ALAMEDA - Dan Doubiago has nothing against Jack Del Rio. Del Rio, I’m sure, hasn’t even heard of Doubiago. But 30 years ago they were locked in opposition, staring at one another from opposite sides of a picket line.
“Every once in a while, a friend will needle me and call me a scab,” Doubiago told me over the phone recently. “I hate that word, by the way. I was just trying to fulfill a dream.”
When I asked Del Rio whether it still bothered him that replacement players crossed the line in 1987, he said: “I don’t spend any more time on that thought. I mean, really, that’s that. It bothered me then.”
October will mark the 30th anniversary of the NFL strike games, an occasion documented by a superb ESPN 30-for-30 episode directed by John Dorsey. “Year of the Scab,” which debuted Tuesday, mostly follows the Washington Redskins replacement players, but it touches upon the major issues of the day: How NFL players, fighting for a system of free agency, voted to strike after the first two games of the 1987 season. How NFL teams, spurred by Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm, angled to break the work stoppage by using stand-ins. And how that strategy ultimately worked when striking players counted up their losses and called off the strike after 24 days.
It was a bittersweet time for Doubiago.
A two-way football star at little Mendocino High School, he was good enough to start at offensive tackle at the University of Utah. Doubiago had NFL ambitions from the start, and was invited to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks in 1983. But he showed up at camp at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, to find 27 other offensive linemen. He hardly got a practice rep.
Doubiago’s timing was good, though. The USFL was forming, greatly expanding the opportunities for football players. He played with the Pittsburgh Maulers (owned by Edward DeBartolo, Sr.) in 1984 and the L.A. Express in 1985, and was set to join the Orlando Renegades when the league folded in 1986.
Doubiago remembers the USFL fondly. He went head-to-head with Reggie White and blocked for the likes of Mike Rozier and Steve Young. He made a little money. But he still had that NFL itch.
So he gave The League one more try, at Kansas City Chiefs training camp in 1987. Partly because of the hamstring issues that had begun to drag him down, the Chiefs released Doubiago during camp.
“I got cut early, so I never got the chance to play in a preseason game, which sucked — pardon my language,” Doubiago said.
He was 27, and he figured his football days were over. Doubiago moved back to Utah and started filling out applications to return to school. Then his father called. “Have you seen the news?” his dad asked. “It looks like the NFL players might strike.” Doubiago figured he might be able to make a quick $1,000 before the labor dispute was settled.
“I was basically bouncing at a bar, and I said, ‘This sounds fun,’” Doubiago recalled. “I was not even thinking much about it. I remember finding out later that we’d be walking through picket lines.”
Ah, the picket lines. The 1987 strike varied from mildly tense to vicious, depending on which city you were in. And nowhere did things get uglier than in Kansas City.