Friday, September 22, 2017

1964 Houston Oilers: Philadelphia Style

Topps, 1964 Philadelphia football cards, custom cards

After three years at the top of the Eastern Division, the Oilers dipped to 3rd place in 1963 after winning the AFL Championship in 1961. Despite the downturn in fortunes, the Oilers still fielded a formidable team with George Blanda, Billy Cannon, and the AFL's top receiver, Charley Hennigan.  Unfortunately, 1963 was not an anomaly as the Oilers lost 9 straight games in the middle of the 1964 season.  The highlight of their 4-10 season was Charley Hennigan's 101 receptions.

RetroCards uses the attractive 1964 Philadelphia Gum card design to create a brand new Oilers set that includes: Don Floyd, Charley Frazier, W.K. Hicks, Larry Onesti, Sonny Bishop, Bob MacLeod, Rich Michael, Walt Suggs, Bob Talamini, Charley Tolar, Charlie Rieves, Sid Blanks, Bud McFadin, Donny Brabham, Doug Cline, Sammy Odom, Scott Appleton, George Blanda.

Order your 1964 AFL Houston Oiler set here!

Friday, September 15, 2017

More '87 Strike: Keanu & Gene's Excellent Adventure

1987 Topps football cards, custom cards that never were

All of this Strike talk recalled the 2000 film The Replacements starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman.  It's a fun romp that shows the humorous side of the strike.  For a more realistic view, watch ESPN's 30 For 30 Year Of The Scab, which premiered on September 12th.  Here is the trailer.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

1987 Replacement Cowboys Plus Some History...

1987 Topps football cards, custom cards that never were

In the dying days of the Tom Landry era, the 1987 strike season offered some brief optimism.  Some of us thought, “perhaps the Cowboy replacement players can outplay other NFL replacement players and pad their record?”  Lord knows the Cowboys needed padding as the strike replacement players actually had a higher winning percentage (2-1) than the regular Cowboy players (5-7).  But to be fair, even those strike victories were padded in a rare instance of players crossing the picket line to play in the replacement games.  This is were the story gets interesting.

Tex Schramm, never one to pass up an opportunity make/save a buck, forced the hand of several players who had long annuities that Schramm snuck into player contracts in anticipation of the strike. In short, if those players didn’t play, they lose the money.  Schramm held this over several players head and players begrudgingly crossed the line rather than lose years of contributions.

Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Ed “Too Tall” Jones were the highest profile players affected by this and crossed the line.  Danny White, in an effort to move CBA talks along……  also crossed the line, creating even more team derision.  Dorsett begged not to be played in these games but Tom Landry played him anyway.   (See part one of 1987 Strike Cowboys here).

The aftermath of the strike was difficult for the Cowboys.  Tex Schramm’s level of involvement in the strike earned him the nickname “Commissioner of the Replacement Players,” which made the Cowboys a marked team even after the strike was over.  A quarterback controversy developed when Danny White crossed the line and Tom Landry chose to start him over the exciting Kevin Sweeney (a move that almost got Landry fired) , who was having success in the strike games.  The opponent was the Philadelphia Eagles coached by All-Pro yahoo Buddy Ryan, who resented Landry using union players against his Eagles.  This started a feud by the next game where Ryan ran up the score on the flailing Cowboys.

• The replacement players earned $4,000 a week,
• Cornell Burbage reached into the stands during a road game at New York, grabbed a package and placed it under the bench. It was a box of laundry Burbage’s sister had washed for him.
• In union towns, the replacements were shunned. In places such as Dallas, some fans loved their grit and nicknamed them the “Rhinestone Cowboys.”
• Nearly every replacement team wound up with new fan-given nicknames: The Chicago Spare Bears. The Seattle Sea-Scabs. The New Orleans Saint Elsewheres and the Rhinestone Cowboys.
• New York Jets star defensive end Mark Gastineau, who claimed he needed the money to pay alimony. Gastineau would end up scuffling with a teammate who spat in his face as he crossed the picket line one morning.
• Other stars that crossed the line: Howie Long, Joe Montana, Steve Largent, Lawrence Taylor, Roger Craig, Tony Dorsett, Dwight Clark, Danny White, Randy White
• 37-year-old Jim Zorn, playing in the Canadian Football League, contacted the Seahawks, whom he had QBed for many years, but ended up in Tampa as backup to another 37-year-old, John Reeves, who had started for the Eagles and Bengals in the 70s. 
• Sean Payton, future Saints Coach of the Year, played QB for Mike Ditka’s Bears. 
• The Bears traded QB Doug Flutie to New England while he was on strike. Doug led his new team to a 21-7 win over Houston during the third week of replacement games.
• Lionel Vital, who ran a grocery store in Louisiana before the strike, became the starting RB for the Redskins.
• The Giants signed 12 players from the semipro Connecticut Giants.
• QB Vince Evans had been out of football since the USFL folded. He started the first replacement game for Oakland despite the fact that former starter Mark Wilson suited up. Vince passed and ran for 311 yards in total offense.

