Glenn Guzzo



Old-Timer “Experiment” Rich in NFL, AFL History



By Glenn Guzzo


            Strat-O-Matic gamers who have long wished for old-timer football card sets have their wish granted this year, as the game company experiments with a trio of past-season sets that cover the spectrum of Strat-O-Matic card-making.


            The diverse seasons now for sale – 1965, 1979 and 1985 – will be a strong test of whether the desire for old-timer teams is deep enough to encourage the game company to repeat the effort.


            The three seasons include one (1965) that had never been produced by Strat-O-Matic, one (1979) that had been produced in the outdated, pre-1982 format, and one (1985) that had been released in modern format, but without the updated quarterback Flat Pass columns.


            The experiment goes another step – each card set contains the six best teams of the season. Gamers wanting the complete lineup of teams can find them in Strat-O-Matic’s library of computer football seasons (which also includes 1966, 1968, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1998-2002). And with the game company’s new emphasis on customized computer managers, each of the electronic versions of these teams plays in the styles true to their different eras, making the possible matchups endlessly fascinating.


            The “great teams” concept is particularly attractive in these three historically significant seasons:



The 1965 season forever will be remembered as the last before a Super Bowl and the last before new franchises in Miami and Atlanta. The NFL crowned its last pure champion in Green Bay, but the Packers did not have the chance to beat Cleveland in the title game until they claimed a controversial overtime victory over Baltimore in the NFL Western Conference playoff. The AFL’s final pure champion was Buffalo, quarterbacked by future congressman Jack Kemp, who defeated Kemp’s first AFL team, San Diego, in the title game. This also was the year that rookie Gale Sayers of Chicago achieved a record 22 touchdowns, but just one more than Cleveland’s Jim Brown, who shocked the sports world by making this season, one of his very best, his last. Although these Browns did not win the NFL title as the ’64 Browns did, this team was so exciting offensively that Strat-O-Matic chose this squad to include in its only previous old-timer football set, which featured six teams from 1958-65.


The carded teams: Green Bay (10-3-1), Baltimore (10-3-1), Cleveland (11-3), Chicago (9-5), Buffalo (10-3-1) and San Diego (9-2-3).


The stars: Sayers and fellow Bears rookie Dick Butkus, the legendary MLB, were instant all-pros. Sayers is one of the most lethal Strat-O-Matic players ever – he gained 2,252 total yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry rushing, 17 yards per pass reception, 15 yards per punt return (with a touchdown) and 31 yards per kickoff return (with a touchdown) … Brown (1,544 yards and 17 TDs rushing) has perhaps the most unstoppable running card in Strat history – running the linebuck or off tackle, the only chance to throw him for a loss (without keying) is on a 2 roll guessed right on the linebuck. Get this: Keyed, Brown gains yards on the linebuck on rolls 4, 6-10 and 12. That’s 75 percent of the time. Most great backs won’t do that guessed right. Oh, and Brown cannot fumble on his own card, even when keyed.


      QB John Unitas (9 yards per pass) and receivers Raymond Berry, Jimmy Orr, Lenny Moore and John Mackey give Baltimore a passing game to wish for, but with Unitas and backup Gary Cuozzo both out, the Colts were forced to finish the season with RB Tom Matte as their quarterback. That was good enough to beat last-place LA in the regular-season finale, but Baltimore did not score an offensive touchdown in the playoff with Green Bay and lost, 13-10 on Don Chandler’s controversial field goal (some still insist it went wide) in overtime. Matte’s comical passing card is based on throwing as many interceptions as completions (one each) in just seven passing attempts. Defenses will dare him to throw by calling Run on every play, but if they did guess Pass, Matte probably will run anyway – his Short Pass and Long Pass columns have more Must Run results guessed right (23 out of 36 chances on the Short Pass, 20 of 36 Long) than all other results combined.


Defense rules for the champs in Green Bay and Buffalo. Packer defenders Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderly and Willie Wood are Hall of Famers, but Buffalo’s then-no-name defense (the equivalent stars are Ron McDole, Art Stratton, Butch Byrd and George Saimes) is every bit as good … San Diego’s near-perfect WR Lance Alworth and dominant RB Paul Lowe led the Chargers to the AFL’s best offense and the Chargers allowed just one more point than AFL-best Buffalo (and three more than NFL-best Green Bay) in the regular season. But the Bills, beaten by San Diego 34-3 in the regular season, saved their only shutout for the title game. It’s still the latest championship in Buffalo, which has made it to the Super Bowl four times, but never won.


