THE REPLAY ZONE – AUGUST 2015
By Jeff Polman
August ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict. Check out, “Mystery Ball ‘58”, my new baseball novel, which was inspired by a replay of the 1958 season.
MEET DENNIS CROWLEY, STRAT-O-FOOTBALL FANATIC
I have to be honest. I’ve played Strat Football maybe twice in my life, and I think it was back when Bart Starr was still quarterbacking. Nothing against the game or the sport, I just didn’t have time for a second Strat addiction, which baseball has always filled just fine, thank you.
But then there is Dennis Crowley, who resides in Rancho Cucamonga, CA and is happily involved in a dozen Strat Football leagues. After seeing his recent online video chat with Glenn Guzzo about the release of the new football card set, I thought he’d make a worthy interview subject. And here…we…go!
How long have you been playing Strat Football? Give me a brief bio of your involvement, leading up to where you are with the game currently.
I played a dozen face-to-face Strat Football games with some friends in the 80’s. They would always choose the powerhouse teams of the time, the Giants, Redskins, 49ers, etc. But I always picked my Seahawks, growing up in Cerritos, CA I became a Seahawk fan when local hero Jim Zorn caught on as their starting QB. So despite being outgunned I loved playing my Hawks. The board got put up in my friends closet and we just got busy doing other things. I don’t think we were playing it exactly by the rules, but I had a blast.
Fast forward to the early 2000s when I was pretty active in Fantasy Football and Fantasy Baseball when I started playing online leagues of Strat-O-Matic Baseball. A few years later, one of the guys in my baseball league mentioned they were starting a small retro Strat Football league. They wanted to play the top teams from 1985. I asked if the Seahawks were available and bought the game. I got my hat handed to me regularly, as these guys took the best teams and I was just happy to hit a bomb or two and see my heroes come to life again. (I nearly upset the ‘85 Bears when Krieg threw for 350 yards and 5 TDs but lost in overtime).
I picked it up again in 2004 (with V4) and went nuts. I became truly addicted to the point where I dropped all Fantasy Baseball and Strat Baseball games and solely played Strat Football. I am in around six leagues in the fall and another six leagues in the Spring. Crazy, eh? But I just love it.
I watch a lot of pro football on TV, but have never bothered to learn the detailed coaching strategy of the game. Is Strat Football easy to learn, or do you need an advanced degree in Flat Passery to master it?
It took me about a year to really get a feel for the game. The most important aspect of becoming a good Strat Football coach is to learn the rules and understand where a result comes from. Don’t just shrug your shoulders and say “oh well”. If you don’t understand why it was a guessed wrong reading, ask your opponent, most of us are happy to explain the rules. Once you understand where a result came from, then you can take the next step by thinking about what you could have done differently to influence that play. Strat Football has so much “cat and mouse” strategy involved it makes for a fantastic head-to-head game. Your coaching and the calls you make and the placement of your players has a tremendous affect on the outcome of the game. Yes, luck plays a factor. It is a cards-and-dice game after all, so there are going to be times that no matter what you called you would not have affected the play, but there are dozens of times during a game where a good call can make the difference between a punt and a new set of downs.
How realistic have you found the game to be, regarding statistics and team play?
I play for the head-to-head aspect; stats take a back seat. But there are a ton of solo re-players that get very accurate stats. If you mimic the NFL usage of players it will play very true to the game. But as Strat coaches with 20/20 hindsight, we often overuse the players with good cards and underuse the players with poor cards (especially online). The new rules introduced in this year’s version are going to have a huge impact on getting a quarterback’s completion percentage closer to what we see in the NFL these days. That was the only area that frustrated both online coaches and re-play coaches. It has been hard to get the stud QBs to finish with a 65-70% completion percentage. This version corrects that.
I particularly enjoy the way the playing rhythm of Strat Hockey seems to match the flow of the real sport. Do you find that to be also true with Strat football?
Yes. I am playing a game today in a league where we are using the Flat Passes As Runs rule for the first time in a competitive setting, and it really felt like the modern NFL.
Do you prefer playing solo or against someone, and why?
There is nothing better than playing head to head against another person. I understand that a ton of people love the solo play vs. the computer manager but that is not my cup of tea. I want to face another person who will realize that the five runs in a row that I just showed him was because I am about to throw deep against his four cornerbacks trying to cover my best wide receiver. You keep running until he can’t help but call run and then you hit him deep. Or I noticed a tendency earlier in the game that my opponent always goes to a halfback or tight end on 3rd and 3-6 yards and then double-teams him in a key moment to end a drive. Or noticing that he always calls a draw play when I show blitz and switching it up and calling run to stop him for a loss. If you ever read the “Dune” series, this game is all about a feint within a feint within a feint. BEST GAME EVER!
When playing against someone, do you prefer online or face-to-face?
Why not both? My friend Tom and I have been playing recently while connected in a Google Hangout. Here is an example of us playing online while talking and having fun…
We have also been broadcasting or calling playoff games. Watching two other coaches play is almost as fun as playing myself. We have also been doing general podcasts/hangouts.
What’s the most memorable Strat Football game you’ve ever played?
I have had a ton of memorable Strat Games. It’s really hard to pick out just one. The recent Battle Royale Super Bowl was pretty epic, though.
Seattle Shuriken 29 – Orange County Ramblers 17
This score was misleading, as this was an exciting game from the last two minutes of the first half through late in the 4th quarter. The Shuriken built a 20-0 lead taking advantage of two costly fumbles and two 4th down conversions that failed. Add that in to a few big plays for the Seattle offense and it was 20-0 with about two minutes to go in the half. But Rick’s Ramblers mounted a furious comeback, marching down the field before the halftime whistle to make it 20-7. Then Dwayne Harris sets up a short field (which he did all game for the Ramblers) and they drive and get a FG to make it 20-10.
Seattle puts together a drive as well that results in a FG and it is back to a 23-10 lead. But the Ramblers answer this time with a big play of their own: a bomb from Tom Brady to Victor Cruz and now it’s 23-17!!! The Ramblers then force the Shuriken to punt with a Kyle Williams sack and after a 22-yard PR by Harris they have the ball near midfield with 12 minutes to go in the game just needing a touchdown to take the lead. But they go deep once too often, and it’s picked off when Seattle correctly double-teams nicks and then returns it to the house. That made it 29-17. Rick had fought like crazy to close the gap opened by some lousy rolling but this was a bridge too far and the Shuriken held on for the win and another Battle Royale championship.
Thanks for sharing, Dennis! If I ever get the Strat Football game I’ll be sure to hire you for weekly consultation.