McGinnis on Spare Bears' '87 game in Philly: 'It was surreal"

Want to know what it was like to coach replacement players during the 1987 NFL players' strike? Former Bears' assistant Dave McGinnis recalls the Spare Bears' first game in Philadelphia.

The 1987 NFL players' strike hit few places harder than Philadelphia, a city with strong unions that resisted the league's use of replacement players. In fact, when the Eagles opened at home with the first of three replacement games, slightly more than 4,000 persons showed up at Veterans Stadium ... and if you've forgotten, Dave McGinnis hasn't.

"It was surreal," he said.

The former Arizona head coach, now a color analyst for Tennessee Titans' broadcasts, was a defensive assistant then in his second season with the Chicago Bears -- the Eagles' first opponent for replacement games -- and he had no trouble recalling what that game was like when we caught up to him on our latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast on the 30th anniversary of the 1987 strike.

"What we had to do was to be able to pare down what we did," McGinnis said of the Spare Bears in an uproarious interview. "So we went with a very basic package ... we pared the playbook down a lot, a lot, a lot. The basic thing we were trying to do was get these guys in shape so they could last ... and make sure their body parts wouldn't just fly off.

"We didn't know how many games this would take, so we pared it down and flew in there to Philadelphia, and that was crazy, too. Because we fly in there, and at the night meeting the first thing (Bears' head coach Mike) Ditka tells us ... all of us together at the first meeting we have before we even break up into groups ... is that, 'Look, guys, everybody don't meet too long tonight because we have to wake up at 2:30 in the morning to get across the bridge because we think the unions might block the bridge so we can't get to the stadium.'

"So we're up at 2:30... 3 in the morning ... and we're rousting out and they bring in a bunch of mattresses from the hospital. So we're sleeping on the floor in the old Philly dressing room (at the Vet), and you can hear the raccoons and the rats out there running around at three in the morning. We woke them up. We're sleeping there in the locker room, just lying down with a mattress from the hospital, and here's Mike Ditka getting ready to lie down over here, and I'm going, 'OK, you want to be a big-time ball coach, here you go.'

"So then they woke us up at about 7:30, and, of course, Buddy (Ryan) was the head coach of the Eagles, and Jeff Fish (Jeff Fisher) was on that staff. Then we all went upstairs in the stadium there and had breakfast together. They cooked us breakfast then. Then we came back down and played in front of about 4,000 people. I mean, it was impressive."

The game was not. The Bears won, 35-3.

"What was amazing," said McGinnis, now on a roll, "was they had the Philadelphia cops there, and they're on those big old horses and stuff. And I can remember (Bears' owners) Ed and Virginia McCaskey trying to drive on through, and the picketers were there. Guys, it was surreal.

"Because that game ... defensively, it was crazy. Jeff Fish and I talk about it all the time. They kicked off and their kicker tried to cover the kick, and we knocked him out. We looked up, and that dude's standing next to Ditka. I mean, c'mon, guys. It was nuts.

"(Defensive coordinator) Vince Tobin called an all-out blitz, a zero-blitz, every snap of the game. I think we had 11 sacks that game or something like that. We ran a zero-blitz every snap because the quarterback was Guido Merkens. C'mon, man."

Dave McGinni