In an alternate universe, the Cleveland Browns open the 1995 season on fire, winning seven of its first eight games.
Coach Bill Belichick then called the players and coaching staff in for a meeting to deliver news he wanted the team to hear before it leaked out to the media. Owner Art Modell had failed in getting funding for a new stadium and accepted an offer to move the team to Baltimore for the 1996 season.
Belichick then told his players there was only one thing left to do…
“Let’s win the whole freaking thing,” he said.
With that, Belichick presented a cardboard cutout of Modell. With each win, a piece of clothing would be removed from the vilified owner. The expectation was that cutout Art would be disgustingly nude after Super Bowl XXX.
But Cleveland got one final kick in the pants, literally.
The Browns storyline was just one of many throughout the league in 1995, which led to one of the most interesting seasons ever.
- The league welcomed the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars as expansion teams. As in real life, the Jaguars were respectable with a 4-12 record while the Panthers made the playoffs as the NFC’s number one wild card at 10-6. Was the simulation out of line? Not really, if the NFL only counted the final 11 games the Panthers would likely had qualified, as the team finished strong at 7-9 after an 0-5 start. A .636 percentage over a complete season would had translated to 10-6. Just the fact that it took the team those first five games to jell eliminated any realistic playoff possibility.
- In real life, the Browns were 4-4 when news of the Baltimore news broke, which distracted the team for the rest of a 5-11 season. The team grades out much better for the entire season in sim, with Cleveland earning the AFC’s number two seed at 13-3.
- The San Francisco 49ers become the third team to go undefeated in the sim since 1970, and the second to finish the regular season 16-0. Throw out Carolina’s two divisional games against San Francisco, and the Panthers were 10-4 in its other 14 games.
As in real life, quarterback Jim Harbaugh led the Indianapolis Colts into the playoffs and made noise. The Colts won at Buffalo in the wild card round 24-10 while the San Diego Chargers defeated the Houston Oilers 31-23.
The Green Bay Packers opened postseason play at Clemson Memorial Stadium, temporary home of the Carolina Panthers for the 1995 season and 140 miles away from Charlotte (120 miles from Atlanta). The clock struck midnight in Death Valley as Green Bay easily won 34-3. The other NFC Wild Card Game at Soldier Field became an instant classic. Bears quarterback Erik Kramer completed a Hail Mary pass on the final play of regulation, only for the extra point to be missed, allowing the Vikings to escape with a 24-23 win.
The Divisional Round was highlighted by the final game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. It appeared that the Browns would exorcise the ghosts of postseasons past as they clung to a late 10-9 lead. The stadium demolition began moments after kicker John Carney booted an unlikely 58-yard field goal to give San Diego a 12-10 win.
The other AFC divisional playoff was a repeat of the real-life Colts v. Chiefs matchup at frigid Arrowhead Stadium where the game time temperature was 11 degrees (not close to the -6 as the NFL claims!). Unlike real life, Lin Elliott does not get the yips and Kansas City ended the Colts season with a 27-10 win. The Chiefs letdown came the following week as a 27-17 home loss sent the Chargers to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.
In the NFC the real-life Packers/Cowboys championship game occurred in the divisional round with an all too familiar result to Green Bay fans, as the Cowboys prevailed 28-14. Meanwhile the 49ers grinded out a tough 13-9 win over the Vikings.
For the first time in the sim (compared to five times in real life), the Cowboys and 49ers met for the NFC Championship, with the Niners returning to their fourth Super Bowl (first in eight years) with a 22-14 win. Meanwhile the Cowboys Super Bowl drought has now reached 27 years.
The 49ers came to Tempe, Arizona as the first NFL team ever with a chance to complete a 19-0 season, as the Super Bowl XXX matchup with the Chargers replicated the actual Super Bowl XXIX.
George Seifert’s bid for history crashed in the most stunning upset in Super Bowl history. Two Stan Humphries TD passes to Ronnie Harmon completed a shocking 28-10 win to give San Diego its first professional sports championship. It also marked the AFL/AFC’s ninth Super Bowl title in 30 years.