Monday, November 11, 2019

1985 Pro Bowl

Final Game of 1985 Season

The Setup

When it comes to All Star games, generally speaking most observers agree that the NFL's Pro Bowl is probably the worst of all the major sports.  And there are a number of reasons for that, not the least of which, it is the only one which takes place after the regular season is over while the other sports have their All Star game in midseason and serves as a "break" of sorts.  In my own opinion I rate the 4 sports All Star games thusly:

  1. Major League Baseball
  2. NHL
  3. NBA
  4. NFL
So why is baseball #1?  Well, the most honest/blunt assessment, at it's very core, baseball is an individual sport.  You have batter vs. pitcher.  There are outcomes where no one else is needed (save a catcher).  A pitcher can pitch what is called an "Immaculate inning".  When a pitcher strikes out all 3 batters he faces on 9 pitches.  Other than the catcher, who's only job is to catch the ball, no one else has to do anything.  Similarly, if a batter mashes a home run, there isn't anything a fielder can do.  But even beyond that, baseball is not meant to be a contact sport.  The other sports literally involve hitting other players as part of the game.  Baseball, not so much, other than the occasional break up of a double play or if a catcher is blocking the plate (which has since been outlawed and collisions at home plate are rare now).  When you get an All Star game in baseball, there is limited risk for a player to go all out and show what they can do.  Pitchers are not going much more than an inning, so they can let the ball go and do the best they can.  Batters only get an at bat or two and want to show what they can do.  Baseball also has a rule that every team must be represented with at least 1 All Star so all fans can watch and see someone from their team.  That's problematic when you get an awful team like the 2019 Baltimore Orioles and they have to name an All Star (it was starter John Means who was 7-4, with a 2.50 ERA at the break, which was really good considering how bad his team was).  After a disaster in 2002 when the All Star game ended in a tie because both teams ran out of pitchers, MLB tried to make the All Star game more meaningful by declaring the winner of the AL vs. NL series would get home field in the World Series.  Now, prior to that, it was merely decided by switching home field from one year to the next.  It was an overcompensating move, and one which was eventually trashed, but still, the MLB All Star game is an actual competitive affair and we see guys out there actually trying.

That brings us to the NHL.  Now, the NHL and NBA All Star games are very similar, and not just because they are usually played one week after the other in February once the Super Bowl is over.  The NHL also started messing with their formula, which was for years, East vs. West.  And then they started to go World vs. US.  And then their marketing department jumped on the fantasy sports aspect and started doing stuff where a player would pick his team and you ended up with disasters like Team Toews vs. Team Foligno in 2015.  But while the hitting is dialed down, you still see some of these players showing off their skills in skating, passing, and peppering poor goalies who aren't going to see defensemen dropping to block shots or smash guys into the boards.  Still that led to scores like 17-12 and 12-11.  Now they are breaking the teams up into smaller groups and playing a tournament style.  But at the end of the day it's an exhibition and they try to make it fun, and at least it can be fun to watch.

That transitions to the NBA All Star game.  No league in American sports is as driven by the players than the NBA.  There are only 5 guys on the court and 1 player can be so good to dominate a game.  It's the only sport where the player is not wearing a hat or helmet.  You can see their faces clearly.  And the NBA has always been about promoting big personalities.  Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaq, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, etc.  The NBA for years was about East vs. West, but they too fell victim to the stupid Fantasy craze and now have rosters picked by players ie Team LeBron vs. Team Giannis in 2019.  But the NBA had long ago given up the days of the Detroit Badboys and the Pat Riley Knicks as far as tough defense and "no layups" rules.  Playing good defense in the NBA itself has led to a much higher scoring game that gets a lot of excitement and drives the fantasy aspect, but there is that edge missing of a Charles Oakley clobbering someone coming down the lane.  Of course, in the NBA All Star game, it turns into a pickup basketball game of dunks and basket hanging.  Just look at some of the recent scores- 196-173, and 192-182.  Video game scores.  But again, this is entertainment and the sport itself is still fun to watch when it's played like this.

That leads us to the NFL, but before we can talk the NFL, you need to look at the "All Star festivities" and yet again, the NFL lags behind.  In my own opinion of All Star contests this is how I rank it

