On This Date in Sports September 21, 1982: No Football League

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The NFL season grinds to a halt as the players go on strike following Week 2. The strike, which lasted 57 days, wiped out seven weeks of the regular season, with players only seeing modest increases in salary and playoff bonuses once a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified. The Players’ Association wanted a wage scale based on the percentage of gross revenue, demanding 55%.

As players strived to achieve true free agency, a labor battle in NFL only seemed inevitable. There had previously been a preseason strike in 1970 and 1974 that was unable to achieve their goals. With the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement before the 1982 season, players looking for more leverage decided to follow the lead of the baseball players by striking in the middle of the season. Players had wanted 55% of gross revenue to be dedicated to player salaries.

The strike would go into effect with the conclusion of a Monday Night Game at the Meadowlands between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. The Packers would win the game 27-19, with the game ending just after midnight. During the strike, players attempted to stay busy by organizing a pair of All-Star Games which drew little interest from fans, as just 8,760 fans were on hand at RFK Stadium in Washington, with 5,331 fans attending a game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, as only a few of the top players in the league chose to participate. NBC attempted to satisfy football appetites by showing games from the Canadian Football League, while CBS replayed the previous year’s Super Bowl and showed Division III football games.

As the strike dragged into November, the players’ resolve began to weaken as they wanted and needed to get back to work. On November 16th, a deal was reached after a full day of negotiations, ending the strike after 57 days. Players reported to their teams the following day and were back on the field five days later. The new five-year deal showed the Players’ Association as the definitive loser. They ended up settling for an agreement not too dissimilar to the one offered by NFL Commissioner Peter Rozelle before the season began. This led to a revolt in the union that led to Executive Director Ed Garvey's ouster after the strike. The 57-day strike was the most prolonged professional work stoppage at the time, breaking the record of the 50-day strike set by Major League Baseball a year earlier.

The NFL worked quickly to salvage the remainder of the 1982 season with seven games canceled. Seeing the season reduced to nine games, with the final week going into January, marking the first time the regular season would end after the New Year. The NFL also decided to change the playoff format calling for a 16-team tournament at the end of the season, with the best eight teams in each conference making the playoffs. While the postseason format promised excitement in January, it was hard not to see what was lost by the strike. The canceled games included both matchups between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. The strike also delayed the Los Angeles debut of the Raiders, who played the first two games on the road in their first season after moving from Oakland.