1987 DVOA Ratings and Commentary
by Aaron Schatz
With 30 years of hindsight, the 1987 NFL season now looks even more ridiculous than it looked at the time. Trying to explain it to an NFL fan who wasn't alive at the time seems even more absurd.
Did you enjoy last week as the news of free-agent signings came fast and furious? Well, there was no NFL free agency in 1987. There was no collective bargaining agreement. When a player contract ended, that team still had the rights to that player unless they specifically cut him. This messed-up labor market is part of what created the opportunity for the USFL in 1983, but by 1987 the USFL was toast.
Yes, the NFL owners really did bring in a bunch of replacement players and stuck them on the field for three weeks and pretended they were real NFL teams. Week 3 of the season was cancelled, and then the NFL played three weeks of the schedule with rosters that were almost entirely different. The death of the USFL left a lot of unsigned players floating around with a year or two of professional football experience. Some of these players took the field during the strikebreaker games in Weeks 4-6 of the 1987 season. But there were nowhere near enough of these players to actually fill all 28 NFL rosters. So for three weeks, NFL teams fielded rosters with a mix of USFL and CFL refugees, washed-out low-round draft picks, undrafted camp bodies, random weekend warrior athletes, and future rap mogul Suge Knight. (Yes, the man behind Death Row records had played defensive end for UNLV and had two games with the 1987 Rams.)
Making this all even more absurd was the fact that the strikebreaker rosters also included a number of actual NFL starters, because the cohesiveness of the NFL Players Association rapidly broke down. Some players crossed the picket line immediately. Others waited until the second week of the strike. By the third week of the strike, a bunch of players were crossing because everyone knew the strike was going to be over. So you ended up with Joe Montana throwing to wide receivers you had never heard of, but he also had Roger Craig in the backfield, and the other team's quarterback would be some eighth-round pick who was cut before the season started. And then in Week 7, everyone was back and the NFL just went on with the schedule as usual.
(For a good history of all this craziness, I recommend buying A Good Walkthrough Spoiled: The Best of Mike Tanier at Football Outsiders, which includes the 50-page "Year of the Scab" mini-novella about the 1987 season. "Year of the Scab" is going to be the basis for -- and title of -- an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary currently in development.)
All this nonsense means the official statistics for 1987 are completely screwy. Most players had a 12-game season, but a lot of stars played 13 games, and some guys played in 14 or even 15 games. Each team's record is 20 percent the responsibility of a mostly different group of players, and the NFL actually determined playoff positions based on this. For example, the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins both went 7-5 with their regular players, but the Colts won the AFC East because their strikebreakers went 2-1 while Miami's went 1-2.
At Football Outsiders, we've solved this problem by pretending that those three games weren't really part of the 1987 season. For our official 1987 DVOA ratings, we have completely ignored the strikebreaker games of Weeks 4-6. Every team's rating is based solely on a 12-game season. Opponent adjustments are also based on regular games only, with Weeks 4-6 removed. But if you're curious about the three strikebreaker games, we've computed ratings for them too. All the 1987 stats pages will have additional tables for the strike games, without opponent adjustments.
The ironic thing about all the work we did to separate out the 1987 strike games is that the team that is No. 1 in our ratings for the regular 1987 games was also No. 1 for the three strike games. In fact, the 1987 San Francisco 49ers may be one of the greatest regular-season teams in NFL history. Their dominance has mostly been hidden from history because of the weirdness of the 1987 season, and because of an egregious postseason loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Five other 49ers teams won the Super Bowl, but the 1987 49ers may have put up the franchise's finest regular-season performance.
The 1987 49ers were not one of the best offenses in DVOA history, and they were not one of the best defenses in DVOA history. But they were the first team we've ever measured to finish No. 1 for the year in both offense and defense. They also had above-average special teams. When you put it all together, San Francisco had 47.2% DVOA for the 12 regular-season games of the 1987 season, ranking them as the third-best regular-season team in DVOA history behind only the 1991 Washington Redskins (56.9%) and the 2007 New England Patriots (52.9%).
|Best Teams by Total DVOA, 1987-2016|
Unlike those other two teams, the 49ers did not start the season strong. They led off the season with one of their two losses, falling in Pittsburgh 30-17. In retrospect, this game was a good sign of how insane the 1987 season was going to be. Lower down on the page we'll get into a discussion of just how bad Pittsburgh quarterback Mark Malone was in 1987, but it was a sub-Osweiler performance from the very first week. Malone went 9-for-33 against the 49ers with just 99 passing yards and the Steelers scored 30 points anyway. I know we're really digressing here, but this game was kind of amazing.
Joe Montana threw an interception on San Francisco's first drive, but Malone threw three straight incomplete passes to Louis Lipps and the Steelers settled for a field goal attempt. Gary Anderson missed from 42 yards. On the next drive, Roger Craig fumbled on the 50 and Pittsburgh rookie cornerback Delton Hall returned it for a touchdown. In the second quarter, Malone did manage to lead a touchdown drive and a field goal drive, and the Steelers went into halftime up 17-3. However, Malone imploded after halftime, completing 2 of 13 pass attempts. One of those completions was a dumpoff to running back Frank Pollard for a loss of 5 yards. Malone's only positive passing play in the second half was a 15-yard completion to Lipps after Montana threw another pick in the fourth quarter. That was Montana's third pick of the game, and San Francisco's fourth turnover. The 49ers fumbled three times and recovered two of them. The Steelers fumbled four times but recovered all of them. So even though the Steelers offense couldn't move the ball through the air, the 49ers handed them the game with turnovers.
Honestly, I only remember one other game where a quarterback played this badly and his team won anyway. One man was part of the losing coaching staff in both games. I can't believe that San Francisco wide receivers coach Dennis Green didn't come out after this game and scream at the press that "the Steelers are who we thought they were and we let 'em off the hook!"
The second game of the season was even stranger than the first. The 49ers went to Cincinnati and were trailing the Bengals 26-20 when they got the ball back with two minutes left. Joe Montana is one of the greatest comeback artists in NFL history, right? He threw two incomplete passes to John Taylor and then took an 8-yard sack, and the 49ers punted the ball back with 54 seconds left. The play-by-play does not list timeouts, but it's clear that the 49ers had two timeouts left when they punted. Their only hope was to somehow get the ball back with less than 10 seconds left for a miracle play.
And then the Cincinnati Bengals somehow screwed up the process of kneeling out the clock.
Boomer Esiason kneeled down for a 2-yard loss, and took five seconds off the clock. Timeout. He kneeled down for a 3-yard loss, and took four more seconds off the clock. Timeout. On third-and-15, he stepped back really far and took a 5-yard loss and then let the clock run all the way down to six seconds left. The Bengals took a delay of game penalty there, giving them fourth-and-25 from their own 30 with six seconds left. This is a pretty easy situation, right? It seems obvious the Bengals should a punt, but there's always the possibility of a block. A better option would be to have the punter run out of the end zone for an intentional safety, which would then make the last play of the game a free kick from the 20-yard line. Sam Wyche did neither of these things. Instead, he thought keeping the ball on the ground could somehow use six seconds off the clock. The Bengals ran a sweep with James Brooks and he got slammed by 49ers defensive end Kevin Fagan, tackled five yards behind the line of scrimmage with two seconds on the clock. That left room for one play from the Cincinnati 25, and Montana hit Rice leaping in the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point was good and the 49ers won 27-26.
So the 49ers had a DVOA of about 0% and a 1-1 record when the strike came. But Bill Walsh was ready. Walsh had brought 120 players to training camp in 1987, expecting that labor talks would break down and the owners would prove to be serious about their replacement-player plan. Roughly 30 of those players in training camp were cut specifically so they could be signed again when the strike came, including third-string quarterback Bob Gagliano. It turned out that the 49ers didn't even need Gagliano that much, because some of their best players crossed the picket line after just one week. The 49ers took the field in Atlanta for Week 5 with Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark, Russ Francis, and Joe Cribbs all in the starting lineup. Eventually they won all three of their strike game, with a league-leading 38.6% VOA. They were the No. 1 offense during the strike, though closer to average on defense.
But when all the regular players came back in Week 7, the 49ers marched easily through the rest of the schedule. They split two games with New Orleans, the No. 2 team in DVOA, that were each decided by two points. But they won every other game by a touchdown or more. In the final three weeks of the regular season, they beat the Bears, Falcons, and Rams by the combined score of 124-7. That Bears team finished 9-3 and won the NFC Central, and the 49ers beat them 41-0.
As usual, the 49ers were led by their passing attack. Montana finished third in passing DYAR despite missing three games. This was the first season after the 49ers acquired Steve Young from Tampa Bay to be their backup, and he was out of this world in the three games he started in Montana's place: 54.0% DVOA, 10 touchdowns with no interceptions. The defense was No. 1 against the pass and No. 3 against the run, with safety Ronnie Lott and nose tackle Michael Carter both earning All-Pro honors. But no player dominated the 1987 season the way Jerry Rice did. In just his third NFL season, Rice set a new NFL record with 22 receiving touchdowns -- in only 12 games. Randy Moss broke the record in 2007, but it took him 16 games to do it.
Of course, Jerry Rice easily finished No. 1 in receiving DYAR for 1987. Pro-rated to 16 games, Rice would have 519 DYAR, which would rank No. 8 all-time. Despite all the touchdowns, Rice wouldn't rank No. 1 because of a relatively low 58 percent catch rate. Every other season in the all-time top 20 had a catch rate of at least 61 percent. Rice himself had a catch rate of 64 percent in 1989, which is actually his best season by FO stats (563 DYAR, fourth all-time).
Unfortunately for Rice, in the postseason he had to take a backseat to the player who finished No. 2 in receiving DYAR: Anthony Carter of the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were 8-4 during the regular part of the 1987 season but almost didn't make the playoffs because their replacements went 0-3 during the strike. However, the DVOA ratings suggest that bad luck was balanced by good luck the rest of the year, as the Vikings were just 12th in overall DVOA. The defense that dominated the 1988 season was only seventh in 1987, and the offense was average. When the season was over, the officially 8-7 Vikings snuck into the playoffs with the second wild card because only five of the 14 NFC teams ended up with a winning record.
And then they nearly marched themselves to the Super Bowl, beating the top two teams in DVOA in the process.
First, the Vikings went into the Superdome and curb-stomped the Saints by a final score of 44-10. The Saints had one of the league's best pass rushes, so the Vikings ran all over them. Bobby Hebert threw two picks, so Jim Mora benched him for backup Dave Wilson, and Wilson was even worse: 2-of-12 with two picks of his own. The upset spoiled the first playoff game in the history of the New Orleans Saints franchise.
