Three months after he graduated from Northwestern University in September 1987, East Meadow’s Rich Borresen was embarking on his post-collegiate football career at his brother’s construction business when a surprise turn of events brought him back to the field on the biggest stage.
The Dallas Cowboys picked up Borresen as a free agent, but he was cut in training camp. Weeks later, though, his football life was resurrected after the National Football League Players’ Association voted to strike two weeks into the season after a collective bargaining agreement expired. When NFL owners opted to field replacement players during the work stoppage 30 years ago, Dallas placed a call to Borresen, and the Valley Stream native suddenly found himself fulfilling his professional football dream.
“As a 22-year old kid you just want to play, and this was a way to extend the dream,” said Borresen, a 26-year East Meadow resident. “I thought the dream had ended.”
Borresen played his first NFL game before family and friends in his backyard when the Cowboys traveled to Giants Stadium to face the New York Jets on Oct. 4, 1987. The former standout at Valley Stream Central also suited up for the Cowboys in home games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins before the strike ended. During the three games, he started at tight end, but never touched the ball, except for one kick return.
“Back then the tight end was a glorified fullback,” said Borresen, who transferred to Northwestern from Nassau Community College. “I wish I could be playing now, with how much tight ends are a part of the offense.”
The game against the Redskins aired on ABC’s “Monday Night Football” and was one of the biggest NFL upsets of all time. The Cowboys had six regular starters for the matchup, including two future Hall of Famers, but still lost 13-7 to a Washington team comprised entirely of replacement players. The Cowboys had 20 regular players cross the picket line, and Borresen said they largely treated the replacements “with resentment.”
That Redskins-Cowboy game was highlighted in a September ESPN documentary titled “Year of the Scab,” in which Borresen is spotted on the sidelines next to legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry. The film spotlights the replacement players facing adversity and being called “scabs” during and after their chance at football immortality.
“It didn’t bother us,” Borresen said of the insults. “We were all there for one reason — to extend the dream.”
Three decades later, Borresen says he appreciates for what the players were fighting for, given the health issues many retired players face. Borresen, who suffered a number of injuries at Northwestern, opted to not pursue other professional football opportunities after his brief NFL adventure ended and he returned to the construction industry. He co-founded PRB Innovations in East Meadow with his brother Paul in 1991.
Borresen’s athleticism carried over to his four children, who have competed at the collegiate level in various sports. Borresen, who still hasn’t watched any game tapes from those three Cowboys games, has enjoyed watching his daughter Jenna shine as goalkeeper for the Hofstra women’s soccer team this fall and has given much thought to the 30th anniversary of fulfilling his dream.
“Playing in the NFL is something you strive for your whole life,” he said.