So I suppose I could have titled this article, “How Keanu Reeves Is Connected to the Most Embarrassing Loss in NFL History” and told the exact same story I’m going to tell about the famous “Scab Game” between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys at the tail end of the infamous 1987 NFL strike.
But if you’ve ever seen The Replacements, the 2000 film starring Reeves and Gene Hackman that’s loosely based on the Washington team that shocked the world by pulling off one of the greatest upsets of all time, you know that longtime actor and creator of The Mandalorian, Jon Favreau, was easily the most entertaining part of that film. Just a heads up here…if you’ve never seen the movie, there will be spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
Jon Favreau was clearly the best part of ‘The Replacements’
Jon Favreau played Danny Bateman in The Replacements, a former Michigan State walk-on linebacker who later served in the Gulf War and was a member of the Washington, D.C. SWAT team when he was recruited by Hackman’s character to be a replacement player for the fictional Washington Sentinels. He provided many of the best comedic moments throughout the film, including numerous occasions in which he lit up his own teammates.
So we won’t go into the entire film here (and its many, many mistakes) but it boils down to Washington needing to beat a team from Dallas (they never even say the team’s actual name) to get into the postseason. What makes that task so difficult is that Jon Favreau & Co. have to beat the actual Dallas team, not the replacement players as the entire Dallas team crosses the picket line leading into the game. Keanu Reeves’ Shane Falco character makes a dramatic speech, leads the team to victory, and that’s that.
Now, what some may not know or remember is that dramatic win actually happened, albeit under different circumstances, as a group of replacement players led the Washington Redskins to an inspiring win over the Dallas Cowboys, who were playing with the majority of their regular players, including multiple Hall of Famers, in Week 6 of the 1987 NFL season.
A group of replacement players led the Washington Redskins to a dramatic victory over the Dallas Cowboys in 1987
Following Week 2 of the 1987 NFL season, the players’ union went on strike, a strike that essentially ended up being worthless as the owners clearly won that 24-day battle. But the reasons for the strike aren’t what we’re getting into here.
Week 3 games were canceled, which shortened the season to 15 games. Play resumed in Week 4 with replacement players…well, mostly replacement players as numerous big names ended up crossing the picket line, including Dallas Cowboys defensive star, Randy White, which caused a ton of problems in Big D.
As for the Washington Redskins, they’d kept their eye on a number of players when it became a real possibility that a strike would occur but the group of replacement players that filled out Washington’s roster was still a hodgepodge of randoms, just as that crazy group from The Replacements was.
There was a security guard, a gym teacher, and even a guy that was finishing up a sentence for attempting to sell crack to an undercover cop. And as you may remember from The Replacements if you’ve seen it, you remember the Earl Wilkerson/Ray Smith character that was let out of prison to play, the character that clashed with Jon Favreau’s character when the team was first put together. In reality, the player that character was based on, quarterback Tony Robinson, had come from a halfway house, not prison. But back to the real story.
The Redskins’ replacement players defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in Week 4 at home and then went on the road and beat the New York Giants in Week 5. In Week 6, Washington was again on the road for a Monday night matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, who had the majority of their big stars in the lineup that night, including starting quarterback Danny White, future Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett, and future Hall of Fame defensive tackle and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Randy White.
But that didn’t matter as Washington, who was just one of two NFL teams to not have a single player cross the picket line (the Philadelphia Eagles were the other), went out and played an incredible game and gave the Cowboys what some consider to be the most embarrassing loss in franchise history. The Redskins came away with a 13-7 victory in what would turn out to be the final game using replacement players.
The regular players returned the following week and the Redskins went on to win the Super Bowl that season.
The replacements were given Super Bowl rings 30 years later
When the Washington Redskins were given their Super Bowl rings following the 1987 season, the replacement players weren’t included, which offended many of them for a long time, as seen in the fantastic ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, Year of the Scab.
However, amends were finally made when Washington awarded these unsung heroes with rings of their own in a ceremony in 2018, the year after Year of the Scab aired, which put a lot of pressure on the franchise to make things right.
Perhaps had Jon Favreau gone full Danny Bateman on the franchise…or maybe if more people had actually watched The Replacements…things would have been made right a lot sooner.
Stats and scores courtesy of Pro Football Reference