That win earned the Vikings a trip to San Francisco. The 49ers were favored by 11 points. Removing strike records suggested that the 49ers were overrated by the public, since they went 3-0 during the strike while the Vikings were 0-3. But a closer look at the play-by-play data through DVOA suggests the 49ers were actually underrated by the public, because they were dominating the league so much over the last 10 weeks of the season. The game started 3-3 after one quarter, but then the Vikings defense shut down Joe Montana. He finished 12-of-26 for just 109 yards with a pick and four sacks. Steve Young came in during the second half but by that point it was too late because Anthony Carter had destroyed the 49ers secondary. Carter caught 10 passes for 227 yards, which was a playoff record at the time, and added a 30-yard end-around run. Amazingly, he had no touchdowns, though nine of his catches earned first downs. The Vikings bogged down in the red zone and had to settle for five Chuck Nelson field goals -- which itself was somewhat incredible because Nelson had gone just 13-of-24 during the regular season.
The Vikings' win was featured on NFL Network's Top 10, on an episode about the ten greatest playoff upsets ever, and the entire game is available on YouTube.
Finally, the Vikings went to Washington. The Redskins had themselves upset the Chicago Bears the week before. Although Washington had only been an average defense during the regular season, the NFC Championship Game was a tight defensive battle. Washington finally took the lead with a touchdown from Doug Williams to Gary Clark with five minutes left, and they stopped the Vikings' last drive on fourth-and-4 from the Washington 6 with 56 seconds left when Darrin Nelson dropped what would have been the game-tying touchdown. (Thanks to reader Will Allen for enlightening me on this, see comment 4 below.)
The 1991 Washington Redskins may have the best DVOA in the history of our metrics, but the 1987 Washington Redskins had the lowest DVOA of any Super Bowl champion until the Cinderella run of the 2007 Giants. Only seven teams since 1987 have won the Super Bowl despite a regular-season DVOA rating under 20%.
|Lowest Total DVOA by Super Bowl Champion, 1987-2016|
Washington had a lower DVOA rating than three of the other four NFC playoff teams as well as the defending champion New York Giants. (The Giants' season was seen as a colossal failure at the time because they started 0-5, but remember -- three of those losses were strike games. The actual Giants went 6-6 against one of the tougher schedules in the league.) Although the NFC was better than the AFC throughout the '80s, the 1987 NFC Championship Game featured two weaker regular-season teams while the AFC Championship Game featured the No. 3 Cleveland Browns and the No. 4 Denver Broncos. The Broncos won thanks to The Fumble by Earnest Byner, and the Las Vegas oddsmakers agreed with what DVOA would have said at the time: the Broncos were favored by 3 in Super Bowl XXII. Instead, Washington wiped the floor with them, 42-10.
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Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings for 1987, measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league averaged based on situation and opponent in order to determine value over average. (Explained further here.)
OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted based on strength of opponent as well as to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season. NON-ADJUSTED TOTAL VOA does not include these adjustments. Official 1987 Football Outsiders stats do not include Week 4-6 strikebreaker games.
As always, positive numbers represent more points so DEFENSE is better when it is NEGATIVE.
- ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles. In 1987, this number is based on a 12-game season.
- WEIGHTED DVOA is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.
- 1987 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#28, most negative).
- PYTHAGOREAN WINS represent a projection of the team's expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed. In 1987, this number is based on a 12-game season.
- VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#28, highest variance).
DVOA for 1987 is now listed in the stats pages:
The truncated 1987 schedule gave the season more teams than usual where DVOA deviated from win-loss record. The Los Angeles Raiders are the best example of this, going 0-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less. With four more games, perhaps they do more to balance that out, and the No. 9 team in DVOA is 7-9 instead of 4-8. In fact, the Raiders were 7-9 in 1988 despite being a worse team than they were in the strike year, because the 1988 Raiders were 4-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
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The top offenses of 1987 generally match the top quarterbacks of 1987. The Miami Dolphins finished No. 2 on offense and dead last on defense in both 1987 and 1988, which is something to show anyone who ever says Dan Marino wasn't great because he never won a championship. The list of top defenses features a couple of the usual NFC East suspects: the Giants were No. 2, and the Eagles were No. 5 with Reggie White racking up 21 quarterback sacks in just 12 games. That stat may be as impressive as Rice's 22 touchdowns. The Patriots were a surprising No. 3 in defensive DVOA, and Pittsburgh was No. 4. Both defenses flew a bit under the radar since they were paired with poor offenses. The Patriots were led by Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett and veterans who probably aren't well known outside of New England: linebacker Steve Nelson, cornerback Raymond Clayborn, safety Fred Marion. Tippett was the only Pro Bowler, but Pittsburgh didn't even have a Pro Bowler on defense. The Steelers still had a few players left from the final Super Bowl years, such as cornerback Dwayne Woodruff, safety Donnie Shell, and nose tackle Gary Dunn. The defensive coordinator was Tony Dungy, but the defense was not how you think of a Tony Dungy defense now; it was a 3-4 alignment that played strong pass defense despite very little pass pressure. The Steelers were tied for 25th out of 28 teams with just 23 quarterback sacks in non-strike games.
The team with the fewest quarterback sacks was the worst team in the NFL in 1987, the Atlanta Falcons. They had just 11 sacks in non-strike games, so not even an average of one per game. They also had the worst offense in the league, and only threw 12 passing touchdowns in the non-strike games. The combination of terrible offense and terrible defense put the Falcons way behind the rest of the league in DVOA, essentially the opposite of the 49ers -- which means both teams rank among the most extreme in DVOA history.
|Worst Teams by Total DVOA, 1987-2016|
You might also notice New Orleans as the best special teams unit of 1987. That's mostly recently elected Hall of Famer Morten Andersen, ranking third in field goal value and second on kickoffs despite being penalized for playing so many games indoors. The 1987 Saints also got strong punting from Brian Hansen and punt returns from USFL refugee Mel Gray, who was eventually ranked fifth when NFL Network did a show on the Top 10 Return Aces.
So, what about those strikebreaker games of Weeks 4-6? Well, here are those numbers as well. OFFENSE and DEFENSE VOA are not adjusted for opponents but do consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value. SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season.
REGULAR GAMES RANK lists the team's Total DVOA rank during Weeks 1-2 and 7-16, from the table above.
There's a surprisingly high correlation coefficient of .34 between each team's rank in DVOA in the regular games and their rank in VOA in the strike games. That's some combination of star players crossing the picket line and better-managed teams also preparing better for the strike and the use of replacement players. There are three clear exceptions at the bottom of the table. The Giants completely ignored scouting players for the replacement roster, apparently banking on the strike not lasting more than a couple of weeks. Buddy Ryan of the Eagles, as Mike Tanier detailed in his "Year of the Scab" essay, was philosophically on the side of labor and really didn't want to participate in building a scab team. Marv Levy was probably so busy rebuilding the actual Bills roster that he didn't pay much attention to the replacements; Buffalo's one win was over the Giants, 6-3 in overtime in the last week of the strike.
On the other hand, Tom Landry and Joe Gibbs both devoted resources to scouting replacement players and got good results out of those three weeks. Meanwhile, the Colts had Gary Hogeboom crossing the picket line right from the get-go, and walloped Buffalo 47-6 in the first strike game. Head coach Ron Meyer actually took Hogeboom out of the game in the second half to preserve Johnny Unitas' then-team record of 401 passing yards. San Diego, on the other hand, mostly just got lucky during their strike games. All three games were on the road, but the Chargers won all three by less than a touchdown: 10-9, 17-13, and 23-17. The Chargers started the season 8-1 including the strike games, then lost six straight and missed the playoffs.
In order to emphasize the quality of the football with replacement players, computing VOA for the strike games uses the same baselines that I used to normalize the average of the regular 1987 season at 0%. That means that for the strike games, the league average is below 0% for all three units as well as total VOA. Overall, offensive VOA for the entire league was 14.0% lower during the strike games, while defensive VOA was 10.0% lower. (The difference comes because there were more of the plays I count only for offense such as aborted snaps and false starts.)
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However, the units that took the biggest hit during the strike were special teams. That makes sense for a number of reasons. With practice time limited for new teammates, I have to imagine that there was almost no time available to practice special teams. There's also a steep slide in the quality of kickers after the first few. When I talk to people about the quality of kickers in college, one of my go-to lines is "There are about 40 guys good enough to kick in the NFL, and there are only 32 jobs. But only two or three of the other eight guys are currently between the ages of 18 and 23." It's a bit of an exaggeration, but not far off. So the 1987 strike showed what happened when you took a bunch of those guys who weren't good enough to kick in the NFL and stuck them on teams anyway. Special teams already were much worse in 1987 than they are now. In the regular 1987 games, kickers hit 71.5 percent of their field goals. In the strike games, that dropped to 63.9 percent. Punting was also horrible, with only five of the 28 teams coming out with net punting value above the average baseline for the rest of 1987. The averge net punt went from 32.9 yards during the rest of 1987 to 30.1 yards during the strike. Overall, the average strikebreaker team had -7.2% DVOA on special teams.
The Houston Oilers dominated special teams during the strike primarily by forcing four fumbles on opponent punt returns and getting a phenomenal performance in two games from scab kicker John Diettrich. Diettrich had the advantage of playing one of the two games in Denver, but the Ball State product went 6-for-6 on field goals, including three from 40 yards out or longer. In a high-scoring game with the Broncos, Diettrich put 8 of 9 kickoffs into the end zone with four touchbacks; the next week against Cleveland, he got a touchback and two kickoffs deep enough that the Oilers pinned the Browns at the 20 and 17. However, regular kicker Tony Zendejas and punter/kickoff man Lee Johnson crossed the picket line for the final week, and Diettrich never played in the NFL again.
Now let's take a look at the best and worst players by position:
Quarterbacks: Bernie Kosar narrowly edges out Dan Marino on the top of our quarterbacks table in both DVOA and DYAR. Both quarterbacks excelled even though Cleveland and Miami faced two of the five toughest offensive schedules in the league. (Miami's was tougher against the run than the pass, which is why Kosar gets a bigger boost from opponent adjustments than Marino does.)
The DVOA table is a who's who of legendary 1987 quarterbacks, with a DYAR top 10 that includes Montana, John Elway, Neil Lomax, Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms, and Jim Kelly. The surprise is Bill Kenney, who ranks seventh. Bill Kenney? I admit I don't know much about this guy, but there's definitely a story there. Kenney was a 12th round pick in 1978 and found his way to Kansas City in 1980. From 1980 he started 77 games in nine seasons for the Chiefs, but only once did he actually start all 16 games in a season. The Chiefs drafted Todd Blackledge in 1983 to take Kenney's job, and Kenney ended up having his best season and made the Pro Bowl. It looks like every year after that the Chiefs would try to make it work with Blackledge, but Blackledge would be awful, and Kenney would end up starting, and then Kenney would get hurt, and Blackledge would end up starting, and back and forth it would go. Sometimes when both quarterbacks were healthy, the Chiefs would swap them out throughout the game, playing Blackledge on running downs and Kenney on passing downs. They finally gave up in 1988 and traded for Steve DeBerg.
