When you are as old as I am (45) and you fell in love with the NFL in the mid-1980s then you will always have fond memories of a time that was dominated by Joe Montana, Da Bearz, and the likes of the outstanding Cleveland Browns secondary, consisting of Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield (below).
Back then NFL highlights were on Channel 4, and merchandise was everywhere in England, from replica shirts (I owned an Art Monk #81 burgundy one) to plenty of different books, and even NFL Films special programmes such as ‘Football Follies’ on VHS video tape.
With time on our hands caused by the Coronavirus pandemic I wanted to take a deep dive into the decade that gave birth to a sporting phenomenon in the UK, changing the lives of thousands of impressionable fans.
I play a game called Action PC Football, which is visually about as much fun as watching some eggshell matt paint dry, but as in-depth tactically and statistically and as having a January Saturday night dinner with Bill Belichick.
Having loved the 1980s more than any other decade (nothing to do with my team winning two Super Bowls) I decided to try and get 15 more retro NFL addicts together to each draft an entire franchise (50 players), and then replay the entire decade, season by season.
I was fortunate to find some committed 80s super fans from around the globe (well Scotland, Wales, Italy, England, USA and Canada) and we set about each drafting 50 players from the entire database of everyone who played in the NFL in 1980 (or before if injured for all of 1980).
Using random.org we set a draft order that was then reversed every even round (a snake draft) and off we went, drafting the cream of the start of the 1980s. Don’t forget this is not fantasy as such, this was building and entire team, offense, defense, special teams, ensuring all positions are filled to a minimum and maximum requirement. For instance you cannot have more than three quarterbacks and you need at least four outside linebackers.
Rules and ratings
To give a further bit of context it’s worth explaining how the players are rated in the game.
The obvious ones such as quarterbacks, running backs, wideouts are governed by their real life stats such as attempts, rushes, catches etc.. The likes of fullbacks and tight-ends have an additional blocking rating (ranging from 2 up to 7).
Offensive and defensive linemen are rated out of a total of 10 (min 3 max 10) and the absolute superstars may have a ‘+’ added so they are rated 10+. The overall rating is broken down to run and pass blocking for offensive linemen and run defending, pass defending and pass rush for all defensive players.
All defensive players also have all their real life stats used, so their tackles, sacks, interceptions, passes defended etc are included. Special teams is the same so kickers, punters, and anyone who returns punts or kicks has their real life stats used.
If you are still with me there are a few more factors that the GMs needed to factor in, namely durability, usage, and who you will be keeping for the following seasons as we replay all 10 1980s seasons up to 1989.
All players have a real life durability rating, so if you pick someone who in 1980 played all 16 regular season games they have a 10 durability rating. They play only 8 regular season contests their durability rating is 5 (out of 10).
Many leagues that folks set up where they replay seasons or decades they have a salary cap (all players have a salary in the game) but I did not want this level of complexity with just 16 teams picking. Instead I set a rule that you can only keep a player for the next season if you use him for 50% of his real stats. So, for instance if you pick a player who had 50 catches in 1980 he would need to have 25 catches in 1980 to be kept on the roster for the 1981 season.
The final rule for all teams is that you have to cut 10 (20%) of your roster at the end of each season to then be able to draft either rookies for the next season or any remaining veteran free agents. For anyone who remembers, the absolute monster rookie in 1981 was Lawrence Taylor (above), the once in a lifetime pass-rushing sensation, and star in both the Blind Side (real life) and Any Given Sunday (fiction).
So with all teams named, mine being the Four Oaks Krakens, named after the mythical sea beast that Perseus has to defeat in Greek mythology, we hunkered down in our war rooms, got out the giant white-boards and bag of magnetised players names and began a 50-day draft, which was somewhat of a reassuring daily ritual during peak global lockdown.
I bet you are wondering now who went first, and how the first few rounds played out, as teams grabbed their franchise studs for the decade, and revealed glimpses of how they would be building their team – an offensive masterclass? A defensive dynasty or a balanced team with no real weaknesses?