  1. Major League Baseball
  2. NBA
  3. NHL
  4. NFL
While Major League Baseball struggles to keep the attention of Millennials who can't concentrate on anything for more than 25 seconds and they change up the rules of the game to accommodate them by putting in pitch clocks, reducing the number of mound visits, looking at changing up the extra inning formula, etc.  There is something pure about baseball being the only sport without a clock.  However, that's not the case with the Home Run Derby and MLB took what was a good thing and actually found a way to make it better.  They focused on what was fun about the Home Run Derby- ie- as Big Al said as a little leaguer from NJ "they hit dingers".  And not only do they hit dingers, but everyone wants to see Aaron Judge bomb one over 500 feet.  So what did they do, they set up brackets (everyone loves elimination March Madness in the NCAA basketball).  They put up a clock that players only have a certain amount of time to hit their home runs.  They give them 1 time out.  And if they hit 2 homeruns over 440 feet they get an extra 30 seconds.  It's great and a ton of fun to watch.  Again, it's a simple formula.  Pitcher vs. Batter.  In this case, the pitcher is a batting practice pitcher tossing meatballs up there and letting these guys rip.  But they added another wrinkle.  The winner gets a million dollars.  Now, that will get anyone's attention.  Of course, baseball players are the best compensated across all sports (though the NBA is catching up).  But even that price tag might not be enough for a former winner like Bryce Harper who signed for $330 Million over 13 years in Philly.  However, the real key is that MLB wants to use it as an opportunity to promote their new young players.  Young guys will want the exposure, and since they haven't hit their arbitration years, you bet that million means something.  It was not a mistake in 2019 that the finalists were the Mets' Pete Alonso vs. the Blue Jays Vlad Guererro Jr.  Both guys were rookies and Alonso eventually won.  Baseball also has some other things going on, including a "Future's Game" which is made up of the batch of AAA minor league stars who will be coming up.  They also have like a celebrity softball game thing too.  All in all, baseball might be struggling in the ratings and looking to deal with a younger audience, but they do the All Star thing the best.

The NBA is next, and to be honest, the Saturday before the Sunday All Star game is much better.  We see the NBA at its finest.  You get a skills competition of guys dribbling, passing, and shooting.  They do combined things with the WNBA, in order to promote their sister brand.  They have the 3 point contest, which is exciting to watch these guys bury shots, including the money ball.  But the top is the NBA slam dunk contest.  Now, this would be enough to boost it beyond MLB, but in my mind, the slam dunk contest has lost something in recent years.  We all know this is a marketing thing, but it's gotten more commercial.  Back in the 1980s you had Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins.  2 Hall of Famers putting on a show.  Jordan used his dunk from the foul line in the slam dunk contest to launch his brand that has made him from an NBA star to Worldwide celebrity.  But over the years, as NBA players got better paid, we didn't get the stars doing it anymore.  We started to get younger guys, with talent no question, but basically bench warmers with limited skills other than the ability to dunk.  And when we would get a big name, we'd get Blake Griffin jump over a KIA car for a dunk...and coincidentally had a marketing campaign promoting KIA cars the next day.  To me, that was the moment, if the MLB and NBA were in a tie for All Star festivities, that's when it tipped to baseball.  

The NHL is next, as they had speed skating competitions.  Hardest shot competitions.  Accuracy competitions with guys smashing plates in the goal.  They have a celebrity game.  But the NHL suffers from the fact that it lags behind the other major American sports in terms of coverage.  When this game is going on, you are coming off the Super Bowl, so everyone is still thinking football.  The NBA is about to put on their All Star showcase.  And baseball spring training is coming.  So the NHL tends to get lost in the mix.  It doesn't help when there is the Olympic games and you see the league shut down for a break so guys can play for their home countries.  You don't see that in any other sport.

Last is the NFL.  In both counts for the game and the festivities.  For festivities, the NFL has...well...pretty much nothing.  They've tried a few things.  They tried the QB challenge, where you have guys throwing at moving targets and through hoops and things.  This stuff has been going on since the 1980s but has never really caught on.  They tried some other skill competitions of running through obstacle courses.  They've talked about flag football.  They actually tried beach football, which ended with a thud when the Patriots' RB Robert Edwards suffered a career altering and essentially career ending knee injury that almost cost him his leg.  They've tried other competitions like the NFL Stars thing on ABC sports in the 1980s which really was more track and field.  It just never translated into anything.

And that carries over to the game itself.  Now, here is the hard truth about the NFL Pro Bowl.  It's nothing more than a glorified walk through at this point.  But you can understand why.  Money.  Period.  The game of football, at its core is a contact sport.  Players hitting each other.  Physical play.  With the salary cap in place and contracts that aren't guaranteed no player is going to risk an injury, nor should they.  Because the game is played at the end of the year, you have guys who have gotten though the season healthy, which is a challenge in and of itself.  So many guys are named but they bow out due to injury (or more likely, surgery and heading into rehab getting ready for the following season).  So the past few years, you literally see the snap of the ball, and both the OL and DL just stand up and do nothing, and the moment a player is touched with the ball, he falls down or they blow the whistle.  It's 7 on 7 touch football.  Now depending on which side of the fence you are on, it's either fun or just a sham as the players started doing whatever they wanted.  You had Odell Beckham playing safety.  You had Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara playing at the edge rushing the passer.  And in what was the final joke, you actually had the Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston playing at center and snapping to the Seahawks DE Michael Bennett at QB, and he took the snap and took off running up the field for an apparent TD, but it was blown dead by the officials because they couldn't even deal with this farce.  I'm sure the Giants organization would have been thrilled if Barkley hurt his knee trying to sack the QB.  Just don't play the game at this point.