Down the list you'll find a couple of legends at the end of their careers. Dan Fouts was slightly below average in his final season, and Danny White was a bit below that in his last year as a starter. (He did play in three games as a backup in 1988.) No. 1 overall pick Vinny Testaverde was horrendous, completing just 43 percent of passes in his first six NFL games for Tampa Bay. Chuck Long, the 12th overall pick of the 1986 draft, wasn't much better for the Detroit Lions. But no quarterback in 1987 could come close to the brutal performance put up by Mark Malone. Malone completed just 46 percent of his passes and threw 19 interceptions (one on a Hail Mary) but just 6 touchdowns. John Stallworth had 521 receiving yards in his final season, and nobody else on the Steelers had more than 350. Even with just 12 games in the season, that's awful. Malone and the Steelers passing attack put up these numbers despite facing the No. 26-ranked schedule of opposing defenses. As a result, Malone had minus-39.0% passing DVOA when no other quarterback with at least 200 passes was below minus-25%. and he had minus-621 passing DYAR which was almost triple that of any other below-replacement level quarterback. It ranks as one of the 20 worst quarterback seasons in our database. Steelers fans booed Malone mercilessly in the first game after the strike, chanting "Go home, Malone." There was a fan banner that said "Malone, Stay on Strike." I have no idea how the Steelers went the whole year without putting second-year quarterback Bubby Brister in the lineup. They had drafted him in the third round the year before, and he replaced Malone the following season.
Two quarterbacks dominated during the strike games in Weeks 4-6. One of them was Joe Montana. You know, one of the top five quarterbacks to ever play the game, crossing the picket line to take on a bunch of random working stiffs and CFL refugees. No surprise. The other was Ed Rubbert. Who? Well, Ed Rubbert was a three-year starter at Louisville, but he didn't get selected in the 1987 draft. This is not a huge surprise, given that during his college career Rubbert completed 49 percent of his passes and threw 50 interceptions including 28 in one 11-game season. But Rubbert started three games for the Redscabs and all three ended up as wins, though Rubbert himself was injured early in the Week 6 game. Mostly, Rubbert and former Atlanta sixth-round pick Anthony Allen just went off in a Week 4 win over St. Louis. Allen had touchdown catches of 88, 48, and 34 yards plus other catches of 43 and 27 yards. The next week, the Giants did a better job of covering Allen but Rubbert still found Ted Wilson for a 64-yard touchdown. And somehow, Rubbert only threw one pick in his three scab starts, though it was a pick-six.
I also should acknowledge one great game that Cleveland backup quarterback Gary Danielson (yes, Verne Lundquist's longtime SEC broadcast partner) had when he crossed the picket line for Week 6 against the Bengals. The Browns won 34-0 and Danielson went 25-for-31 for 274 yards with four touchdowns and no picks, a single game worth 230 YAR. And you'll find a couple of interesting names at the bottom of the "secondary quarterbacks" table: New Orleans head coach Sean Payton in his limited action for the Spare Bears and wide receiver Guido Merkens attempting to play quarterback for the Eagles.
Running Backs: Looking just at advanced stats and the 12 games with regular players, the best running back of 1987 was Curt Warner of the Seattle Seahawks. The Seattle running game was overall the best in the league, thanks to the combination of Warner and fullback John L. Williams. Warner led the league in rushing DYAR, also ranking fifth in success rate and sixth in DVOA among qualifying backs (minimum 80 carries). He also did well in limited receiving targets, with 17 catches on 20 targets for 167 yards and 48.4% DVOA. Williams was fourth in the league in DYAR, third in DVOA and No. 1 with a fabulous 69 percent success rate. He also was the No. 2 most valuable receiving running back, trailing only Herschel Walker. People may forget now what an outstanding receiving back Walker was: he had 837 receiving yards in 1986, his first NFL season, and then 715 receiving yards in only 12 games in 1987. (That pro-rates to 953 yards over 16 games, which would be the fifth-highest receiving yardage total ever for a running back.)
Warner may have led the league in rushing DYAR, but he didn't lead the league in rushing yardage. That's a complicated story revolving around what, in retrospect, looks like a colossal error by the Los Angeles Rams. The story actually starts back in 1979, when USC running back Charles White won the Heisman Trophy. The Browns selected him 27th overall in the 1980 draft, but he was a massive bust. White never ran for more than 350 yards in a season for the Browns, and had significant drug problems. (It was the '80s, so that meant cocaine, not marijuana.) White's former USC head coach John Robinson was in charge of the Rams, so when the Browns cut White in 1985, Robinson brought him to Los Angeles to back up superstar Eric Dickerson.
The cocaine use didn't stop. On August 21, 1987, the police arrested White in a cocaine haze in a vacant lot near the Rams training complex in Fullerton. ("Brandishing a trash can lid at the time," reported the Los Angeles Times.) Robinson somehow talked the NFL out of a major suspension and so White started the season as Dickerson's backup. In the first two weeks, White carried the ball twice, once for a loss of 4 yards and once for a loss of 5 yards. Then the strike came. White crossed the picket line from the get-go and started all three strike games. He put up big totals in those games, with a combined 339 rushing yards. And somehow... the Rams decided based on those three strike games that White would be good enough to replace Dickerson, and they dealt Dickerson to Indianapolis a week after the strike ended. When White went on to lead the league in every rushing category, it looked like they made the right decision. But the advanced stats show that White's big totals were entirely based on big workloads. White had a below-average DVOA and success rate. He only averaged 4.1 yards per carry in non-strike games. He had negative receiving value. He wasn't even that great in the three strike games! He didn't lead running backs in either DYAR or total yardage during the strike. Roger Craig crossed the picket line after one week and his two games gave him the most DYAR during the strike. And some guy named Lionel Vital actually outgained him during the strike, 346 yards to 339 yards. Vital was a 1985 seventh-round pick of the Redskins out of Nicholls St. who only never played a regular-season game other than the three 1987 strike games.
White followed up his big Pro Bowl comeback year with a positive alcohol test, which got him a four-game suspension because of his prior cocaine offenses. When he came back, he had lost the starting job to ex-Bills starter Greg Bell, and White retired after the 1988 season. Eric Dickerson, meanwhile, was the real rushing yardage champion of the 1987 season, with 1,288 yards in the 12 non-strike games. He only finished 10th in DYAR because he played a very easy schedule of opposing defenses.
There were a number of other notable running back performances in 1987, starting with Bo Jackson's first NFL season. Jackson had 81 carries, which barely made it over our reduced qualifying baseline to be ranked. Still, he led all qualifying running backs in rushing DVOA and finished sixth in rushing DYAR. Johnny Hector of the Jets finished second in rushing DYAR despite an awful 46 percent success rate, thanks to 11 touchdowns against a difficult schedule. Bengals fullback Larry Kinnebrew finished third in rushing DYAR. You may ask, "Why didn't I read about Kinnebrew when Football Outsiders reviewed the powerful Bengals offense that led the league in DVOA in 1988?" Well, Kinnebrew thought the Bengals weren't respecting him enough in contract negotiations so he held out of 1988 training camp. The Bengals decided Ickey Woods was better than Kinnebrew and he missed out on a Super Bowl appearance. By the way, the contract that Kinnebrew turned down for 1988 was worth $250,000. He probably should have held out for 30 years.
The bottom of the rushing DYAR table has a very surprising name: Roger Craig finished 47th out of 48 running backs in DYAR. His rushing performance was the weakness of that otherwise powerful San Francisco offense, as he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry with five fumbles. Craig had an offseason as a receiver, too, barely coming out above replacement level. However, the worst running back of 1987 was Pittsburgh's Walter Abercrombie. Like Mark Malone, he had a subpar performance against a very easy schedule. The Steelers offense really was hot garbage that season.
Other fun names: Walter Payton finished 32nd in rushing DYAR in his final season. And down on the list of strikebreaker running backs, you'll find Joe "What The Heck, Why Not" Dudek, made famous by a 1985 Sports Illustrated cover that promoted the record-breaking running back of Division III Plymouth State over Bo Jackson and Chuck Long for the Heisman Trophy.
Wide Receivers: We covered Jerry Rice and Anthony Carter above. Al Toon of the Jets was third in DYAR, with Eric Martin of the Saints and Mark Clayton of the Dolphins rounding out the top five. It will not surprise you to learn that the lowest-rated receiver of the year came from Pittsburgh: it was John Stallworth, at minus-135 DYAR. Two other receivers were below minus-100 DYAR despite not even making it to the 40-target baseline we used for our main ranking table. One was Pittsburgh's No. 3 receiver, a third-round rookie named Charles Lockett who caught just 7 of his 35 targets. The other was former CFL star Mervyn Fernandez, in his first NFL season with the Los Angeles Raiders. Fernandez got better, but Lockett was out of the league after 1988.
The top-rated wide receiver from the strikebreaker games was Kelvin Edwards of the Cowboys. Edwards was a fourth-round Saints draft pick out of Liberty University in 1986, but the Saints cut him before the 1987 season. He signed up with the Cowboys when the strike happened and starred with 14 catches for 272 yards and 3 touchdowns during the strike. It was enough to keep him on the roster for the rest of the year, and he started six more games after the strike... but you may notice that he finished next-to-last in DYAR among qualifying wide receivers. His NFL career was over after five more catches in 1988.
A number of the top receivers of the strike games disappeared afterwards, and sometimes it was a bit of a surprise. Most of the strike players were low-round picks or undrafted, but some had strong draft or USFL pedigrees. San Diego's Al Williams was a 1,000-yard receiver in the USFL for the Oklahoma/Arizona Outlaws and the 20th pick in the 1984 supplemental draft, but his three strike games (12 catches, 247 yards, 1 TD) were the only time he ever played in the NFL. Walter Murray was a 1986 second-round pick out of Hawaii, traded by Washington to Indianapolis when he wouldn't sign with the Redskins. He had 14 catches, 256 yards and 3 touchdowns during the strike, but only 8 other career catches and he never played again after 1987.
