Anthony Allen says he finds himself talking âpretty oftenâ about his first game as a receiver with the Washington Redskins.
It came 20 years ago, against the then St. Louis Cardinals at RFK Stadium. Allenâs stats: eight catches for 255 yards and three touchdowns, in less than three quarters of work.
A memorable debut, for sure. But Allen, who now coaches football at Garfield High School in Seattle, his alma mater, has learned over the years that not a whole lot of folks remember he even played on the team. He used to own a highlight tape of the 1987 season that helped him convert nonbelievers.
âI messed up and recorded General Hospital over it a few years ago,â Allen says, laughing. âBut I remember that day really well. Really well.â
Since accidentally destroying the video evidence, Allen can still direct doubters to the Redskins record book. And there, under single-game records, youâll find his name and those 255 yards receiving.
After all these years, Allenâs yardage total remains the franchiseâs best. Yet, apart from Allenâs family and burgundy-and-gold trivia buffs, he and his big day are pretty much forgotten.
Time has doubtless contributed to Allenâs anonymityââI canât believe itâs been 20 years. Thatâs something,â he saysâand the 1987 season had plenty of compelling storylines for Skins fans. For one: Those Redskins ended up giving Coach Joe Gibbs his second Super Bowl win.
But most important, thereâs the fact that a lot of fans donât consider Allenâs record, or any of his Redskins stats that year, legitimate. The game against the Cardinals was not only his first game here, it was also the first game played after members of the NFL Players Association went on strike just two weeks into the 1987 season.
The NFL owners responded to the playersâ job action by forming teams to play until the strike was settled. âReplacement players,â the owners called them.
The Players Association used another name: âscabs.â
Allen had played two seasons with the USFL coming out of the University of Washington in 1983. And when the rival league folded, he caught on with the Atlanta Falcons for another two seasons. He thought heâd have a third season with the Falcons, but he was cut on the last day of training camp in the summer of 1987.
âI was shocked when Atlanta let me go, and I knew I could still play,â says Allen. âI went home and prepared to get picked up by somebody else in the league.â
His phone had started ringing as soon as the Falcons cut him. But none of the offers coming in from essentially every team in the NFL were for him to sign on for the regular season. Instead, personnel staffers, including the Redskinsâ Bobby Beathard and Charley Casserly, asked Allen to be a part of the teams they were putting together if the union called a strike.
Allen says he wanted to avoid being a tool of management and had hoped to stay loyal to his former Falcons teammates and to the union. He figured the âscabâ tag would stick with him and would hurt his prospects for a post-strike career.
âBoth Casserly and Beathard called me,â he says. âBut I turned them down. I turned everybody down. I stopped answering the phone.â
Allen didnât believe the replacement games would ever really come off. But he caved when he realized that the season would indeed go on with or without him. The turning point came when Dan Henning, the Redskins receivers coach in 1987, followed up Casserly and Beathardâs pitch and left a message at Allenâs home.
âI knew Dan from the Falcons, and he knew what I could do,â says Allen. âHe said, âListen, youâre 27 years old. You are at the crossroads now: If you donât [join a replacement team], you may get back in the league, you may not get in. Weâre giving you a chance to get back in right now.ââ
The aggressive recruiting by Skins management would pay dividends once the union walked out on Sept. 22. Washington had the best scab team in the league.
On the other side of the picket line, the ârealâ Redskins, led by linebacker and shop steward Neil Olkewicz, were the most tight-knit group in the NFL. Not a single player from Washingtonâs regular roster crossed to play in the replacement games. No other team could make that claim.
The union players got together outside Redskin Park every day to stage vocal and occasionally violent protests during the replacement teamâs practices.
Because of his initial reticence, Allen arrived in D.C. just three days before the Cardinals game. While guys with household names like Monk, Clark, and Sanders walked the line, Allen joined a receiving corps made up of no-names Keiron Bigby and Richard Johnson.
Allenâs familiarity with Henningâs offense put him at the head of the replacement class.
âOne day Iâm in Seattle,â Allen says, âa few days later Iâm the primary receiver.â
Just as Redskins management had outrecruited everybody else, Joe Gibbs and his staff outcoached the opposition. The Cardinals had picket-crossing all-stars such as Neil Lomax, Roy Green, and J.T. Smith in uniform for the first scab gameâas well as offensive lineman Ray Brown, whose long NFL career was launched as a strikebreaking Cardinal. But as a team, they were no match for the replacement Skins.
The guy in the Doug Williams role for the Redskins strike team was a New York bartender named Ed Rubbert. The first pass Rubbert threw Allenâs way ended as a 37-yard touchdown. On the Skinsâ next offensive play, Allen beat all-pro safety Smith, caught a bomb from Rubbert, and went 88 yards for a second score. In the second half, he caught another 44-yard TD. With three minutes to go in the third quarter, Allen caught his last pass of the day, having already set the receiving record thatâs still on the books.
The replacement Redskins won that game, 28-21. A week later they crushed the Giants, 38-12, with Lawrence Taylor among the picket-line crossers. In the final strike game, played after the Players Association waved the white flag and asked to come back to work, Washington beat Tony Dorsett, Danny White, and other scabby Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football.
No other team went undefeated during the strike. Gibbsâ reputation as a coaching genius was secured.
âIt was tough on Joe, coaching us and telling us that no matter what, weâre âreal Redskins,â and then on the other side still trying to keep his regular guys together while theyâre out,â says Allen. âI was very impressed with how he handled everything. Here we were, playing teams with All-Pros, and we were just, well, just guysâregular guys. And we were beating them.â
As Henning had insinuated during his recruiting pitch, Allenâs play during the strike games did indeed provide his re-entry to the NFL. He stuck with the Redskins for the rest of the regular season, and though he didnât catch any more passes, he has a Super Bowl ring.
He says Darrell Green and Dexter Manley were among the regular players who let him know fairly often that they didnât appreciate his crossing the picket line. In return, Allen says, he would jab back that the replacement playersâ performance handed the team first place in the division when the strike was over.
âI wasnât going to back down,â he says, âand I think the guys really did appreciate that we played hard.â
He was cut following the 1988 season.
The Skins strike team inspired The Replacements, a feature film starring Keanu Reeves. Allen has never seen the movie and has even turned the channel âa few timesâ when itâs appeared on his TV screen as he surfed.
âIâm never going to watch it,â he says. âI donât need to see somebody else saying how it was. I remember how it was.â