There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Ed Rubbert hopes to be a gym teacher someday.
But for now, Rubbert will keep his job at the Uptown, a sports bar in his hometown of New City, N.Y. There’s jock-y memorabilia on the walls of the bar, where he’s worked for seven years, but nothing that would betray Rubbert’s days in the NFL. On Sunday, just about everybody in the place will be rooting for the Giants, and Rubbert, who grew up a Giants fan, won’t let on that he once played quarterback for the other team, the winless one, the one with all the quarterback problems. He never lets on.
“I don’t talk about that much. I haven’t even thought about those times for a long time,” Rubbert told me last weekend.
But Rubbert really was a Washington Redskin. By one yardstick, he is the most successful quarterback in the team’s history: The Skins never lost when he starteda claim no other QB can make. And if he really wanted to impress or outrage his co-workers and the bar patrons, he could brag about the time he led Washington to a 38-12 rout of the Giants in the Meadowlands. You can look it up.
That win over the Giants came early in the 1987 season, which ended with the Skins crushing Denver in Super Bowl XXII. By the time the championship game was played, Rubbert was already headed for the “Where Are They Now?” file.
Less than two weeks after the win over the Giants, in fact, his NFL career was over. It ended when the NFL Players Association called off the players strike and ordered the “real” Redskins to get back in uniform.
Rubbert, you see, was a replacement player. A scab, some would call him. That’s why most football fans, even up in New City, don’t remember him. That’s why he doesn’t talk about it.
Redskins management, who assembled the best strike team in the league, knew about Rubbert long before the strike hit. Jerry Rhome, the quarterbacks coach, worked him out after his senior season at the University of Louisville in 1986, and those workouts led to an invitation to Washington’s training camp the following year.
But the Redskins already had two proven pro quarterbacks in CarlisleJay Schroeder and Doug Williamsand general manager Bobby Beathard determined early in camp that the team wouldn’t be saving a space on the roster for young Rubbert. After getting cut, he went back to Louisville to keep in shape.
Then the labor pains, evolving from NFLPA members’ desire to gain the sort of free agency system their baseball brethren had won through strikes and lawsuits, flared into a full-scale walkout. And Rubbert was among the first guys invited to Redskin Park.
He accepted the team’s offer to fly to Washington, but he soon lamented the decision. The Redskins had the NFLPA’s most active and unified chapter. While a handful of players or more from literally every other team in the league disregarded the strike order and crossed the picket line, not a single Skin crossed. And the union members didn’t hide the disdain they held for guys who hoped the strike would be their ticket to the pros.
Guys like Rubbert.
“There was a lot more friction than I thought there would be,” he says. “A guy [Darrell Grant] smashed a window on the bus taking us to practice, and all the guys were yelling at us. And what made it worse was that I knew a lot of these guys from my time in training camp, and I really liked them. Crossing the line made me feel pretty bad.”
So bad that, just one day after arriving, he repacked his bags and flew home to New City. But a call from Coach Joe Gibbs, a man known for his persuasive powers, brought Rubbert back to D.C.
A week later, Rubbert was in uniform at RFK Stadium for the first replacement game, against the Cardinals. Though Cards’ stars Neil Lomax and Roy Green crossed the line and played, it was the quarterback-receiver tandem of Rubbert and Anthony Allen, a replacement from the University of Washington, that stole the show.
“I basically met that guy in the huddle during the game,” Rubbert says of Allen. “He didn’t come to any practice, but when the game came, there he was. I just kept throwing to him.”
Allen caught three touchdown passes from Rubbert and gained 255 yards receiving against the Cardinals, a club
single-game mark that still stands.
A week later, Rubbert and the no-name Scabskins crushed the Giants. Then came a Monday Night Football appearance against the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Essentially all of the Pokes’ big namesRandy White, Danny White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Tony Dorsetthad crossed the picket line and were in uniform.
Early on in the biggest game of his life, Rubbert badly bruised his shoulder. His backup, Tony Robinson, who was playing on work release from a Tennessee prison, came in and directed a 13-7 upset to keep Rubbert’s perfect record as a starter intact. Richie Petitbon, then the defensive coordinator, called the replacement players’ win over Dallas “the most rewarding game of the ’80s.”
It was also Rubbert’s last. Schroeder and Williams and the rest of the striking players came back just days after the Dallas game, putting the replacement players back out of work. (Rubbert’s roommate during the strike, Darrick Brilz, is an amazing exception: He was kept on the Washington roster and is in his 11th year in the NFL, now a center with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is believed to be the only Skins replacement player still playing. According to the NFLPA, three other scabs are also in the league: Ray Brown of the 49ers, David Diaz-Insante of the Broncos, and Bills’ QB Doug Flutie. “We don’t hold it against anybody anymore,” says NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis. “That’s the past. Time has healed all those wounds.”)
The replacement Skins’ 3-0 record meant the Skins had a four-game lead over defending Super Bowl champions and Eastern division rivals the Giants when the strike ended. When Williams and Washington went on to win the Super Bowl, Rubbert, like each of the replacement players, was awarded a playoff share of $27,000more than he’d made during his three-game stint in burgundy and gold. No championship ring came his way, however.
Rubbert’s performance got him invited to training camps for a few years after the strike, but he never stuck around. He got a degree in physical education from Louisville in 1990, then moved back to New City. He now lives in a group house not far from his folks’ home.
At 33, Rubbert’s career desires are, for an ex-pro, mundane. He thinks he’ll have his teaching certificate within a year, try to hook on with the local school district, and maybe coach some at his old high school.
Rubbert doesn’t even own a football anymore, but he occasionally tosses one around with neighborhood kids before going to work at the bar. They don’t know they’re throwing with an NFL veteran, he says, and he’s not going to tell them. (Skins chroniclers haven’t done much to get that information out, either: Rubbert’s name is misspelled in both the Washington Post’s official history of the Redskins and Allen Beall’s exhaustive Braves on the WarpathRupert and Ruppert, respectively.) Anonymity sits fine with the ex-quarterback.
“I’ve got no regrets now,” he says. “I had a great opportunity, and it was a weird, crazy, fun time. But that was all so long ago, and I don’t have much of a reason to think or talk about it. Now, I’m where I want to be.”Dave McKenna