But the best wide receiver performance of the strike games belonged to the legendary Seattle wide receiver Steve Largent. Edwards earned 117 YAR in three games during the strike, but Largent earned 104 YAR in less than three quarters of football. With the strike essentially over in Week 6, Largent crossed the picket line along with backup quarterback Jeff Kemp, and together they thoroughly embarassed the replacement Detroit Lions defense. Kemp threw three touchdowns to Largent before the first quarter was even over. When Largent came out of the game with 9:26 left in the third quarter, he had caught 15 of 19 targets for 261 yards. Thirteen of his 15 catches earned first downs or touchdowns. Asked after the game why he had not used double coverage on Largent, Lions coach Darryl Rogers told the press, “Why embarrass two guys when you can just embarrass one?” So, where would Largent's game would fit among the best DYAR games of all-time? Obviously, if we did count an opponent adjustment for playing the scab Lions defense it would be huge, but even without an adjustment this game surprisingly doesn't come in among all-time top 25. The games that come in higher generally have a higher yards per reception average or get a big boost from opponent adjustments. The two best DYAR games in history qualify both ways (Flipper Anderson's 15-of-20, 336 yards, 1 TD against the 1989 Saints and Jimmy Smith's 15-of-21, 291 yards, 3 TD against the 2000 Ravens).
Tight Ends: As great as Jerry Rice was in 1987, the best receiving performance may have belonged to New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro. Bavaro blew away the rest of the league's tight ends that season with 343 receiving DYAR and 65.9% DVOA. He had 55 catches for 865 yards and eight touchdowns plus a 75 percent catch rate against a tougher than actual schedule. By the way, he was also one of the top blocking tight ends in football, capable of taking on Reggie White without help. It's no wonder Bill Belichick talks about Bavaro in the same glowing language he uses to talk about Rob Gronkowski. Bavaro's total of 343 receiving DYAR is enough to rank as the No. 5 tight end season of the DVOA era even without pro-rating it for 16 games. Pro-rated, it would be worth 457 DYAR, coming just short of topping the No. 1 season in DYAR history, Gronk's 461 DYAR in 2011. In terms of DVOA (per play) rather than DYAR (total), the only season better than Bavaro's 1987 was Antonio Gates' injury-shortened 10-game 2010 campaign at 77.1% DVOA.
Other than Bavaro, the top tight end of 1987 was the late Todd Christensen of the Raiders. Christensen re-defined what a tight end could look like. I'm not talking about size and speed, I'm talking about this amazing perm-and-moustache combination. Third in receiving DYAR for tight ends was Minnesota's Steve Jordan, the pride of Brown University (and father of Cameron). Pat Beach of the Colts and Mickey Shuler of the Jets were at the bottom of the ratings.
During the strike, teams shied away from using tight ends very much. Only seven different tight ends had at least 12 targets during the three strike games. One tight end was far ahead of the rest: Bobby Micho of Denver, a 1984 tenth-round pick who had never caught a regular-season pass until the strike, although he did have one 20-yard reception during the 1986 postseason. Micho crossed the picket line for all three games and caught 24 of 28 passes for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. The rest of the season in Denver, he caught one pass for six yards, and that was the end of his NFL career.
Here are a few more fun tidbits about the 1987 season:
- The Raiders and Chiefs played in Week 4 in 106-degree temperatures in Los Angeles. Between the heat and the strike, attendence was only 10,708, which is low enough for everybody to fit into the StubHub Center.
- Buddy Ryan was so pissed off about the strike and a 41-22 loss in Week 5 that two weeks later, in the first game after the strike, he had Randall Cunningham in the game in the final seconds to run up the score on Tom Landry and the Cowboys. The Eagles were up 30-20, and scored to finish the game at 37-20.
- Kellen Winslow was roughly average in DVOA in his final NFL season, but was involved in a very strange play when the Chargers lost to the Broncos in Week 12. The Chargers drove 64 yards to the Denver 1-yard line in the final minute of the first half, yet they did not score. From the Los Angeles Times:
On third-and-goal from the Bronco seven-yard-line, with 17 seconds and no Charger timeouts left, here's what happened: Charger tight end Kellen Winslow ran to the end zone, Fouts threw a ball into the end zone, and Winslow caught the ball. But not all at the same time. Running a simple outside pattern, Winslow leaped and seemed to catch the ball at the six-point side of the goal line. But Denver defensive backs Mike Harden and Randy Robbins were hanging on his back, and pushed him, in mid-air, back to the other side of the goal line. Winslow landed on the one-yard line and began fighting to get across. Denver defenders Steve Wilson and Jeremiah Castille joined the fray, making it four on one, with Winslow going nowhere. By now, there were just five seconds left and, with no timeouts, the Chargers couldn't get their field goal unit on the field in time. "I thought I scored," said Winslow, "but what I think doesn't matter. I was in the end zone. The only thing that could have happened was, I might stepped back to the ball and gone back over the line." Saunders said: "We were yelling for a replay, but they were so slow to spot the ball afterward, we had to stop yelling and get our field goal team out there, and by then it was too late. We practice that emergency field goal team thing everyday. If they had spotted the ball quicker, we might have had a chance."
- Once again, Jeremy Snyder put together a Year in Quotes from 1987 for us. You can read it all here. Thanks again to Jeremy for all his work in transcribing these old gamebooks and watching old game tapes to fill in play-by-play on games that no longer have available gamebooks.
- The next step will be to finish up 1986 and get that posted. I'm guessing we'll have that in mid-April, along with an extra article about stat errors and the experience of trying to make old play-by-play logs agree with currently listed career totals. If you see our numbers disagree with the official 1987 totals, even for players who only played in 12 non-strike games, this is probably the reason why.
- As I noted when I put up 1988 DVOA a month ago: The 1989-1990 DVOA ratings were never added to the FO player pages, so at some point this offseason there will be a gigantic upload that will add 1986-1990 player DVOA and DYAR to all the player pages, along with 2016 DVOA and DYAR, and also create new player pages for those players who retired prior to 1991. This is why many players do not have their names in the 1987 player stats tables link to player pages.
- Once 1986 is finished, we will also add all three of the new seasons (1986-1988) into the FO Premium database.
- We still need to add LAST YEAR listings to 1988 and 1989 and make some fixes on 1989 special teams. There are also going to be some small fixes to 1988, issues that I found with certain aborted snap plays that had their yardage counted wrong.
- Once all of that is done, we move on to the next project: 1983-1985. We have all of 1985 except for one quarter: the first quarter of the Week 6 Colts-Broncos game has an unreadable mimeograph in the official gamebooks in both the Broncos and NFL archives. If we can't find a record of it elsewhere or a videotape, we'll need to piece it back together based on game stats, but we'll do our best. As for 1984, there are two games where we do not have any gamebook or video: Week 13 Bengals-Falcons and Week 14 Bills-Colts. If you know anything about a tape of one of these games, please let us know. For 1983, apparently we have everything except the first drive of the Week 15 Bengals-Lions game.
109 comments, Last at 28 May 2017, 10:37pm
#1 by Eleutheria // Mar 13, 2017 - 2:35pm
Wow, Miami's defense been ranked dead last 1987, 1988 and 1989. I can't see them being behind Tampa's 86 defense, but they'll probably be 2nd or 3rd last.
That's the prime of Marino's career right there. Wasted.
#3 by hscer // Mar 13, 2017 - 2:46pm
By the time '84 is done Marino is going to have by far the most 20th century DYAR among QB's. He's already there, up a couple thousand on Young, which will probably grow at least 1500 from 1986 alone. It really is astonishing how bad Miami's defenses got.
#108 by Richie // May 11, 2017 - 7:44pm
It's not like Miami was using all its draft resources on offense, that caused the offense to be so much better than the defense.
In 85 they used their first round pick on Lorenzo Hampton. He was a bust. In 86 they had no first round pick (maybe they used it to pick up somebody on offense?). In 87 (Bosa) and 88 (Kumerow) they went defense and busted.
In 89 they went offense (Sammie Smith), but busted again. They had a second first round pick and took DB Louis Oliver.
Finally, in 1990 they hit on Richmond Webb. And not coincidentally the team started making playoffs again.
From 84-89, their success in the first 3 rounds was horrendous. Of course, the best of the bunch was John Offerdahl, whose career was cut short due to injury. Their only other top 3 pick to make a Pro Bowl was Ferrell Edmunds.
They did have some luck with some late round offensive linemen (Jeff Dellenbach, Mark Dennis, Harry Galbreath and Jeff Uhlenhake).
#18 by theslothook // Mar 13, 2017 - 4:37pm
A crying shame for Marino. The current pass evolution continues to marginalize what was a truly stellar career. Is Marino a top 5 qb all time?
I think people will definitely have Brady and Montana. I think Manning will probably be considered there as well. The next names are usually Elway and Unitas. I have a soft spot for Tarkenton though.
My top 5(in the sb era):
Brady, Manning, Montana, Elway(the people who watched the 80s repeatedly said he was the best of the 80s qbs), Tarkenton
#59 by miesterjustin // Mar 15, 2017 - 2:32pm
A key criterion where Brady wins over Montana: team play. Montana refused to spend a single day on the picket line because he already had a multi-million dollar contract. Meanwhile, Brady volunteered to put his name first on the lawsuit against the NFL in the labor dispute a few years ago.
Stories about Mark Gastineau always seem to point out that he was a strike breaker -- he broke the line when he quickly ran out of money -- but Montana always gets a pass. I fault the NFLPA for failing to bring this up every time his name is mentioned. A scab is a scab forever.
#81 by Aaron Schatz // Mar 17, 2017 - 5:03pm
Well, Sean Payton was not an NFL player, so he doesn't really deserve to be mentioned as one of the stars who crossed the picket line. He was one of the hungry kids just doing anything possible to get a shot at the NFL. He went undrafted out of Eastern Illinois, played in the first Arena season (spring 1987), then was on the Bears strikebreaker team. He never played in the NFL again and had his first coaching position at San Diego State in 1988.
#103 by rj1 // Mar 23, 2017 - 2:53pm
Good story on Largent related to him being a scab. He was one of the freshman members of the Class of 1994 when the Republicans led by Newt Gingrich won en masse across the country in House districts, giving the party control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1954 breaking a 40-year-run of control by the Democrats. Naturally, the freshmen clashed heads with Republican leadership, including Newt. The following is from fellow freshman Congressman member Joe Scarborough:
...It was the last time Newt would attack the most conservative members of his caucus from the lofty perch as speaker. In 1997, ten of my fellow classmates had led a coup attempt against Gingrich, shutting down the House over the speaker’s efforts to violate the Contract with America by swelling the number of committee staff members.
Conservative stalwarts like Steve Largent, Tom Coburn and Matt Salmon joined me and seven others to demand a cut in spending and a promise to hold firm on tax cuts.
Newt did not take the rebellion lying down. He immediately summoned the sergeant of arms to drag the 11 rebels down to a Republican caucus meeting in the bowels of the Capitol basement, where Newt lined us up in front of a packed room of seething House members who were now missing the first day of their Easter recess because of our insurgency. Gingrich then began screaming and demanded that the 11 of us account for our behavior.
