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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.

On the first day of the picket line, as strikers gathered with signs outside of Arrowhead Stadium, Chiefs players Dino Hackett, Bill Maas and Paul Coffman rolled up on the flatbed of a pickup truck, brandishing unloaded shotguns and claiming they were looking for scabs. One of them had a growling dog on a leash.

“The first day, they were waiting for us, but the bus went a different way,” Doubiago recalled. “As we made it to the stadium, players chased us down. They shut this big chain link fence right before they got there. The next day, they were pretty hostile. We had a window broken on the bus. They were screaming at us.”

And it wasn’t just NFL players. Doubiago said that employees of United or American Airlines were striking at the same time, and they joined forces with the athletes.

“I remember this lady, she was one of the angriest there. She was on the picket line, too,” Doubiago said. “At the end of three weeks, the players weren’t showing up anymore really, but she was still there.”

Later, striking Chiefs would engage in a shouting match with disgruntled fans, all caught by TV cameras.

It was hard for Doubiago to process.

“We knew most of these guys. We’d been to training camp with them,” he said. “These were your buddies. We’d bled with them a little.”

And no Chief was more militant than Del Rio. At 24, the Hayward native had just been traded from New Orleans to Kansas City for a fifth-round draft choice.

He had not yet developed into the linebacker who would spend seven seasons as a starter for the Cowboys and Vikings. But he was a vocal leader on the labor front.

Just a couple days into the strike, one of the replacement players accused Del Rio of slashing his tires in the parking lot. They began to argue. Otis Taylor, a team scout who also happened to be the franchise leader in receiving yards and touchdowns at the time, attempted to intervene. According to contemporary reports in the Kansas City Star, Del Rio called Taylor “a dirty scab” and a “lowlife,” and slammed the 45-year-old to the ground. They fought for several minutes.

Taylor wound up with a bloodied face, and he later filed a police complaint and a lawsuit against Del Rio. The latter was settled out of court two years later.

Friday, I asked Del Rio if he regretted anything he had done during the strike. He was succinct and adamant. “No,” he said. “No.”

Doubiago is conflicted about his own role.

“My mother’s side of the family was all from back east. They were major union-backing people,” he said. “When I realized what I was doing, I questioned myself a little. But look, it’s not like I’m taking food from a coal miner who’s trying to support a wife and child. I just want to play football. And playing NFL football was a lifetime dream.

“I think if Howie Long or any of those players, if they were in the same situation I was in, if they got cut and were scrambling just to make a team, I guarantee 99.9 percent of them would do the same thing I did.”

The replacement players suited up for three games, though an increasing number of “real” players wound up crossing the line. Those three games were not kind to the Chiefs, who went 0-3 and were outscored 103-34. Still, it was a memorable time for Doubiago.

When the Chiefs played the Raiders at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Oct. 4, Doubiago said, it was over 100 degrees in LA and close to 120 on the field.

If that weren’t challenging enough, the 5.9-magnitude Whittier Narrows earthquake had hit the region on Oct. 1, and a sizable aftershock woke the Chiefs early on the morning of the game.

“I stood in the door frame and watched the water slosh out of the toilet,” Doubiago said. “It was a new hotel, it was supposed to be totally earthquake-proof, and it swayed back and forth. A voice came over the intercom and said, ‘Please return to your rooms.’ I looked out the window and saw a bunch of players out there in their underwear.”

The Chiefs traveled to Miami a week later and played the first game ever in Joe Robbie Stadium.

Before the third replacement game, Chiefs coach Frank Gansz informed the players that the strike was ending. This would be their curtain call. It was just as well for Doubiago, who tore his hamstring (again) at the end of the game, chasing down an interception in a home loss to the Broncos.

A key focus of the 30-for-30 documentary was the Redskins’ decision not to award Super Bowl rings to their replacement players, whose 3-0 record had helped propel the team to the championship. Doubiago can relate. He left without a single meaningful piece of Chiefs memorabilia.

“It was pretty much ‘there’s the door,’” Doubiago said. “They threatened that we wouldn’t get our game check if a helmet or jersey was missing.”

He had signed with the Chiefs for a minimum base salary of $55,000, or a little less than $3,500 per game.

Doubiago would later play some rugby, and would coach football at Mendocino High for a while. He now spends his summers in Mendocino and his winters in Utah, where he has managed skis condos for the past 27 years.

“I’m a snowboarder,” he said. “I can snowboard from these condos onto the mountain and back off.”

Del Rio’s path is better documented. After a solid and lengthy stint as an NFL player, he embarked on a coaching career that is now in its 21st year. He is wildly popular in Oakland after taking the Raiders to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. He doesn’t particularly care to talk about the 1987 strike, and who can blame him? It was 30 years ago, and he has plenty on his plate as a head coach.

But Del Rio is clearly proud of what he and his brethren accomplished in ’87, and beyond.

“That’s what I tell the players, tell ’em all now,” he said. “Don’t forget about us guys that came before, you know?”

Del Rio elaborated: “I mean, obviously, it was an important time. The trajectory of the league changed significantly on behalf of the players, because of that effort. So it was needed. It took strength, and it took solidarity. And obviously things have improved tremendously for the players, and that’s what it was all about.”

Thirty years later, the replacement games are generally considered an ugly chapter in NFL history.

Players pitted against teammates, management pitted against players, fans pitted against other fans. With substandard, sparsely attended football games as a backdrop.

But listening to Doubiago and Del Rio, it’s hard to find villains on either side of the picket line. NFL regulars had valid reasons to agitate in 1987, and a labor strike is only as strong as the resolve of other workers not to be lured into the vacuum. Del Rio had every right to blow a fuse when the replacements showed up.

But when is a strike breaker not a scab? When we’re talking about playing in the NFL. To anyone who has taken football seriously, The League isn’t a paycheck or a pension. It’s a lifelong dream. Who can blame the Dan Doubiagos of the world for making that dream come true, if only for 24 days?

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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