The 1980 Draft – Round 1 to 5
Without further delay here is the results of Round 1:
ROUND 1 Results
1.1 Boston Tea Baggers – Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton RB
1.2 Pine City Dragons – Joe ‘Joe Cool’ Montana QB
1.3 Washington Huskies- Earl Campbell RB
1.4 Detroit Silver-Rush- Tony Dorsett RB
1.5 Four Oaks Krakens – Art Monk WR
1.6 Conroe Crushers – Anthony Muñoz T
1.7 Mount Dora Hurricanes – James Lofton WR
1.8 Sierra Madre Axemen – Steve Largent WR
1.9 Kutztown Golden-Bears – Dwight Clark WR
1.10 West Whiteland Wyrm- Randy White DT
1.11 Da Bru Cru – Lester Hayes CB
1.12 Dashwood Freeze – Dan Fouts QB
1.13 St Louis Honey-Badgers – Kellen Winslow TE
1.14 Wales Whales – Otis (OJ) Anderson RB
1.15 Montreal Alouettes – Danny White QB
1.16 Yakima Yaks – Mike Webster C
Round 1 Analysis
Nobody can deny running back Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton going number one, but it was a small surprise for those who expected quarterback Joe Montana (the person who this league is named after) to be the very first pick.
Of all available RBs in 1980 Payton ended the decade with the most rushing yards (9800) and only trailed Eric Dickerson (11,226) in terms of all running backs in the entire 1980s.
It took until pick 10 before a defensive player was selected, in the form of beastly DT Randy White who went to six consecutive Pro-Bowls and was named All-pro five times in the 80s.
My own pick (1.5) was a tough call between two players – a head v heart decision. As a lifelong Redskins fan I wanted the person that led the entire decade in catches or the best offensive tackle of the 80s. I went heart as Art Monk’s 662 catches in the 80s were simply going to be more fun to replay on my team than the dominant blocking of Anthony Munoz, who as it turned out was selected with the very next pick.
14 of 16 picks were on offense in Round 1 but just three quarterbacks.
Round 2 Results
2.1 Yakima Yaks – Fred Smerlas DT
2.2 Montreal Alouettes – Billy Sims RB
2.3 Wales Whales – John Hannah G
2.4 St Louis Honey-Badgers – Joe Theismann QB
2.5 Dashwood Freeze – William Andrews RB
2.6 Da Bru Cru – Dan Hampton DE
2.7 West Whiteland Wyrm – Mike Kenn OT
2.8 Kutztown Golden-Bears – Jack Lambert ILB
2.9 Sierra Madre Axemen – Ozzie Newsome TE
2.10 Mount Dora Hurricanes – Wes Chandler WR
2.11 Conroe Crushers – Gary Johnson DT
2.12 Four Oaks Krakens – Mark Gastineau DE
2.13 Detroit Silver-Rush – Jackie Slater G/T
2.14 Washington Huskies – Pat Thomas CB
2.15 Pine City Dragons – Randy Cross G
2.16 Boston Tea Baggers – Mike Haynes CB
Round 2 Analysis
A lot more of a balanced round with seven defensive players, four offensive linemen and just one quarterback selected.
I had a huge amount of choice, and like 75% of the league I realised I could wait a little bit longer before grabbing my franchise signal-caller. I decided to go defense, and by the time I picked it was going to be a big named defensive lineman or cornerback. Mark Gastineau was part of the ‘New York Sack Exchange’ of the early to mid 80s and his mullet and #99 shirt number are too hard to resist. Gastineau was in fact married to Brigette Nielsen.
Half of Round 2 was an offensive or defensive lineman, proving that the owners in large part know that if you are to build a quality team you have to have rock solid line play. Already you can see that this is not like a standard fantasy draft, this tests all your GM muscles more than a Joe Wicks workout on a wet Tuesday morning.
The first member of the Bears famed 1985 ‘4T6’ defense went this round as Dan Hampton the DE became the first edge rusher to get picked in the draft.
ROUND 3 Results
3.1 Boston Tea Baggers – Kent Hill G
3.2 Pine City Dragons – Jacob Green DE
3.3 Washington Huskies- Nolan Cromwell S
3.4 Detroit Silver-Rush- Al Baker DE
3.5 Four Oaks Krakens – Ron ‘Jaws’ Jaworski QB
3.6 Conroe Crushers – Gary Green CB
3.7 Mount Dora Hurricanes – Lynn Dickey QB
3.8 Sierra Madre Axemen – Dave Krieg QB
3.9 Kutztown Golden-Bears – Joe Cribbs RB
3.10 West Whiteland Wyrm – Steve Bartkowski QB
3.11 Da Bru Cru – Donnie Shell S
3.12 Dashwood Freeze – Mike Pruitt RB
3.13 St Louis Honey-Badgers – Pat Tilley WR
3.14 Wales Whales – Marvin Powell T
3.15 Montreal Alouettes – Stanley Morgan WR
3.16 Yakima Yaks – Clay Matthews OLB
Round 3 Analysis
Round 3 and a quarter of teams decided enough was enough and grabbed a quarterback, myself included. Half the league have QBs by now and half are still hanging on for a bargain.