He then taught me a political lesson I will always remember: Never willingly hand the microphone over to your enemies. Especially when the first rebel to speak was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame and one of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Men Alive.
As Steve Largent grabbed the microphone, the crowd of GOP members was still shouting insults. But by the time he stood behind the podium, even our most hostile opponents grew quiet.
Steve spoke softly about how he signed a contract with the Seattle Seahawks and remembered shaking the hand of the team’s owner after the deal was done. A few years later, the NFL Players Association went on strike. But Largent told the mob, who were now transfixed, that he crossed those picket lines because he signed a contract and gave his word. Largent told the group that a few years later, the NFL players went on strike a second time and he was once again one of the few NFL players to keep reporting for work. For Steve, it was a matter of principle.
The beautiful NFL Hall of Famer then quietly moved in for the kill.
Turning to the Speaker, who a year earlier had been named Time Magazine’s person of the year, Largent said, “Newt, you were the one who drafted the contract and then told us to sign it. Now, you’re the one pressuring us to break it. But Newt, if I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of 250 pound linebackers who wanted to kill me every time I crossed the field, why would I be intimidated by you?”
This shakedown session and Largent's response goes in more detail in Scarborough's book from the early-to-mid '00s. Think the next person in the group getting shaked down was now-Senator Lindsey Graham who started off "Unlike Steve, I can be intimidated...".
Was a great example of intra-party politics that those of us in the real world rarely get to see.
#63 by Travis // Mar 15, 2017 - 4:33pm
A complete list of veterans* who appeared on replacement rosters:
Falcons: Tim Green (Weeks 4,5,6)
Bills: Carl Byrum (5,6), Durwood Roquemore (5,6), Robb Riddick (6), Leon Seals (6)
Bengals: Reggie Williams (4,5,6), Eddie Edwards (5,6)
Browns: Carl Hairston (5,6), Rickey Bolden (6), Brian Brennan (6), Sam Clancy (6), Gary Danielson (6), Jeff Gossett (6), Jeff Jaeger (6), Ozzie Newsome (6), Cody Risien (6)
Cowboys: Tony Dorsett (4**,5,6), Too Tall Jones (4,5,6), Mike Renfro (4**,5,6), Danny White (4**,5,6), Randy White (4,5,6), Robert Lavette (5,6), Kevin Brooks (6)
Broncos: Walt Bowyer (4,5,6), Bobby Micho (4,5,6), Billy Bryan (5,6), Jim Ryan (5,6), Dave Studdard (5,6), Steve Watson (5), Tony Lilly (6)
Lions: Bill Gay (6), Mark Lewis*** (6), Danny Lockett (6)
Packers: Keith Uecker (6)
Oilers: Charles Martin*** (5,6), Ray Childress (6), Haywood Jeffires (6), Lee Johnson (6), Walter Johnson (6), Tony Zendejas (6)
Colts: Walter Murray (4,5,6), Jim Perryman (4,5,6), Gary Hogeboom (4,5), Scott Kellar (5,6), Blair Kiel (5,6), John Brandes (5), Mark Bellini (6)
Chiefs: Kevin Ross (6)
Raiders: Ethan Horton (4,5,6), Jamie Kimmel (4,5,6), Bruce Wilkerson (4,5,6), Marc Wilson (4,5,6), Howie Long (5,6), Bill Pickel (5,6), Chris Bahr (6), James Davis (6), Mervyn Fernandez (6), Rusty Hilger (6**), Jerry Robinson (6), Steve Strachan (6), Greg Townsend (6)
Rams: Jim Collins (4,5,6), Nolan Cromwell (4,5,6), Steve Dils (4,5,6), Dale Hatcher (4,5,6), Mike Lansford (4,5,6), Greg Meisner (4,5,6), Shawn Miller (4,5,6), Charles White (4,5,6), Alvin Wright (4,5,6), Mike Guman (4,5), Jim Everett (6**)
Dolphins: Liffort Hobley (5,6)
Patriots: Raymond Clayborn (4,5,6), Sean Farrell (4,5,6), Darryl Holmes (4,5,6), Guy Morriss (4,5,6), Tony Collins (4), Tony Franklin (5,6), Doug Flutie**** (6), Andre Tippett (6), Ron Wooten (6)
Saints: Bruce Clark (4,5,6), Antonio Gibson (4,5,6), Daren Gilbert (4,5,6), Eric Martin (4,5,6), Reggie Sutton (4,5,6), Milton Mack (6)
Giants: Jeff Rutledge (6), Lawrence Taylor (6)
Jets: Mark Gastineau (4,5,6), Marty Lyons (4,5,6), Joe Fields (5**), Don Baldwin (6), Ted Banker (6), Barry Bennett (6), Gerald Nichols (6), Pat Ryan (6), Don Smith (6)
Steelers: Earnest Jackson (4,5,6), Mike Webster (4,5,6), Dwight Stone (5,6), Frank Pollard (5), Gary Dunn (6), Merril Hoge (6), Charles Lockett (6), Terry Long (6), Kelvin Middleton (6), Ray Pinney (6), Jerry Quick (6), Chris Sheffield (6), Donnie Shell (6), John Stallworth (6), Calvin Sweeney (6), Gerald Williams (6)
Chargers: Elvis Patterson*** (4,5,6), Terry Unrein (6)
Seahawks: Blair Bush (6), Norm Johnson (6), Jeff Kemp (6), Steve Largent (6), Fredd Young (6)
49ers: Dwaine Board (5,6), Dwight Clark (5,6), George Cooper (5,6), Roger Craig (5,6), Jeff Fuller (5,6), Ron Heller (5,6), Pete Kugler (5,6), Joe Montana (5,6), Harry Sydney (5,6), Joe Cribbs (5), Kevin Dean (6)
Cardinals: Earl Ferrell (4,5,6), Curtis Greer (4,5,6), Troy Johnson (4,5,6), E.J. Junior (4,5,6), Derrick McAdoo (4,5,6), Broderick Sargent (4,5,6), Vai Sikahema (4,5,6), J.T. Smith (4,5,6), Lance Smith (4,5,6), Leonard Smith (4,5,6) , Roy Green (4), Charles Baker (5,6), Greg Cater (5,6), Mike Morris (5,6), Tootie Robbins (5,6) , Travis Curtis (6), Jim Gallery (6), John Preston (6)
Bucs: Dan Turk (6)
* "Veterans" as used here means players who appeared on a 45-man roster in Weeks 1 or 2 of the 1987 season.
** Dressed, but did not play in game.
*** Cut from pre-strike team.
**** Traded from pre-strike team.
#64 by miesterjustin // Mar 15, 2017 - 4:45pm
Gee, I forgot about Lawrence Taylor's turn to being a scab. Despite being a Giants fan, he doesn't get a pass from me, but the headline of his bad acts starts with much worse things.
The influence of owners is also evident. Eddie DeBartolo clearly earned the respect of the 49ers and many of his players turned out for him. Meanwhile, Wellington Mara told the Giants to listen to the NFLPA, not ownership. Two different spins on loyalty by NFL owners.
#72 by Vincent Verhei // Mar 15, 2017 - 9:21pm
Brian Bosworth wrote about this in his book (yes, I read Brian Bosworth's book): All the players pretty much instantly forgave Largent because A) He was a ten-year vet who had already earned everyone's respect, and B) Largent was counting on the cash to pay for treatment for his son, who had spina bifida.
#66 by Will Allen // Mar 15, 2017 - 5:56pm
Well, it's great that Brady was willing to do so, but he already had a net worth north of 100 million by then, and his spouse's was likely twice that, so there was no real risk to him doing so. Montana didn't have nearly that kind of cushion. I'd be surprised if his net worth was more than 5 million in 1987, and very surprised if it was more than 10.
#79 by dryheat // Mar 16, 2017 - 8:15pm
Well, Brady just took a four game suspension, in no small part because he didn't want to set the precedent of a player surrendering his personal phone to the Commissioner. Whether he would have stuck to those principles if he had known he was going to get four games and ultimately lose an appeal or not, that was a strong Pro-Union stance.
#23 by johonny // Mar 13, 2017 - 6:29pm
I think it was well acknowledge that his defenses were subpar. The most better blow was the 1993 season when their defense finally felt decent and they were coming off the AFC championship game appearance and he did his Achilles in. Of course the most bitter pill was Miami's defense was amazing right after he retired and the one missing piece to those teams was...QB. The AFC east was so much more exciting in the 80s and 90s. Unlike now where you know who is winning it in March.
#4 by Will Allen // Mar 13, 2017 - 2:53pm
Nope, Darrin Nelson dropped the pass, which hit him square in the hands, before Darrell Green hit him.....
.....start at the 34 second mark.
Aaron, always, always, always, consult with a Vikings fan, for precision with regard to the description of any Viking playoff heartbreak...
#10 by BroncFan07 // Mar 13, 2017 - 3:19pm
And, correct me if I'm wrong, but the play was set up by the previously mentioned Anthony Carter not running his pattern far enough into the end zone, which allowed Darrell Green to peel off and break up the play, which is the same thing Webster Slaughter would do a few hours later, alllowing Jeremiah Castille to greet Earnest Byner.
#16 by Bright Blue Shorts // Mar 13, 2017 - 4:30pm
This was linked over in the Quotes article ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihXAHi0WM9U&feature=youtu.be&t=36
Definitely something wrong with the play design or execution that Nelson and Carter ended up with the ball almost in the same location.
(Edit: sorry - you already linked it)
#6 by Will Allen // Mar 13, 2017 - 3:03pm
'87 was the year when a Vikings defensive line, with 3 players capable of Hall of Fame level play (Millard's career ruined by a knee blowout, Henry Thomas underappreciated, Doleman in, of course) really started to come into form. Good linebackers and dbs as well. Randall McDaniel would join the o-line in '88, and push, with fellow HOFer Gary Zimmerman, that unit into the dominant category. Anthony Carter wasn't great for long enough to be a HOFer, but for few years he was truly great. Terrific tight end in Steve Jordan.
QBed by Wade Effin' Wilson, and a beat up, too often inebriated, Tommy Kramer. Egads.
#11 by Bright Blue Shorts // Mar 13, 2017 - 3:21pm
Have said this before ... these articles are so good ... would love to see them broken down into say a 5-part series for the week. There's so much to digest but by the time you reach the comments you've forgotten what to discuss.
#19 by Joe Pancake // Mar 13, 2017 - 4:42pm
Love it! I remember watching that Steve Largent game on TV as a young Seahawks fan.
Another factoid illustrating the weirdness of the season: The dreadful Falcons beat the eventual Super Bowl champions in a non-strikebreaker game. It was a great battle of kicker names: Mick Luckhurst versus Ali Haji-Sheikh.
#20 by Bright Blue Shorts // Mar 13, 2017 - 5:38pm
'87 was the end of the Raiduhz*.
