Football Classic Seasons Preview: 1976 and 1997

All-Time Great Quarterbacks in 1976, 1997 Classics
By Glenn Guzzo
            Ken Stabler, John Elway and Brett Favre will lead the way when you play with the 1976 and 1997 NFL seasons that will be issued in updated format by Strat-O-Matic this summer.
            They are part of an extraordinary lineup of quarterbacks that include Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Frank Tarkenton, Steve Young, Warren Moon and Bert Jones. Mark Brunell, Jeff George and James Harris also had big years.
            As usual, Strat-O-Matic will offer the Super Bowl teams in “six-packs” of top teams in card format and all the teams for the Windows game. Have a taste of the goodies ahead:
1976 NFL
Oakland (13-1) … One of the most balanced powerhouses ever, the Raiders dominated the regular season and the Super Bowl. Stabler (67% complete, 9.4 ypp) was the season’s top passer, FB Mark van Eeghen ran for 1,012 yards and WR Cliff Branch had 1,111 receiving yards at 24 per catch. Branch, Fred Biletnikoff and TE Dave Casper (10 TDs) gave Stabler plenty of targets, while Hubbard (4.3 ypc) and HB Clarence Davis (4.5 ypc) ran behind Hall of Fame OL Gene Upshaw and Art Shell. Only three foes topped 21 points against a defense with LB Ted Hendricks, CB Willie Brown, S Jack Tatum and DT Otis Sistrunk.
Minnesota (11-2-1) … A better outcome in the Super Bowl would elevate the regard for this team led by Tarkenton (62% complete), RB Chuck Foreman (1,155 ypc, 13 rush TDs, 55 catches, 1,722 yards total offense), rookie WR sensation Sammy White (51-906-10tds) and the Purple People Eater defense with Alan Page, Carl Eller and Jim Marshall up front and FS Paul Krause leading the NFC’s stingiest pass defense. The Vikes allowed only 176 points.
Baltimore (11-3) … Bert Jones (60% complete, 24 TDs, 9 Ints), HB Lydell Mitchell (1,200 yards rushing) and WR Roger Carr (1,112 yard receiving, 26 ypc, 11 TDs) gave the 417-point Colts the highest scoring team by far and the AFC East title in a tie-breaker with New England.
New England (11-3) … Sam “the Bam” Cunningham, Don Calhoun (5.8 ypc) and running QB Steve Grogan (6.6 ypc, 12 rush TDs) gave the Patriots a 5.0-per-carry ground game. Rookie CB Mike Haynes had 8 interceptions and returned two punts for TDs, leading a D with an astonishing 50 takeaways.
Pittsburgh (10-4) … QB Terry Bradshaw wasn’t at his best yet, but he didn’t have to be with RBs Franco Harris (1,128 yards and 14 TDs rushing) and Rocky Bleier (1,036 yards rushing) WR Lynn Swann averaging 18 per catch, and the NFL’s best defense (136 points, 42.4% pass completions, 3.2 yards per carry). All-Pro MLB Jack Lambert and the Steel Curtain shut out five foes and held eight to 6 points or fewer.
Los Angeles (10-3-1) … The highest-scoring team in the NFC (351 points) had the NFC’s top passer in James Harris (9.2 ypp), 1,168-yard rusher Lawrence McCutcheon and big-play WRs Harold Jackson (19 ypc) and Ron Jessie (23 ypc). DT Merlin Olsen and DE Jack Youngblood led a line that held foes to an NFC-worst 3.6 ypc and generated a 45-sack pass rush, while DB Monte Jackson led the league with 10 interceptions.
In the Windows … The incredibly competitive NFC East (Dallas 11-3, Washington 10-4, St. Louis 10-4) and 10-4 Cincinnati … NFL rushing leader O.J. Simpson (1,503 yards, 5.2 avg.), NFC rushing leader Walter Payton (1,390 yards, 13 TDs) and 1,000-yard runners Otis Armstrong (DEN), Greg Pruitt (CLE), Mike Thomas (WAS), Del Williams (SF) … Kansas City RB MacArthur Lane (1,128 yards total offense, AFC-best 66 receptions) and NFC receiving leader Drew Pearson (DAL).