The disk:  We all remember that the AFL achieved parity with the NFL when Joe Namath led the 1968 Jets to victory in Super Bowl III. But Namath’s eye-popping $400,000 rookie contract in ’65 did much to establish the AFL as a true rival of the NFL. Namath started the season on the bench, but became the starter before mid-season. … Pro football’s best offense was not in Chicago, Cleveland or San Diego, but in San Francisco, where John Brodie passed for 30 TDs, Dave Parks (80 catches, 1,344 yards, 17 yards per catch) caught 12 of them and rookie RB Ken Willard scored 9 TDs while leading the 49ers with 778 yards. … One of the great rookie classes ever also features Dallas WR Bob Hayes (1,003 yards receiving, 22 yards per catch, 12 TDs, plus 553 kick return yards), and starting OT Ralph Neely, along with less-used rookie teammates Craig Morton, Dan Reeves and Jethro Pugh.



The 1979 season featured the fourth and final Super Bowl trophy for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ remarkable “Steel Curtain” dynasty of the 1970s. But Pittsburgh did not prevail until it held off Houston twice – the Steelers split two games with rushing champion Earl Campbell’s Oilers and didn’t win the AFC Central Division until the final week, then had to beat the Oilers again in the AFC championship game. … This was also the first full season of the “Air Coryell” era in San Diego. And the season that produced a division winner in, of all places, Tampa Bay.


The carded teams: Pittsburgh (12-4), Houston (11-3), San Diego (12-4), Los Angeles Rams (9-7), Dallas (11-5) and Tampa Bay (10-6)


The stars: Campbell (1,697 yards, 4.6 average, 19 rushing TDs) is a force, a bulldozer guessed right and with multiple breakaway runs guessed wrong. RB Rob Carpenter can get good yardage if Campbell is keyed too often. But otherwise, Houston will thrive with a Short Pass-Long Pass card that is about as good as it gets in Strat, not weak QB Dan Pastorini. … San Diego QB Dan Fouts (62.6 percent completions, 4,082 yards) and WR John Jefferson carry the offense for a Chargers team uncharacteristically good on defense during the “Air Coryell” era. The Chargers actually surrendered fewer points (246) than any team but Tampa Bay. … Pittsburgh wins with the better-rounded team. Only WR John Stallworth (70 catches, 1,183 yards, 8 TDs) has a special card, but all the Steelers offensive Hall of Famers (QB Terry Bradshaw, RB Franco Harris, WR Lynn Swann) are strong, especially C Mike Webster (7 pass block, 6 run block). The Steel Curtain defense has two 6s on the line, two at linebacker and two in the secondary, including HOFers Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount. A remarkably consistent pass rush features nine players with sack ratings of 6-8.


Dallas QB Roger Staubach has one of the most consistent-quality cards ever, reliable at all ranges with high completions and yardage, low interceptions and effective scrambling. He’s got support from 1,107-yard RB Tony Dorsett, strong run blocking and dangerous WRs Tony Hill and Drew Pearson in the NFC’s best offense. … The Rams rely on a strong running game and a very tough defense, but it was backup QB Vince Ferragamo, he of the awful card, who led the team into the playoffs with three wins in the last four games, and then into the Super Bowl, where the Rams led the Steelers until the fourth quarter. … Until very recently, this was Tampa Bay’s best team, its first division winner. But the Bucs stumbled into the playoffs by winning 3-0 in the final week after three straight losses that underscored, so to speak, Tampa’s impotent offense. RB Ricky Bell (1,263 yards, 7 TDs) is very impressive guessed right, but a bad quarterback limits a cluster of low-catch, high-gain receivers to the occasional big play. The Bucs, who yielded an NFL-low 237 points, rely on a big-time pass rush to win the field-position war, but a bad kicking game makes that tough to do consistently.