While the strikers lost an average of $15,000 per game (approximately $80 million in salaries altogether), the average owner’s profit per game actually rose from $800,000 before the work stoppage to $921,000 during the strike. However, this gain was wiped out by the fact that the league had to refund $60 million to the networks over the next two seasons for the missed weekend of play, the reduced ratings, and the resulting decline in advertising revenues.

On the day the strike ended, the NFLPA filed an antitrust suit in Federal Court challenging the college draft, restraints on free agency, and other practices alleged to be anti-competitive. (The NBA players had filed a similar suit one month earlier.) The Court of Appeals ultimately rejected the suit on a technicality. NFLPA disbanded, then reformed in 1989 in order to file a new suit that ultimately prevailed at a jury trial. This led to a labor agreement that permitted less restrictive free agency in return for salary caps tied to a formula based on players’ share of total league revenues. So the union, while losing the 1987 battle in the short run, won the war in the long run.  This fun set is available now!


Friday, September 1, 2017

RetroCards Strikes Back! 1987 Cowboys

1987 Topps Football Cards, Custom Cards that never were, replacement players

1987 was a trying year for the NFL.  A Players Strike interrupted the season resulting in teams fielding replacement players for three games. At best, the play of the replacement players was fun, at worst, farcical.  The Cowboys, with their superior scouting, fielded one of the league’s strongest “Strike Teams” and, had the NFL replacement players played all season, the Cowboys may have won the Super Bowl!  Back in reality the Cowboys posted a 5–9 record in regular “union” games, helping to bring an end to the Landry era. 

That year started off with two disasters before the season even started: first was the arrest of Rafael Septien for the allegation of sexual assault of a minor, followed by young star Mike Sherrard breaking his leg in a scrimmage.  Then the strike happened after week two of the season and week three games were cancelled.

Cowboys management was anticipating the strike and kept close tabs with players who were the final cuts of the preseason.  The always shrewd GM Tex Schramm inserted clauses into several veteran’s contracts stating if players missed a game or practice due to something other than a football injury, players would lose a large annuity built into their pay structure.  This caused veterans like All-Pro Randy White to cross the picket line, starting a rift between White and the rest of the striking players.  Tony Dorsett referred to him as “Captain Scab,” only to pathetically join White across the picket line when Schramm reminded him of his soon-to-be lost annuities (Dorsett was referred to as "Captain Stab").

Discord grew when Danny White crossed the line. He couldn’t afford to give up the paycheck as his manufacturing business was in debt $250,000 and he was under investigation for mail fraud.  "Too Tall" Jones crossed due to the lost annuities situation and a lawsuit was threatened by players against the Cowboys. Only Doug Cosbie and Everson Walls didn't cross though they stood to lose annuities.

The ever-detached Tom Landry coached his newfound players for the three strike games to the best of his abilities while player representative Doug Cosbie stood helpless as he watched 21 veterans cross the picket line.  Seven of the replacement players showed promise and stayed on the roster after the strike was over.  In the second last game of the season Danny White coached the team briefly against Rams while coach Landry dealt with a threat on his life – an omen if there ever was one. Sadly, the strike experience and the losing carried into the 1988 season where the team dipped to an embarrassing 3-13 record.

RetroCards gives focus to this strange season with two Cowboy 18-card sets.  The first (pictured above) contains players that did not have a card in 1987: Gordon Banks, Vince Albritton, Nate Newton, Garth Jax, Reggie Collier, Gene Lockhart, Ray Alexander, Doug Cosbie, Johnny Holloway, Roger Ruzek, Ron Francis, Danny Noonan, Mark Tuinei, Ron Burton, Everson Walls, and Todd Fowler.  There is also a team card and a yellow bordered “box bottom” card of Herschel Walker.


The second series (to be shown in a separate blog entry) focuses on the replacement players and players who crossed the picket line who did not have a regular card in 1987. First the replacement players: Kevin Sweeny, Kelvin Edwards, Tommy Haynes, Cornell Burbage, Mike Dwyer, and Robert Williams.  Players who crossed: Randy White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Mike Renfro, Johnny “Lam” Jones, Robert Lavette, Paul McDonald, Kevin Brooks, Kelvin Martin, and Karl Powe.  A Cowboys management card featuring Schramm and Landry gets a special place in series two along with a Strike Team card, and a yellow bordered “box-bottom” card featuring “Co-Captain Scab,” Tony Dorsett.  Both are available now!