Best NFL replacement player? It was Washington's Vital
Thirty years later, the public is still hailing to the Redskins.
In 1987, the NFL players went out on strike and the team owners decided to play without them, stocking rosters with replacement players. The strike lasted three games – and those games counted in the standings.
The Washington Redskins went 3-0 in the strike games and used that success as the launching pad for an 11-5 season, an NFC East title and the second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. So it comes as no surprise that in our Talk of Fame Network poll last week, when we asked our listeners and readers to vote on the best replacement player, it was a Redskin. Running back Lionel Vital won with 37 percent of the vote.
The poll was restricted to six players who did not play an NFL game before or after the strike. Dallas safety Tommy Haynes finished second with 22 percent of the vote, followed by Chicago pass rusher Sean McInerney at 14 percent.
Vital was a seventh-round draft pick by Washington in 1986 but was cut in training camp by both the Redskins and the Giants. He returned for the strike games the following season and was the NFL’s best running back during the brief replacement era, rushing for 82 yards in the first game against the St. Louis Cardinals, 128 in the second game against the Giants and 136 on a Monday night against the Cowboys in his NFL career finale. That Dallas roster was fortified with several veteran players who crossed the picket line, including Tony Dorsett, Danny White, Randy White and Ed “Too Tall” Jones.
Ironically, Vital is now the director of college scouting for the Cowboys.
Haynes had three sacks and three interceptions for the Cowboys, who went 2-1 in the strike games. Haynes received the vote of Talk of Fame Network host Ron Borges in the poll.
“I’ll vote for Haynes because as the Hall of Fame committee has proven over the last three decades, it has no love for safeties,” Borges said.
McInerney collected 3 ½ sacks in his strike debut and 6 ½ in the three games he played. He got the vote of Talk of Fame Network host Rick Gosselin in the poll.
“Anyone who can collect 6 ½ sacks in three games would be a millionaire a couple times over in today’s NFL,” Gosselin said.
Clark Judge, the third of the three Talk of Fame Network hosts, cast his vote for Vital, who went on to win a Grey Cup playing in Canada with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1989.
"Vital deserved another chance and got it ... in the CFL," Judge said. "Two years, two championships. That's hard not to like."