"You Really Want Second-Hand Entertainment?"
--"Lightning Never Strikes Twice, the NFL Does."
While a lot of the fans were chatting with the players on this cool, crisp morning, some just sat back and enjoyed the pregame show.
"It's kind of an event," said Labe Young, a Bengal season-ticket holder who lives in Louisa, Ky., drives 300 miles to see Bengal home games and wasn't about to miss this day or game. "I thought the entertainment would be outside the stadium. I'm just enjoying the action."
Young was going to go to the game, but Esiason certainly wasn't.
"It's a waste of time," said Esiason. "I know it's a bunch of mishmash."
Speculation that local union members might block the entrance to the stadium had the Charger management concerned early Sunday morning.
But when the team's two buses arrived at the back entrance to the stadium shortly after 10, they were greeted by a host of police officers and photographers, but by only three picketers, who were members of the Private Police local.
Many of the players and coaches immediately headed to the field. For some of the players who had never played in an NFL game or stadium, it was a moment to cherish.
Charger Coach Al Saunders was standing near midfield when former Bengal quarterback Ken Anderson walked by.
"Don't tell me you're suiting up," said Saunders. "Come over to our side."
"I'd be handing off a lot," said Anderson, who is a commentator on Bengal broadcasts.
As Saunders looked at the players' tunnel leading onto the field, he said: "My greatest fear is that Boomer, (Anthony) Munoz and (James) Brooks come running through that tunnel."