The disk: This was the year when … The Bears, led by Walter Payton’s NFL-best 1,610 yards and 14 rushing TDs, qualified for the playoffs on the day George Halas died. FB Larry Csonka returned to Miami after four years in the World Football League and with the New York Giants. Bill Walsh debuted as coach in San Francisco and Tom Flores succeeded John Madden as coach in Oakland. In San Francisco, Steve DeBerg (NFC-best 60 percent completions and 3,652 yards) set NFL records for most pass attempts (579) and completions (347), while O.J. Simpson finished his career as a part-time running back. New England had two 1,000-yard WRs in Harold Jackson and Stanley Morgan and scored 411 points – as many as San Diego and only five fewer than league-leading Pittsburgh. New Orleans (RB Chuck Muncie and WR Wes Chandler) and Atlanta (RB William Andrews and WR Wallace Francis) each had a 1,000-yard runner and receiver. The Giants began starting rookie QB Phil Simms after opening the season 0-5. Minnesota DE Jim Marshall, the last of the once-great “Purple People Eaters” defensive line, ran his record consecutive-games streak to 282, then retired at season’s end.




The 1985 season features perhaps the most dominant – and most charismatic – team in NFL history, the Chicago Bears. Featuring the overwhelming “46” defense (“Supreme” against the run, and one of the few Strat-O-Matic teams ever to have all 6s at linebacker) that held 14 of 19 opponents to 10 points or fewer, Chicago won its first 12 games, finished 15-1, and made the post-season its private party, rolling to easy shutouts of both NFC opponents (the Giants and the Rams) and then demolishing AFC champ New England, 46-10, in the Super Bowl. The Bears had personality plus in unpredictable QB Jim McMahon and DT William “The Refrigerator” Perry, who occasionally doubled as a 308-pound tailback in the Bears’ goal-line offense. But this was also the only Super Bowl for Chicago’s classy Hall of Famers, RB Walter Payton (more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage) and MLB Mike Singletary, the league’s defensive player of the year.


The carded teams: Chicago (15-1), New York Giants (10-6), San Francisco (10-6), Miami (12-4), Los Angeles Raiders (12-4), and New England (11-5).


The stars: Though Miami QB Dan Marino “plummeted” to 4,137 yards and 30 TDs passing (from his record-setting 5,084 yards and 48 TDs in 1984), his card is gawking quality, especially those 19 chances to complete a bomb guessed wrong. There’s also 19 chances to hit the short pass guessed right … Here’s the West Coast offense we’ve been waiting for with the updated flat pass columns: Even without his best season, San Francisco QB Joe Montana  (61.3 percent completions) has a flat pass card almost as good as Chad Pennington’s this year, while rookie WR Jerry Rice makes a statement (18.9-yard average) alongside vet WR Dwight Clark (10 TDs). Roger Craig is the consummate West Coast fullback, making both the tough yards and the explosive runs (1,050 yards, a 4.9 average, 9 TDs) while a serious pass-catching threat at any distance (92 catches, 11-yard average, 73 long, 6 TDs). Check it out: A fullback who goes deep as well as some wide receivers. Meanwhile, HB Wendell Tyler (5.1 average, 6 TDs) is a very credible alternative, explosive guessed wrong and solid when guessed right.  … The Raiders’ Marcus Allen (1,759 yards, 4.6 average, 11 TDs) trails only Craig and Payton for most-impressive running card in this set. Howie Long is one of four Raiders with double-figure sack ratings. … The Giants’ Joe Morris had 1,336 rushing, giving him multiple Long Gains. But his 21 rushing TDs make him more effective getting the tough yards right than gaining substantial yardage wrong on first-and-10 or second-and-long. … With below-average quarterbacks, wild-card playoff team New England made it to the Super Bowl with its Excellent run defense, ferocious pass rush and strong special teams. But if you ignore QBs Tony Eason and Steve Grogan to gang-tackle strong RB Craig James (1,227 yards, 4.7 average), WRs Irving Fryar (21 chances) and Stanley Morgan (18 chances) are serious threats to burn you on the long pass guessed wrong.


The disk: AFC Central Division winner Cleveland (8-8) is here and so are three other playoff teams, the 11-5 New York Jets and two NFC division champs, the Los Angeles Rams (11-5) and Dallas (10-6). Also Denver, which, despite being 11-5, had to sit out the playoffs.


      This disk is the place to find a dozen 1,000-yard running backs (including the NFC leader, Atlanta’s Gerald Riggs with 1,719 yards) and nine 1,000-yard receivers to the disk, not to mention the AFC’s young-gun quarterbacks, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Boomer Esiason, Bernie Kosar and Ken O’Brien. The Browns had twin 1,000-yard backs in Kevin Mack and Ernest Byner. The big gainers featured such big names as Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Cris Collinsworth, Steve Largent, James Lofton and Art Monk.