NFL Owners Party Like it’s 1987

On September 22, 1987, the National Football League Players Association called its players out on strike, seeking free agency — in contrast to the 1982 strike, when the union's demand was for 55% of the owners' gross revenues, which had been rendered inoperative by 1987 because by then the players were actually receiving more than 55% of those revenues.

At the time the 1987 strike began, each team had played two regular-season games. After the games of Week 3 were canceled altogether, the owners brought in replacement players — that's "scabs" for those of you in Rio Linda, West Palm Beach and Staten Island — who played the next three games, after which the striking players returned to work with their tails between their legs, having accomplished nothing.

And even though there was an idle week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl that year, which would have allowed the Week 3 games to be played at the end of the regular season, this was not proceeded with — and as a result, the 1987 NFL regular season ended up consisting of only 15 games, not 16.

This differed from how the NFL handled two other recent situations in which "unforeseen circumstances" forced the league to make changes to the regular-season schedule — in 1982 (also due to a strike), and 2001 (because of the September 11 attacks).

There was a 57-day strike in 1982, also after two weeks' worth of regular-season games had been played — but back then the owners granted the union three concessions: they added a week's worth of games to the end of the season (cut and pasted from bits and pieces of the eight weeks' worth of games that were wiped out by the strike), and unlike in 1987, did eliminate a convenient off week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl. Not only that, but the owners doubled the postseason shares to be awarded to the players in each round off the playoffs, and they also increased the number of teams qualifying for the postseason from the then-prevailing 10 to 16, marketing it as "The Super Bowl Tournament."

A final irony was that the same team — the then-Washington Redskins — won the Super Bowl in both 1982 and 1987.

Then came 9/11 — after which the owners, understandably enough, postponed the games of September 16-17, 2001 (the attacks occurred on a Tuesday).

But unlike in 1982 and 1987, the owners chose to move the date of the Super Bowl itself back one week, and into February for the first time. And wouldn't you know? Every Super Bowl played since then — except for the following year's renewal, whose date could not be changed on such short notice, for purely logistical reasons — has been played in February.

And then, when the regular season was lengthened to 17 games in 2021, the second Sunday in February became the new date for the Super Bowl, leaving the owners just one week short of their "holy grail" of getting to play the game on the Presidents' Day weekend — thus making "Super Bowl Monday" a national holiday without having to add a new such holiday.

Had the owners been as imaginative — and as crassly opportunistic — as they had been in 1982 and 2001, this time around they would have used the near-tragedy that befell Damar Hamlin to have had half of the Week 18 games played on the weekend of January 7th-8th and the other half on January 15th (with the Bills-Bengals game on the 15th, along with the games involving the Eagles, Cowboys, and 49ers, the idea being that in no case could any team get back-to-back bye weeks heading into the playoffs), then pushed the entire postseason, including the new "non-Pro Bowl," back one week.

That would have meant that Super Bowl LVII would have been played on February 19 — during the Presidents' Day weekend, after which every future Super Bowl could also have been played on that same weekend.

Instead, the owners tried to please everybody — and nobody is liking it, with the possibility of the AFC championship game now getting played at a neutral site.

And with every team having had two bye weeks this year, there would have been no valid excuse not to do that every year going forward; furthermore, with two bye weeks for each team, all teams playing a Thursday night or Thanksgiving Day game could henceforth be given an automatic bye the week before.

If the owners could be so shameless as to exploit the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans (and a handful of immigrants, too) who were blown to bits by a vicious, cowardly terrorist attack 21 years ago by getting the Super Bowl played one week later on a permanent basis, then why didn't they do it again because one player suffered an on-the-field injury from which it looks like he is going to survive?

(On October 24, 1971, Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes died of a heart attack suffered on the field in a game against the Chicago Bears, and was pronounced dead approximately two hours later — but the show, so to speak, went on).

Maybe the owners have finally developed a conscience?

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