Went into the strike games 2-0 and won the first to move to 3-0. Al convinced most of the team to break the strike and they lost the other two to part-timers. They got hammered by Seattle in week 7 (game 6) 35-13 and by the time the return game at the Kingdome they were on a seven game losing streak.
I'd given up to the extent that I couldn't be bothered to stay up and listen to the MNF game on AFRTS in the early hours in the UK.
So it was a pleasant surprise to find out on the Tuesday morning that Bo Jackson had announced himself to the NFL and Brian Bosworth. Nonetheless the Raiders finished 5-10, Tom Flores was fired, Mike Shanahan hired for a season and the mystique of the Raiders never really recovered.
* I actually always pinpoint Marcus Allen's fumble in OT against Philly in week 13 of 1986 as the moment that everything turned.
#42 by Joe Pancake // Mar 14, 2017 - 10:12am
I remember that MNF game well. Jackson was awesome, especially his long touchdown run down the sideline after which he vanished in a tunnel in the old Kingdome. The announcer (Dierdorf?) proclaimed he might not stop until "Tacoma," which, being my home town, I got a kick out of.
The Bo Jackson-Brian Bosworth play, however, is perhaps the most overrated hit in football history. Jackson "wins" but it's a completely ordinary football play, the likes of which we literally see every game of the season.
If you want to watch an actual big hit involving a Seahawk, look up Golden Tate-Sean Lee on YouTube.
#45 by Bright Blue Shorts // Mar 14, 2017 - 12:21pm
Nah I'll go with Largent on Harden if you want a Seahawk hit ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOPrwb-mQc
I agree the Jackson-Bosworth "hit" is over-rated. It's just a case of physics. Jackson slides off the side of Bosworth and drags him into the endzone. I wouldn't even consider it a hit.
Atwater on Okoye in 1989 is a hit.
#82 by justanothersteve // Mar 17, 2017 - 10:12pm
I may be a Packers fan but this is a pancake block
#25 by jorite // Mar 13, 2017 - 9:27pm
Two quick points:
1. Imagine being a 12-year-old fan of that Pittsburgh team the next time you want to complain that Steelers fans have never known pain.
2. Imagine my surprise, after watching that team and it's immediate predecessors and successors, at finding Tom Moore lauded as a genius later in life. His stint as Chuck Noll's OC from 1983-1989 was BAD.
#30 by dbostedo // Mar 13, 2017 - 11:51pm
I think I should have had it bad as an 11 year old fan of the Steelers... but that team still had Super Bowl heroes, and Rod Woodson (returning punts), and Tunch Ilkin, and Looouuuuu-is Lipps, and a good LB core of Hinkle, Little, Cole, and Merriweather, and I loved them. Somehow.
#33 by Steve B // Mar 14, 2017 - 12:50am
Somehow, despite the awfulness of Malone, the Steelers finished with a winning record. On the one hand, that would seem to be a great example of Chuck Noll's coaching ability. On the other hand, he deserves his share of criticism for sticking with Malone way too long. In addition to Brister, he also could've turned starting qb duties over to Steve Bono who was the starter for the replacement games.
#38 by Jerry // Mar 14, 2017 - 7:12am
Three decades later, I don't remember Malone being awful during his starting career, but I have no issue with these numbers. If you look at the QB stats, you'll see that Bubby's 1987 DVOA was -212%, so the coaches may have had an idea of what they were doing.
Given that he was 35 years old, the quarterbacking was terrible, and Louis Lipps only appeared in four games, it's not surprising that John Stallworth's numbers were bad. It's not like Calvin Sweeney and Weegie Thompson were going to take defensive attention away from him.
#107 by NYChem // Apr 22, 2017 - 3:21pm
Good old Mark Malone is referred to as "Matt" in your QB section.
This was a good and bad trip down memory lane, when I used to root for Walter Abercrombie to gain at least 3 years on 3rd and 7, since there was little point in dropping Malone back. You know Malone was bad when SSteeler Nation got excited for the Bobby era in 88.
But I had forgotten that possibly my fave Steeler of all time, good old 52, crossed the picket line (Mike Webster, for any curious non Steelers fans.
Thanks for the info. Got am adrenaline boost reliving our win over the dominant 49ers. A 30 year old win is good news during the April doldrums!
#26 by pm // Mar 13, 2017 - 9:32pm
"Once all of that is done, we move on to the next project: 1983-1985. We have all of 1985 except for one quarter: the first quarter of the Week 6 Colts-Broncos game has an unreadable mimeograph in the official gamebooks in both the Broncos and NFL archives. If we can't find a record of it elsewhere or a videotape, we'll need to piece it back together based on game stats, but we'll do our best. As for 1984, there are two games where we do not have any gamebook or video: Week 13 Bengals-Falcons and Week 14 Bills-Colts. If you know anything about a tape of one of these games, please let us know. For 1983, apparently we have everything except the first drive of the Week 15 Bengals-Lions game."
Are you saying that you have the DVOA for those seasons complete except for those games? How do the 85 Bears look in DVOA? I'm hoping we can find out whether they are the GOAT DVOA team this year.
At the rate you guys are going, you guys will have all of NFL history done soon. Keep up the good work.
#46 by Aaron Schatz // Mar 14, 2017 - 12:52pm
Well, Jeremy Snyder has the games typed into Excel. Then it takes a long time to parse them, fix weird plays, line things up properly, and then put together all the numbers, and then write it up. We probably won't have time to work on it until after FOA 2017 and KUBIAK projections are done. It may be a "when I have time" project for during the 2017 season, with the hope that I could come out with 1983-1985 in the 2018 offseason.
#27 by Pen // Mar 13, 2017 - 10:13pm
I watched football religiously from SB V onwards. Everyone thought Elway was great, but it was hands down Montana was considered the QB of the 80's and Marino was second only due to no Super Bowls. Elway was considered just behind those two.
#71 by CHIP72 // Mar 15, 2017 - 8:47pm
The fact Montana played so well in the Super Bowl and many big games in general (the 1988 NFCCG against the Bears in cold and windy conditions in Chicago was a good example) and he beat (and won the game MVP) Marino and Elway in the Super Bowl was a key factor.
The bigger factor, for NFL fans who don't remember the 1980s, was that the 1980s (and 1990s) 49ers were the New England Patriots (2001 to present) of their era. The NFC was also much stronger than the AFC in general in the 1980s (the other top teams of the 1980s - Redskins, Giants, Bears - all played in the NFC), and that played a role too.
#73 by theslothook // Mar 16, 2017 - 3:44am
What caused him to lose to a Vikes team that he was so favored over?(yes, I use to the word "he" deliberately). Did the vikes not have a Marino or Elway to motivate the best from him that day?
Yes we can all point to games he played well, but then how do we explain the games he did not? If the answer is, anyone can have an off day, then surely the same can be said that anyone can have an extraordinarily good day as well and maybe that day happened to show up on the sb the same way his awful day happened to show up earlier in the playoffs.
And this completely ignores the rest of the team and context. A look over Dr.Z's all pro teams of the 80s reveals a shocking number of 49ers beyond the obvious Rice, Montana, and Lott - especially on the defensive side.
Its why I try to ask a lot of people to recollect beyond the obvious narrative who the best player was. Montana's big game performances are there, but he was playing on a very innovative and talent laden team. Can the same be said of Marino at all? How about Elway? Ever since I became better acquainted with football, I've approached montana with a much greater degree of skepticism. Not that he isn't great, but enough to make me ask questions.
Again, I pose that question to anyone who watched the 80s broadly, where does Montana feature if we strip away the big game narrative(something that never shows up in the data at all, including with Montana).
Seriously - The lazy answer is : Montana with big games in sbs = the best ever
#75 by Bright Blue Shorts // Mar 16, 2017 - 5:52am
Bear in mind that as cynical of the Ringz argument as you are - it's only in the last decade or so that football has become televised wall-to-wall and deeply analysed.
So before that the QBs you were most likely to see were appearing on MNF, in the playoffs or SB - you only saw the best of the best. Winning big games or ringz was how reputations were built along with stats and boxscores that reveal little about context of Hail Mary interceptions or checkdown 3rd downs. Montana exited the game with the career highest passer rating as well as the ringz and three SB MVPs.
Fact is that there were doubts that Montana would even be playing football in '87 having had the snot knocked out of him by the Giants defense in the divisional playoffs of '86. Everybody gives him a pass for that game because it was against the Giants. '88 he got benched but Young couldn't displace him permanently. Then after that Montana won two Super Bowls - one with a 92-yd game-winning drive and the other with a dominant passing performance and then almost threepeated. Beyond that, all the players around him believed in him and say he was incredibly accurate on his passing. It's as much that subjective reputation from his teammates and his ability to lead them to wins (as he did with a great comeback game in college) that cemented his reputation.
But the point of my post is that if you're looking for an exhaustive play-by-play, process-oriented comparison of every QB from before about 2000 rather than big games, rings and conventional stats - no-one is going to be able to give it to you. A Pittsburgh fan might have seen every game Bradshaw played in and be able to wax lyrical on that but then they won't have been able to see Staubach in every Cowboys game he played to be able to make a valid, scientific comparison. All they'll have seen of Roger is MNF, some Sundays and playoff games - not his whole back catalogue. Because there just wasn't the coverage that there is these days to make that assessment.
#76 by CHIP72 // Mar 16, 2017 - 4:10pm
If you want more support for Montana as the top quarterback of his era...
1) The 49ers were a bad team prior to him becoming their starting QB (a young Steve DeBerg preceded Montana) and they quickly turned once Montana was under center, finishing with the best record in the NFL and winning the Super Bowl in his first full year as a starter after going 6-10 the year before (he started during the second half of that season) and 2-14 the two years before that.
2) The 49ers won two Super Bowls prior to Jerry Rice joining the team, which included posting a 15-1 record the year immediately before Rice came to the 49ers.
3) The 49ers posted the following points scored NFL ranks between 1981 and 1990:
1982: 7th (the 49ers had a poor defense and went 3-6 that season)
1986: 7th (Montana missed part of this season)
1987: 1st (both regular and overall games)
The 49ers also ranked 4th or higher in offensive yardage every year between 1982 and 1990.
4) Montana had a passer rating over 80 every season he played for the 49ers, and exceeded a 100 rating three times. This occurred during an era when the average passer rating was generally in the 70's. Montana was also the career passer rating leader in NFL history when he retired in 1994.
#77 by dryheat // Mar 16, 2017 - 8:13pm
I think Brady and Montana are essentially the same quarterback. Montana had the better cast, and the coaching was great on both sides. But their strengths were the same, as was their weaknesses.
