Sun Sentinel Columnist
4:38 PM EDT, October 20, 2012
One word to describe it all?
Stu Weinstein gazes back through the prism of 25 years and shakes his head at the only time replacement players appeared in regular season NFL games
"One word?" says the longtime Dolphins director of security. "Amazing."
Weinstein, then in his third year with the organization, was there for the whole strange circus that surrounded the players' strike of 1987.
He saw Don Shula and personnel director Charley Winner nearly convince the late David Woodley to come out of retirement and quarterback the replacement team, only to see Woodley bow to pressure from former teammates.
"The deal was in place," Weinstein says. "He bailed at the last minute, or we could easily have gone 3-0."
Instead, they went 1-2 in games that weren't even supposed to count and missed the playoffs by half a game.
He saw Shula conduct his first replacement-team practice with three offensive linemen and a bunch of training camp rejects. Eleven days later, Shula and his staff had those nobodies ready to play.
He saw the Hall of Fame coach interrupt his traditional evening jog to give an impromptu tryout to a 40-year-old dump-truck driver who jumped down from his cab and swapped out his work boots for cleats.
"He was a tough guy, looked like he'd been in some fights," Weinstein says. "He ran two 100-yard sprints and was gassed. He was done."
He saw tensions rise to the point Winner was screaming at him to have Miami-Dade police "start arresting people" when the picket line crept onto the property of St. Thomas University, then the Dolphins' training site.
"What's going to happen when this thing is over and these guys have to go to court?" Weinstein screamed back at Winner. "They're going to be missing practice time."
No arrests were ever made, thanks to the delicate truce Weinstein negotiated between the players, police and university officials.
Not even the frequent presence of Jimmy Hoffa's stepson, South Florida union spokesman Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien, could upset the relative peace Weinstein was charged with maintaining.
Most remarkably, Weinstein put Shula on the phone with a judge in Volusia County and heard him successfully bargain for temporary custody of a second-string tight end charged with second-degree murder.
Rich Siler, who had played at Texas A&M, failed to tell the Dolphins he was out on bond and awaiting trial after a New Year's shooting death he allegedly caused by grabbing the arm of his gun-wielding brother.
Weinstein, who didn't have time to make his usual background checks, got a call from the judge's office shortly before the Dolphins were to fly 65 fill-ins to Seattle for the first replacement game.
He asked Shula and Winner if they could do without Siler, who wasn't legally permitted to leave the state.
No way, the answer came, "he's on all the special teams."
Two plays into the Seahawks game, Siler broke his ankle and was done.
Siler was placed on injured reserve and eventually turned over his full-season pay to the victim's family as part of his penalty.
Weinstein was there the following week when Shula coached that rag-tag group to a 44-0 win over the Chiefs, a lightly attended game that marked the first official contest at Joe Robbie Stadium.
That's how you get the most remarkable page in any NFL media guide: Page 77 of the Dolphins' record book.
First touchdown in stadium history: Rickey Isom.
First tackle: Mike Lambrecht.
First sack: Ike Readon.
First captains: Kyle Mackey, Tim Pidgeon and Demetrious Johnson.
"To this day I can picture some of these replacement guys," Weinstein says. " They weren't 'scabs.' Those are guys that were in the league that crossed over. These were just kids looking to try to play."
The strike wiped out what was supposed to be the home opener, two weeks earlier against the Giants. Weinstein drove Shula over to the privately financed stadium that Sunday so he could be interviewed on national television.
Together they looked at all those empty orange seats and suites – all of which had been sold out – and lamented Robbie's awful luck.
"I can't imagine what the guy lost that day," Weinstein says. "We're not talking about Stephen Ross or Wayne Huizenga, where they had other things going on. This was his thing."
Once the strike ended, some of the injured replacements, such as defensive lineman Derek Wimberly, were kept around the Dolphins' facility to rehab. Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson was a "calming factor" in that post-strike period, Weinstein says.
"Eventually Coach Shula realized to get the locker room back he had to get those [replacement] guys out of there," Weinstein says. "I don't think he really wanted to do it, but he realized it was the best thing to do."
He shakes his head again, staring at those strange names on page 77.
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