In The Replacements, Keanu Reeves plays a washed-up quarterback reluctant to return to football. But when the real-life Washington Redskins wanted out-of-work QB Ed Rubbert to cross a very imposing picket line during the 1987 NFL players' strike, the three-year starter at the University of Louisville didn't hesitate. "I didn't even have a job at the time," recalls Rubbert, who had been cut by the Redskins the previous year during the preseason. "I was just back home in New York working out, staying in shape in case I got another shot."
The '87 "Scabskins," as they became affectionately known, were a colorful collection of castoffs. Free safety Skip Lane left a $175,000-a-year job in real estate, running back Walter Holman was a security guard, and Rubbert's backup QB, Tony Robinson, was on a work furlough from prison (for trying to deliver cocaine).
Rubbert says he nearly quit after a couple of days at the Redskins training facility. "I was feeling bad. I'd met a lot of the Redskins, and I wasn't feeling right about being there. I didn't want to get in the league that way." But head coach Joe Gibbs quickly coaxed him into coming back. And Rubbert would go on to throw for 334 yards in his first game, including three touchdowns to Anthony Allen, whose 255 yards receiving that day is still a Redskins record.
The Scabskins went 3-0, including a win over a Dallas Cowboys team that featured several starters -- such as Tony Dorsett and Ed "Too Tall" Jones -- who had chosen to return to work. The three Scabskin wins wound up counting in the final standings for a Washington team that would win the championship, led by Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to play in the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, Rubbert would never again play in a regular-season NFL game. But the 34-year-old PE teacher and part owner of a sports bar in New City, N.Y., has fond memories. He says he and his fellow replacement players were given tickets to the Super Bowl in San Diego and a winner's share of $27,000. Not to mention the gratitude of the men who'd been screaming at them from the picket lines. "I'd say half the guys called after the strike and thanked us," Rubbert says.