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A Look Back at the 1987 Chicago 'Spare' Bears

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On April 6th a judge in Minnesota will decide if the NFL owners can lockout their players. If the owners are allowed to lockout the players, there will be no football until an agreement can be reached between the two sides in this battle between millionaires and billionaires. In 1987, the last time there was a work stoppage in the NFL, the games played on with replacement players. That is not an option in 2011. Back then it was the players that went on strike, prompting the owners to hire "scabs" to come in and play the games. The Bears went 2-1 in the 3 games with replacements, and those players were known as the Spare Bears.

In 1987 the owners weren't about to cancel more games than they had to. After the strike of 1982 saw the 16 game schedule limited to only 9 games, the owners had a plan in place. The players went on strike after week 2, so the owners canceled week 3 and brought in replacements. The coaches had to get their team ready to play because week 4 would go on as scheduled with or without the real NFL players. Fun Fact #1 - The movie The Replacements was loosely based on the Washington Redskins replacement team.

Bears Head Coach Mike Ditka didn't make many friends when he called his team of replacements his "real" players. Then again did Iron Mike ever care much for what anyone thought of him? Coach Ditka and his assistants did their best in preparing their team of recently cut players and regular Joe's just living the dream, and even though Da Coach refereed to his guys as the "real" Bears, everyone else called them the Spare Bears.

'Spare Bears' was a much better moniker than some other teams were saddled with. Would you like to be known as one of these? San Francisco Phoney Niners, New Orleans Saint Elsewheres, Washington ScabSkins, Los Angeles Shams, Miami Dol-Finks, or Seattle Sea-scabs.

The Spare Bears had a few players play in those 3 games that went on to some football success. The most successful being New Orleans Head Coach Sean Payton. Payton appeared in all 3 games and threw a grand total of 23 passes completing 8, but as a coach he's know to have as sharp an offensive mind as there is coaching today, and then there's that Super Bowl ring he has... Fun Fact #2 - Payton's 28 yard scramble against the Eagles was their longest run from scrimmage in all 3 replacement games, and the 2nd longest for the entire '87 Bears season.

The starting QB for two of those three games was Mike Hohensee, who like Payton only played for the Spare Bears in the NFL, but he went on to lead the Chicago Rush to the ArenaBowl XX championship in the AFL. Fun Fact #3 - Hohensee threw the 1st ever TD pass in Arena League history.

Defensive back Lorenzo Lynch turned his replacement experience into an 11 year career in the NFL, including 82 starts in 'real' games. Fun Fact #4 - You may have heard of his Beast of a nephew.

Punter Tommy Barnhardt played 13 more seasons after his 2 games with Chicago in 1987, and is #26 on the all time leader board for number of punts in the NFL.

Offensive lineman John Wojciechowski started all 3 of those strike games and 1 additional game in 1987. He went on to play 6 more seasons in Chicago including 39 total starts in 92 career games.

Wide Receiver Glen Kozlowski was drafted by the Bears in 1986 and spent all of that year on injured reserve. He was cut in 1987, but returned to lead the Spare Bears in receptions with 15. His tough special teams play allowed the former BYU teammate of Jim McMahon to make the Bears roster from 1988-1992. He has since gone on to coach at a couple local High Schools in the Chicago area. Fun Fact #5 - Kozlowski's DB/TE/WR coach during his time coaching at Wauconda High School was my QB Coach/Offensive Coordinator last year.

Good old Wikipedia has some interesting stuff about the '87 season as did this, this, and this.