Many of you may know the rather chipmunk looking Ron ‘Jaws’ Jaworski as a member of the NFL media collective, who worked for many years on ESPN in various guises. Jaworski remains in the top 10 all-time for consecutive starts. His 116 game streak is the ninth most by a QB in NFL history, so you can see why I made the pick. For the first half of the decade I would not have to think about QB in a big way.
You may have spotted Clay Matthews (above) went at pick 3.16. Yes this is the father of Clay Matthews Jr, who is still playing in the NFL today.
Nolan Cromwell, a hard hitting quality tackling Rams veteran became the first safety to come off the board. Remember Ronnie Lott did not join the NFL until 1981.
ROUND 4 Results
4.1 Yakima Yaks – Raymond Clayborn CB
4.2 Montreal Alouettes – Ted ‘Mad Stork’ Hendricks OLB
4.3 Wales Whales – Dwight Stephenson C
4.4 St Louis Honey-Badgers – Louis Wright CB
4.5 Dashwood Freeze – Alfred Jenkins WR
4.6 Da Bru Cru – Herbert Scott G
4.7 West Whiteland Wyrm – LeRoy Selmon DE
4.8 Kutztown Golden-Bears – Joe Ferguson QB
4.9 Sierra Madre Axemen – Tony Hill WR
4.10 Mount Dora Hurricanes – Ted Brown RB
4.11 Conroe Crushers – Charlie Joiner WR
4.12 Four Oaks Krakens – Harry Carson ILB
4.13 Detroit Silver-Rush – Ray Donaldson C/G
4.14 Washington Huskies -Brian Sipe QB
4.15 Pine City Dragons – Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones DE
4.16 Boston Tea Baggers – Gary Fencik S
Round 4 Analysis
Some delightfully named defenders went in Round 4, from the ‘Mad Stork’ to Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones (below), who stood at a towering 6ft 9 (206cm).
I wanted to keep my balanced approach and draft another defensive player here, one that would serve me well throughout the decade, with maximum games played at a high level from 1980-89. There were higher rated players to draft in 1980 but few had the complete decade consistency of inside linebacker Harry Carson, who went on to win a Super Bowl ring for the Giants. What you ay not know is that Carson was one of the inaugural ‘Gatorade shower’ instigators, having dumped the sticky stuff on head coach Bill Parcells.
The selection of Centre Dwight Stephenson was done with the future in mind. As a rookie Stephenson was rated just 4 (out of 10) but he goes on to play in 5 Pro Bowls and was an All Pro from 1984 to 1987.
A second member of the 85 Bears went here with S Gary Fencik getting selected at 4.16.
ROUND 5 Results
5.1 Boston Tea Baggers – Joe Klecko DT
5.2 Pine City Dragons – Rod Martin OLB
5.3 Washington Huskies- Lemar Parrish CB
5.4 Detroit Silver-Rush- Terry Bradshaw QB
5.5 Four Oaks Krakens – Ed Newman G
5.6 Conroe Crushers – Curtis Dickey RB
5.7 Mount Dora Hurricanes – Art Still DE
5.8 Sierra Madre Axemen – Rulon Jones DE
5.9 Kutztown Golden-Bears – Gary Barbaro S
5.10 West Whiteland Wyrm -Randy Gradishar ILB
5.11 Da Bru Cru – Robert Brazile OLB
5.12 Dashwood Freeze – Charlie Johnson DT
5.13 St Louis Honey-Badgers – Bob Baumhower DT
5.14 Wales Whales – Chuck Muncie RB
5.15 Montreal Alouettes – Matt Blair OLB
5.16 Yakima Yaks – Scott Studwell ILB
Round 5 Analysis
12 defensive players go in Round 5, including 5 linebackers. One of those, Rod Martin (#53 below), had an incredible 3 interceptions in Super Bowl XV in 1981.
Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who won four Super Bowls in the 1970s went at pick 5.4. Bradshaw, who many of you will know from Fox TV’s NFL coverage, played 39 games in the 1980s but never replicated his monumental success from the Seventies.
I decided to start building my offensive line, grabbing former Dolphins G Ed Newman. Newman was a Pro-Bowler from 1981-84 and blocked for Dan Marino in his only Super Bowl appearance in early 1985.
As you can see the league owners were all looking to build solid teams, with five more defensive linemen selected, including another member of the ‘New York Sack Exchange’ Dan Klecko.
If people like this I will continue to analyse the top 20 rounds of the draft?
Hit me up at @F10YRetro