And the poster below had a great point about not being able to see every game every week. Not even the highlights, really. A world (for the most part) without ESPN. What a glorious time to be alive -- when two idiots didn't sit across from each other and try to win stupid subjective arguments by virtue of being louder and more obnoxious.
#83 by theslothook // Mar 18, 2017 - 2:19am
all great points. just as a follow up, I live and work in San Francisco and so I've had a chance to ask older 49er fans. Granted, they never followed the sport as in depth as I have(basically,I'd need to run into an FO follower for that to happen), but to a man, when I pressed them hard, they found Steve Young to be the finest qb they'd ever seen. It sort of tells me, in terms of raw qb talent, Young might have been the better qb. Hell, if his health permitted it, Young might have been the finest qb that ever played - though again, era adjustments suggest Tarkenton was a real wunderkind.
#84 by Jerry // Mar 18, 2017 - 3:51am
If Young was really "the finest qb that ever played", he'd have made more of an impression in his USFL days, or even in an Archie Manning-like way when he was with the Bucs. Yeah, he was great in San Francisco, but this is probably a good reminder of just how much context matters.
#86 by Will Allen // Mar 18, 2017 - 12:14pm
Which is why it isn't nuts to make a case for Tarkenton. He was 32 years old, past his physical prime, and in his 12th season, before he was on a well coached roster that had good talent. The vast majority of his previous 11 seasons was on teams with below average, often terrible, talent, and consistently horrible coaching. In that awful environment, he often made teams competitive that had no business being competitive. Dr. Z once wrote that a Monday Night game in Dallas, when a horrid 1971 Giants team faced a championship Cowboys team, and Tarkenton singlehandedly fought them to a near-tie, was the finest game he ever saw a qb play.
#88 by justanothersteve // Mar 18, 2017 - 4:44pm
I remember reading once that Tarkenton was the quarterback Lombardi's Packers most hated playing. Even more than Unitas (the Colts were in the same division until 1967). Tarkenton would exhaust the defense. This was in the days of 40-man rosters and there was not the defensive rotations we see today. He would occasionally take off after scrambling for a bit, but he'd more often run back-and-forth behind the line for ten seconds or more. You see it today with Rodgers and Wilson, though both are more prone to running than Tarkenton.
#90 by Will Allen // Mar 18, 2017 - 5:55pm
It's been been 46 years since I began to form memories of watching Tarkenton (I saw that '71 game stretched out on the floor, my dad behind me in the Laz-y-boy), and he's still the best I ever saw at keeping his eyes downfield, although I swear he had pair in the back of his head, with the way he'd spin out of blind side hits. He was also the best at the play-action fake that I've ever seen. The thing he'd do is hide the ball behind his hip, and it would take forever for the defense to figure where the hell the ball was. On top of that he was a tremendous playcaller, and bridged the era where qbs called their own plays, and the era where, understandably, that task was take away. After one NFC Championship game against the Rams, Jack Youngblood remarked that Tarkenton was drawing up new plays in the tundra, during the huddle. If the play called wasn't right at the line of scrimmage, well, Youngblood also said he could smell a blitz with his eyes closed, and change the play accordingly, without regard to padding passing stats. Chuck Foreman had a long touchdown run in a conference championship on a third and long, when Tarkenton saw what was going to happen at the line of scrimmage.
He really had an average arm at best (in contrast to, say, Montana, whose throwing ability is usually understated), and once he was well into his 30s, below average. He had better instincts than anybody I've ever seen, however.
#93 by Will Allen // Mar 19, 2017 - 12:41pm
Well, that's difficult, because there are some really great qbs who nver had to play with anything but superior talent and coaching, so you are either excluding them, or making a blind projection.I'm tempted to say it has to be someone with mobility, but then I've also said Manning had his best season in 2010, the way he dragged that carcass of a roster to 10-6. Brady had some seasons whrre he won with absolute dreck at receiver, but he's never had to compensate for bad defense and o-line play.Marino carried some mediocre rosters well, and among the mobile guys, Elway did as well. Of the HOFers Ive seen, Montana is a hard projection on a roster with middling talent, just because he always had good talent in S.F..I'd like to go back and look at the K.C. roster which performed well with him, but it being a Schotty team, it likely was quite sound defensively and with regard to blocking.
Not trying to dodge, but it's a hard question.
#94 by crw78 // Mar 20, 2017 - 1:22pm
Brady took the 2011 Pats to the SB with the 31st ranked (conventional stats) and 30th ranked (DVOA) defense, and almost won it. So while the Pats did have excellent defense up until the 2009 or so, for a few years after that the defense was definitely subpar. Wasn't until 2014 that the Pats defense started to get back to previous norms.
#96 by theslothook // Mar 20, 2017 - 3:01pm
Well, as a follow up - the defense still managed to be 16th in pts allowed per drive, so they were generally stout in the red zone relative to their overall ranking(which was abysmal). To be fair, NE's offense was so prolific that it was able to hide the defense - something the Saints and Packers of that year had in common.
Also fair to point out - in the playoffs, the defense showed up in every one of their games, including the sb where they held the giants to under 20 points most of the day before conceding that back breaking td at the end. In fact, looking over most of Ne's playoff performances, their defense has rarely been completely shredded, short of some battles with Manning on the road.
#98 by Bright Blue Shorts // Mar 20, 2017 - 5:22pm
Unlike other years, the AFC was there for the Patriots taking in 2011. They were one of only four AFC teams with a winning record. Compare to eight this year.
The lockout helped well-coached teams and Brady and the offense came out firing particularly in the early games.
The Colts didn't have Manning so the Texans won the South at 10-6.
Denver won the West with Tebow at QB in a three way tie with Chargers and Raiders - each at 8-8.
The North was better contested with Ravens taking the division at 12-4 and giving the Pats a close game in the AFCCG. The Steelers also went 12-4 and then memorably lost in OT to Tebow whom the Patriots absolutely dicked on the divisional playoff.
Not taking anything away from the Pats as you can only beat the teams in front of you. But contextually perhaps it explains why they did so well with such a low-ranked defense.
#100 by crw78 // Mar 20, 2017 - 11:21pm
Certainly a lot easier to get to the SB when you only have to beat a Tebow-led team and one good team to get there. Still, I'm sure if we look back through the years there's plenty of times it occurs that a team only has to get through one really good opponent (Rex Grossman's Bears in 2006 anyone?), and even so, there was no historical precedent for a team with defensive numbers that bad getting to the SB (at least yardage and DVOA-wise - the Pats didn't allow as many points as those numbers would have suggested as another poster mentioned. Actually quite similar to this year in terms of the discrepancy between the yardage and DVOA rankings versus the number of points allowed - fewest in the league this year, but the rankings were middle of the pack rather than next to last. I attribute this Pats trait to excellent special teams play and very few offensive turnovers leading to teams needing to drive farther to score against them).
#101 by nat // Mar 21, 2017 - 3:21pm
That's odd. I looked up the defensive drive stats for the 2011 Patriots.
Points/Drive rank: 21 (not 16 - did I misunderstand something here?)
Points/Red Zone rank: 15
TDs/Red Zone rank: 21
They did have a defensive LoS/Drive rank of 2, meaning their offense and special teams game them excellent field position to defend.
I'd hardly call that "generally stout in the red zone". It looks more like "it's hard to kick field goals in Gillette" or "the Patriots defense was good at generating turnovers but bad at everything else".
#102 by theslothook // Mar 21, 2017 - 5:06pm
Nat: "Points/Drive rank: 21 (not 16 - did I misunderstand something here?)"
Nat: "I'd hardly call that "generally stout in the red zone" -
- that's because you cut off the rest of the sentence. I said, "generally stout in the red zone relative to their horrible defensive ranking." The point being that they were able to keep the score down despite having a defense was that horrible otherwise.
This is important in the context of the larger discussion, which was - the patriots rarely field a team that hemorrhages points. Yes, that is a function of special teams and an excellent offense(which I said above), but its not only that. Cause and effect are hard to disentangle in the NFL and as a counterexample, the saints' offense hasn't helped their defense from hemorrhaging both yards and points.
#97 by theslothook // Mar 20, 2017 - 3:08pm
I've asked a few people this question. I get a variety of replies. Montana and Brady seem to me to be the hardest to separate because their level of excellence was so good and so consistent - it feels wholly unfair to punish them for being with well coached , talented teams.
That said, there is a reason all those 80s fans love Elway. The view seems to be that the offense was terrible and it required a herculean efforts from Elway over and over. I hate that explanation as its a very easy one to fall too - especially when we blindly give too much credit to qbs in the first place - but that seems to be the consensus.
Again, speaking to some people I trust, Marino seems to get the Brees treatment. Prolific and dangerous, but people generally felt his stats were inflated due to the nature of the offense and style of the team. I feel bad for Marino(and Brees) in that regard. It might be true that their stats are inflated given the team they are on - but its also true that those players are(were) stuck with some horrible defenses. In Brees' case, you could make a realistic argument that the Saints have had the worst multi-year stretch of defense in nfl history. They've basically been horrible since 2011(a remarkably long time).
#99 by Will Allen // Mar 20, 2017 - 7:07pm
The largest impediment Drew Brees had to greater career success is that Sean Payton isn't very good at hiring defensive staff, and Mickey Loomis manages the cap like a degenerate gambler who finds a Ben Franklin in the sofa cushions.
#85 by theslothook // Mar 18, 2017 - 12:01pm
Here's where i will admit, i never saw Young play, so im only referencing the opinions of others. I vaguely started watching in 98 and then religiously started watching in 03 and 04. I went to school in La so we got the colts and cowboys a lot. My 49er friends begged me not to be a cowboys fan.
#87 by Will Allen // Mar 18, 2017 - 12:24pm
Peak Steve Young was as good as it gets, it's just that he needed Walsh/Holmgren for a while to find his peak, and then the concussions ended the career.
(Edit) I think Holmgren belongs in the HOF, and one of the reasons why, beyond the easily observable performance of his teams when he was head coach, is his central role in developing Young and Favre.
#89 by dbostedo // Mar 18, 2017 - 5:28pm
"What a glorious time to be alive -- when two idiots didn't sit across from each other and try to win stupid subjective arguments by virtue of being louder and more obnoxious."
Except for the folks at every local bar doing just that without the benefit of highlights, stats, or analysis.
Either that, or they just all agreed that their local hero was clearly the best ever.
#32 by andrew // Mar 14, 2017 - 12:31am
Those playoffs were also in a way responsible for ending the career of longtime CBS prognosticator Jimmy the Greek Snyder.
If you recall he was in Washington for the NFCCG (Redskins at home) which happened to he the week of MLK day. He was at a DC area restaurant when he was interviewed and asked about MLK and in his response made some racially unacceptable remarks which got him fired.
