The 1987 NFL season was interrupted by a four week players strike that resulted in three weeks of games that involved ‘replacement players’.
The labor situation affected some more than others. Solidarity prevailed with squads such as Washington and San Diego as their replacement teams won all three games.
In the case of the Los Angeles Raiders the strike derailed their season. By the final week more than half their players crossed the picket line, but still lost a home game to the Chargers.
Through a 5-10 train wreck of a season the Raiders still showed off a rookie asset named Vincent ‘Bo’ Jackson in a Monday night game versus the Seattle Seahawks, when Bo steamrolled Brian Bosworth for one touchdown run and blew past Eugene Robinson on a 91-yard sprint where he ran halfway up the stadium tunnel.
Jackson had been selected number one overall the previous year by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but used his ‘get out of Tampa’ card by signing with baseball’s Kansas City Royals, where he became equally legendary. The Raiders drafted Jackson in the seventh round the following year, when Jackson announced that he would play football as time permits ‘as a hobby’.
Jackson only played 38 regular season games over four seasons, averaging a mind-boggling 5.6 yards per carry. In the WhatIfSports simulations he is featured as a starter, so for simulation purposes he plays the entire season, just as Deion Sanders juggled baseball and football for a few years.
- Buoyed by the 15-1 49ers and 14-2 Bears, the NFC once again manifested their dominance over the AFC.
- As in real-life, the Indianapolis Colts enjoyed a brief period of relevance after the in-season blockbuster trade of running back Eric Dickerson. The Colts would edge the Dolphins and Jets to win the competitive AFC East.
- Unlike a year earlier, the Cleveland Browns matched their real-life exploits and earned the AFC’s number one seed. The same could not be said for the actual AFC Champion Broncos who went 5-11.
- Washington easily won the NFC East with an 11-5 record. For the WhatIfSports sim Jay Schroeder was listed as the starting quarterback with Super Bowl hero Timmy Smith buried on the depth chart. The parts on Joe Gibbs squad in those days were interchangeable on a weekly basis.
- The Packers crashed the NFC playoff party with a Week 16 win at New Orleans and the right to play the Saints at home the following week. Behind three Dave Brown interceptions Green Bay advanced to the divisional round.
- Home field advantage would be decided between the Bears and 49ers on Monday Night Football, a field goal fest won by the Niners 12-6.
The Browns survived the divisional round with a 16-13 overtime win over the Jets while the Colts fell to the Raiders 21-12 with the final dagger being an electrifying 72-yard touchdown run by Bo Jackson.
The Raiders traveled to the icy shores of Lake Erie on a day when the Browns were supposed to exercise all of Cleveland’s demons that had jumped species and affected the city’s NBA and MLB entries. There would be no drive, fumble or Red Right 88 – just an old-fashioned butt-whooping. Bo Jackson literally iced the Raiders third Super Bowl appearance (and eighth for a Los Angeles Coliseum tenant) with a 44-yard TD in a 31-9 win.
After their Wild Card win, the Packers stepped up in weight class and traveled to San Francisco in the division playoff, but lost to the 49ers for the third time in five years, this time by a 37-6 count. Washington and Chicago replicated their actual divisional playoff that wound up being Walter Payton’s final game. In the sim Payton extends his career by rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown in a resounding 39-17 rout.
The winners of the previous three (soon to be four) sim Super Bowls met at Candlestick Park to decide the NFC Championship. The 49ers would again dominate in a 30-13 win.
California’s kissing cousins made the trip down Highway 101 for Super Bowl XXII. Bo Jackson owned media day and would provide one last electrifying 57-yard TD run. But that would be the Raiders lone score as Bill Walsh recorded his second Super Bowl title with a 23-7 decision.