1997 NFL
Denver (12-4) … With its explosive 472-point attack, John Elway (3,635 yards and 27 TDs passing), Terrell Davis (1,750 yards and 15 TDs rushing) and WR Rod Smith (70-1180-12) and TE Sterling Sharpe (72-1107), Denver finally won its first Super Bowl after four one-sided losses. The defense, with DE Neil Smith, LB Bill Romanowski and FS Steve Atwater, had 43 sacks and forced 43 turnovers … Darrien Gordon returned three punts for TDs.
Green Bay (13-3) … Brett Favre led the NFL with 35 TD passes, Dorsey Levens ran for 1,435 yards, WRs Antonio Freeman (1,243 yards, 12 TDs) and Robert Brooks (1,010 yards, 7 TDs) had career years and the Packers’ offense dominated with 422 points. But the double-digit favorites could not win the Super Bowl. DE Reggie White led the defense with 11 sacks.
Kansas City (13-3) … The Chiefs won the AFC West over Denver, but lost to the Broncos in the playoffs in a defensive struggle more characteristic of KC, which was No. 1 in scoring defense (232 points) than the high-scoring Broncos … QB Elvis Grbac illustrated the ball-control offense, completing 57% and throwing only six interceptions. Tamarick Vanover aided the scoring with TDs on kickoff and punt returns … OLB Derrick Thomas (9.5 sacks) led the mighty, 54-sack, 43-takeaway D that also got top performances from DE Dan Williams (10.5 sacks) and DB Mark McMillian (8 interceptions).
San Francisco (13-3) … The 49ers’ 110-point differential trailed only Denver, Kansas City and Green Bay. Steve Young’s 104.7 passer rating (67.7% complete, 19 TDs, 6 INT) led the NFL, Garrison Hearst ran for 1,019 yards and WR Terrell Owens led the receivers (60-936-8). As good as the 375-point offense was, the defense was better – No. 1 in yards allowed, only 3.5 yards per rush and 25 interceptions. DT Dana Stubblefield (15), DE Chris Doleman (12) and LB Kevin Greene (10.5) sacks terrorized offenses for 54 sacks.
Pittsburgh (11-5) … The Steelers won the AFC Central. QB Kordell “Slash” Stewart passed for 21 TDs and ran for 11 more. Jerome Bettis bulldozed for 1,665 yards rushing and WR Yancey Thigpen had 1,398 yards receiving.
Jacksonville (11-5) … The Jaguars lost the division tie-breaker with the Steelers because of an overtime loss at Pittsburgh. Mark Brunell tied for the AFC’s top passer rating (91.2), throwing to 1,000-yard WRs Jimmy Smith (1,324) and Keenan McCardell (1,164).
In the Windows … Division winners New York Giants (10-5-1) and New England (10-6) and three playoff teams from the NFC Central: Tampa Bay (10-6), Detroit (9-7) and Minnesota (9-7) … Barry Sanders (DET) ran for 2,053 yards and became the first back in NFL history to run for 100-plus yards in 14 straight games … Offensive Rookie of the Year Warrick Dunn of Tampa Bay (1,440 yards total offense) and Defensive Rookie of the Year LB Peter Boulware of Baltimore (11.5 sacks) … Passers Dan Marino of Miami (3,780 yards), Jeff George of Oakland (NFL-best 3,917 yards, 29 TDs, 9 INT), Drew Bledsoe of New England (3,706 yards, 28 TDs) and Warren Moon of Seattle (3,678 yards, 25 TDs) … 1,100-yard rushers Eddie George (TEN), Napolean Kaufman (OAK), Robert Smith (MIN), Curtis Martin (NE), Corey Dillon (CIN) and Ricky Watters (PHI) … The top five pass-catchers, including 104-catch WRs Herman Moore (DET) and Tim Brown (OAK) and the top two yardage men, 1,584-yard WR Rob Moore (ARI) and Brown (1,408) … The top TD man, RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar (MIA), who had 16 … Three of the league’s five 2,000-all-purpose-yard men: Kevin Williams (ARI), Brian Mitchell (WAS) and Jermaine Lewis (BAL) … Sacks leader John Randle of Minnesota (15.5).