Now the only way he would have been in DC that week was if there was a game in Washington that week. And the Redskins were the lowest seeded division winner. So the only way that could have happened was if the Redskins upset the Bears and the Vikings upset the 49ers both of which happened. He even lamented about theveryone odds of this in an interview after being fired. (Mind you nothing says he wouldn't have said something stupid in San Francisco or Chicago or eventually somewhere else).
#35 by Subrata Sircar // Mar 14, 2017 - 4:49am
Anthony Carter was one of my favorite players since I watched him play at Michigan, and was in the stands for his first college touch (a punt return TD) and his Hail Mary against Indiana. I took extraordinary glee in that playoff performance and bludgeoned the unenlightened who couldn't see his greatness :<)
#36 by t.d. // Mar 14, 2017 - 4:50am
I love these historical dvoa season overviews, and I was probably looking forward to 1987 most of all (because it was such a weird season- Jerry Rice, Reggie White, and a 49er juggernaut that didn't win a playoff game). For a few weeks, Anthony Carter was the best player in the world (looking back, 24.3 yards per reception is mind boggling). Didn't remember that Montana had crossed the picket line. Mora's Saints teams are probably a little underrated, due to shitting the bed in the playoffs.
#68 by CHIP72 // Mar 15, 2017 - 6:44pm
The funny thing about the 1987 Saints is that was the first season in their history, dating back to 1967, that they finished with a winning record. Because the Saints had never been good before, lost so badly at home in the playoffs to an inferior Minnesota team, did not win their own division (they were in the NFC West with the 49ers), and ended up going on a 6 year run that included 5 winning seasons and 4 playoff appearances but 0 playoff wins, the greatness of the 1987 Saints tends to be forgotten.
Speaking of being forgotten, one thing that most people forget about then-Saints coach Jim Mora is that unlike his NFL career, he was very successful in the playoffs during the 3 years he coached the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars. Being from eastern Pennsylvania, I rooted for the Stars and followed them closely (at least for the first 2 years), and that franchise was the class of the USFL. The Stars appeared in all 3 league championship games and won 2 of them, and finished with the league's best regular season record in both 1983 and 1984. It sure beat following the Eagles of the same era (who were coached by the Swamp Fox, Marion Campbell - an excellent NFL defensive coordinator but a terrible NFL head coach).
#80 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Mar 17, 2017 - 2:44pm
Thanks for bringing up Marion Campbell. I find his head coaching career fascinating. He was hired as head coach of the Falcons in the 1980's despite failing miserably as head coach of the Falcons in the 1970's:
At the risk of violating rule #1, it would be like Herbert Hoover getting elected as president again in 1940.
#37 by Jerry // Mar 14, 2017 - 6:15am
Wonderful work, Aaron.
You mention a couple of the names at the bottom of the scab quarterbacks list. The guy at the bottom, Willie "Satellite" Totten, was Jerry Rice's quarterback at Mississippi Valley State.
#40 by Will Allen // Mar 14, 2017 - 8:38am
I'm always surprised that the '89 Niners don't rank higher in DVOA, but their expected win notal was "only" 12.6, compared to their 14 actual wins, so it likely is the 3 playoff stomps that are coloring my perception, which is not invalid; 3 playoff games are nearly 20% of a regular season, after all.
Very interested in how the DVOA looks for the '84-'86 champs, and how '83 Washington and Raiders compared by DVOA. I suspect DVOA will tell us that it was nuts for Washington to be s heavily favored in that Super Bowl.
#41 by dryheat // Mar 14, 2017 - 10:01am
It was the end of an era for running backs. In addition to Craig and Payton down low on the list, several more once-good-to-great RBs also appear down there...Tony Dorsett, James Brooks, Joe Morris, Tony Collins...
The blue-haired woman will make a great sacrifice
#43 by johonny // Mar 14, 2017 - 11:04am
It's interesting to see the Broncos offense rated so high. I remember people thinking Reeves's teams handcuffed Elway and lead with the defense, but the numbers seem to argue Elway's value was more hidden than the low completion percentage and QB rating indicate.
#69 by CHIP72 // Mar 15, 2017 - 6:51pm
I remember those late 1980s Broncos teams, and although they had been good defensive teams from the Orange Crush days of the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, by the late 1980s defensive coordinator Joe Collier had lost his touch and the Broncos had become only so-so defensively. The Broncos of that era didn't have a great running game (Sammy Winder was the primary back but was past his prime at that point), but Elway and the Three Amigos (wide receivers Vance Johnson, Ricky Nattiel, and Mark Jackson) were able to carry the team.
#47 by Aaron Schatz // Mar 14, 2017 - 12:57pm
Here you go, with 1986 still to come in a few weeks:
Year Team DVOA W-L OFF RK DEF RK ST RK
1991 WAS 56.9% 14-2 27.2% 1 -21.1% 3 8.6% 1
2007 NE 52.9% 16-0 43.5% 1 -5.8% 11 3.6% 7
1987 SF 47.2% 10-2 23.3% 1 -22.4% 1 1.5% 10
2010 NE 44.6% 14-2 42.2% 1 2.3% 21 4.7% 8
1996 GB 42.0% 13-3 15.2% 3 -19.3% 1 7.4% 2
2013 SEA 40.0% 13-3 9.4% 7 -25.9% 1 4.7% 5
1995 SF 40.0% 11-5 18.6% 5 -23.7% 1 -2.2% 22
2012 SEA 38.7% 11-5 18.5% 4 -14.5% 2 5.7% 3
2015 SEA 38.1% 10-6 18.7% 1 -15.2% 4 4.2% 3
2004 PIT 37.6% 15-1 16.3% 8 -18.9% 3 2.4% 10
1989 SF 36.0% 14-2 26.2% 1 -11.5% 5 -1.7% 21
1992 DAL 35.1% 13-3 23.6% 2 -9.5% 5 1.9% 8
1999 STL 34.0% 13-3 17.7% 4 -13.5% 3 2.8% 9
2000 TEN 33.3% 13-3 0.9% 16 -25.0% 1 7.4% 4
1994 DAL 32.9% 12-4 18.4% 3 -12.8% 2 1.7% 8
1998 DEN 32.6% 14-2 34.5% 1 4.3% 20 2.3% 9
2005 IND 32.1% 14-2 24.5% 3 -10.2% 5 -2.6% 25
2014 SEA 31.9% 12-4 16.8% 5 -16.8% 1 -1.7% 19
2008 PHI 31.8% 9-6-1 6.5% 12 -23.6% 3 1.7% 13
2002 TB 31.6% 12-4 -3.8% 20 -31.8% 1 3.6% 9
1990 NYG 30.8% 13-3 10.5% 7 -14.4% 4 5.9% 2
2003 KC 30.3% 13-3 33.4% 1 9.4% 25 6.3% 1
1997 GB 29.7% 13-3 15.5% 4 -10.6% 3 3.5% 6
2006 SD 29.5% 14-2 25.7% 2 1.1% 15 4.9% 3
2009 BAL 29.1% 9-7 12.8% 9 -14.2% 4 2.2% 8
1988 CIN 27.5% 12-4 30.7% 1 0.2% 14 -3.0% 24
2001 PHI 27.3% 11-5 2.9% 12 -15.5% 1 8.9% 1
2011 GB 27.0% 15-1 33.8% 1 8.6% 25 1.8% 8
2016 NE 25.3% 14-2 21.1% 2 -1.5% 16 2.7% 7
1993 DAL 24.9% 12-4 21.8% 2 0.8% 18 3.8% 7
#50 by Will Allen // Mar 14, 2017 - 1:41pm
Even though Gibbs' teams were renowned for o-line play, I think the 1991 team's o-line may be overlooked, when the best units all time are discussed. Only one HOFer, Grimm, and he only started one game that year, but Lachey and Jacoby at tackle, Schlereth and McKenzie at guard, and Bostic at center were, really, really, dominant, and Gibbs was better than anyone in translating dominant o-line play into guaranteeing a high probability of victory.
#48 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Mar 14, 2017 - 1:20pm
"Head coach Ron Meyer actually took Hogeboom out of the game in the second half to preserve Johnny Unitas' then-team record of 401 passing yards."
That's fascinating. In every recorded interview I've seen of the late Mr. Unitas, he always made his venom for the Colts franchise (after they absconded from Baltimore) very clear. I doubt he would have really cared about Meyer's gesture.
#51 by Theo // Mar 14, 2017 - 2:21pm
This is such great stuff.
I started a Madden franchise which starts in 1986 with all the rosters and future draft picks.
It gives a great insight in the NFL players from that time. Reading all this makes it come alive more.
#58 by Willsy // Mar 15, 2017 - 6:58am
Can you see the pain that Will and I have to endure as Vikings fans.
Interesting how much I had tuned out over the strike period but the disappointment of the NFC game killed me after we beat the 49's who were a scary opponent and I game us zero chance of winning.
Will also referred to some great offensive lineman on several teams at that time. Compare some of those players and lines to their equivalents today. It suggests that FA has had a major impact on line play and has hurt the cohesion that O lines need.
So that and the college spread impact has really driven down standards and a change isn't obvious to turn things about quickly. When I read the names Randall MacDaniel and Gary Zimmerman I want to adopt the foetal position.
And Mark Bavaro, what a player! He was a grader and could catch.
#70 by CHIP72 // Mar 15, 2017 - 7:22pm
RE: Herschel Walker - most people don't remember this because of the lopsided Dallas/Minnesota trade where the Cowboys received a boatload of draft picks for Walker and the fact Walker didn't have great lateral cutting ability as a runner, but the former Georgia standout really was a well-rounded player, excellent in many phases of the game. He not only was a good runner, but he was also a very good receiver, a good blocker, and a very good returner. Very few players have that kind of all-around ability. Fans of teams who saw him play regularly (I'm an Eagles fan; he played for the Eagles from 1992-1994) never underrate him; he was legitimately a great player and should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (though he will likely never be selected).
One other Herschel Walker tidbit - he still holds the U.S. professional football single season rushing record with 2411 yards (in an 18 game season) for the USFL New Jersey Generals in 1985.
#104 by jpg30 // Mar 24, 2017 - 1:02am
Is it fair to say that the NY Giants 1987 scab team is the worst team to suit up in NFL history? Deciding not to go to their Week 6 game in Orchard Park remains one of the best decisions of my adult life. The Bills turned the ball over seven times & managed to beat the Giants, 6-3.
#106 by Travis // Mar 28, 2017 - 12:59pm
To be fair, they're probably better than one of the fly-by-night teams of the 1920's, did have an in-his-prime Lawrence Taylor for one-thirds of their games, and one of their scabs managed to make this catch.
McClure, sadly, was better then the other two Bills scab quarterbacks - Dan Manucci put up a passer rating of 3.8, while Willie Totten fumbled 9 times in 50 dropbacks.