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Tony Settles '87: Unexpected rewards

A short professional football stint as a replacement player for the Washington Redskins opened the door for greater things for the Elon alumnus.

Tony Settles ’87 at the documentary’s screening at the AFI DOCS Festival.

It was the summer of 1987 and Tony Settles had just wrapped up his fifth year at Elon as a business administration major and a linebacker for the football team. It was also the NFL pre-season, and when players decided to go on strike in September, citing unrestricted free agency as the cause, clubs were desperately looking for replacement players. That’s when Settles’ phone started to ring.

 An all-conference performer at Elon, Settles had signed a free agent contract with the Washington Redskins earlier that year and attended training camp but was released on the final cut. Before he left, he was asked if he would be willing to come back and play if there was a strike. He told them he’d think about it. He had played the game long enough to know his chances to play professionally were slim. Still, this was an opportunity he couldn’t resist. Two weeks into the 1987 season, the NFL’s players went on strike. When Settles got the call, he decided to go for it. “I’m just going to make the best of it,” he told himself. 

What happened next and how that decision impacted replacement players like Settles was the focus of “Year of the Scab,” a “30 For 30” documentary by ESPN that aired in September. Settles’ replacement team played and won three crucial games for the Redskins, which eventually went on to win the Super Bowl. Yet the replacement players were never recognized by the organization. While Settles had long put that part of his life behind him, the documentary brought back some memories from those days in the limelight.

Playing as a replacement, Settles didn’t expect to have a career as a professional football player after the strike. And while he believes he and his teammates deserve to receive a ring for their role in the club’s championship season, he is more interested in being a part of the Redskin family. “I had my fun; I had already made peace with watching football on Sundays,” he says. “I just would like to be accepted into the family.”

Even without that recognition, Settles has no regrets. If anything, playing as a replacement led him to a great business career. When he returned to North Carolina, there was a job offer waiting for him from Automated Information Management Inc., a small business in Maryland. It turns out an executive at the company had attended one of the strike games and saw that Settles had graduated from Elon, which happened to be the same school his daughter was attending.

“My first day there was the day after the Redskins won the Super Bowl,” Settles says. “I was with them for 16 years.” In that time, he met many people in business and learned to bring to life the basics he had learned at Elon, which gave him the foundation to carve a successful business career. He now works as a financial management analyst for the federal government. Looking back, it’s clear now that his short professional football stint opened the door for greater things. “God works in mysterious ways,” he says. 

Keren Rivas,
11/17/2017 11:30 AM