But it didn't always used to be that way.  Believe it or not, and there is video proof, players did used to actually try in the Pro Bowl.  Perhaps they didn't go 100%, but they still went at about 80%.  And they wouldn't go for kill shots, but they still hit people.  Why was this the case in the 1980s?  Were they tougher and loved the game more?  The answer was simple.  Money.  Remember, the NFL didn't get free agency until 1993.  The players are still fighting for more guaranteed money today, with what looks like a labor stoppage coming in 2021 when the CBA expires.  But back in the 1980s, there was no free agency at all.  And again, here is where the money comes in.  Back in 1985, the winning team got $10k each, and the losing team $5k each.  Doesn't seem like a lot of money does it?  But let's take a step back.

In 1985, $10k with inflation in 2019 is about $24K.  Not a ton of money, but not bad.  But let's take a deep look at the finances in 1985 for players.  In 1985, the average salary was about $162,000.  The highest paid players in the league were the Niners' QB Joe Montana (6 years, $6.3 million contract) and Lawrence Taylor (7 years, $6.46 million contract).  Just taking a representative example, the Bears' and eventual future Giants, the late Dave Duerson.  Duerson, a safety, was playing in his first Pro Bowl and he made $125,000 in the Bears' 1985 championship season.  Doing some simple math spreading that out over 16 games, unscientifically shows he earned about $7800 per game.  So to win the Pro Bowl, Duerson would earn more than his regular season paycheck.  That's motivation.

In 2019, the winning team got $112k per player, and the losing team got $56k per player.  Not bad money at all.  Certainly better than the take home in 1985.  But what is that % for a player salary today.  Now, keeping in mind there is a big disparity in payment by position played (ie- QBs make the most and everything goes down from there), the average salary in the NFL, is $2.7 million.  So that means, by the same simple math, that the average NFL player is making $168,750 per game.  So right off the bat, the Pro Bowl totals are still less.  And we need to factor in the other realities, namely most of these players who make the Pro Bowl, have bonuses built into their contracts that far exceeds $112k.  And the other glaringly obvious part of this.  If you are in the Pro Bowl, you are a top player and earning money commiserate with that.  Just for fun, let's go with the highest paid DE in the NFL, DeMarcus Lawrence of the Dallas Cowboys.  Lawrence will earn $21M in 2019.  That breaks down to ~1.3M per game.  Hmmmm...should he be flying around on the field trying to make plays so he can pick up $112k extra for this one game and risk getting hurt.  

In the game of football, for it to be played correctly, there is a physical aspect to it.  It is a game meant for large humans to hit each other and hit them hard.  You can't take a piece of it, such as a dunk or home run and enjoy the game.  It just doesn't work.  And when you have a combination of shorter careers, non-guaranteed contracts, salary cap cuts, and injury risk and rising salaries for the stars and limited money in the scheme of things, the Pro Bowl is a joke.  It's no one's fault, it is what it is.

But back in 1985, we did still get players who did care to win because the money was significant.  And that led us to the 1985 Pro Bowl.  Coming on the heels of the Bears' dominant Super Bowl win, who as part of their Super Bowl run played the Giants at Soldier Field in the NFC Divisional Round.  As Coach Bill Parcells would say afterwards, if the Giants played the Bears 10 times in 1985, the Bears probably win 9 of them.  But for that cold January game in 1986, that was the one time the Giants could have beaten them.  A gust of wind and a botched Sean Landeta punt got in the way of that chance as the Giants fell 21-0.  But that loss served as motivation for the Giants to come back in 1986 and step up their game towards their own dominant Super Bowl run.  A few weeks after that loss however, there was another Giant who was setting himself up a break out in 1986.  Phil Simms, the often injured former first round draft pick, who was benched for Scott Brunner in 1983, started to turn the corner in his career.  Parcells named him the starter in 1984, and Simms responded with a 9-7 season, 4000+ yards passing, and a playoff berth which included a win in Los Angeles vs. the Rams in the Wild Card.  In 1985, Simms would continue to improve, leading the Giants to a 10-6 record, a home playoff win vs. the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers in the Wild Card.  This would result in Simms' first Pro Bowl selection.  As fate would have it, due to injuries Simms would end up more or less playing the entire Pro Bowl in 1985, and it would end with an MVP trophy thanks to an outstanding performance against the best in the game.  This would be a precursor to 1986 in the Rose Bowl against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI where he would claim another much more prestigious MVP award.

The Game Highlights

In the booth, 3 Hall of Famers, Frank Gifford, Joe Namath and OJ Simpson (and OJ would become known for some very different things in about 8 years) would call the action from Honolulu, Hawaii.  

The start of the game was held up by a moment of silence in remembrance of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, which killed 7 astronauts just a few days before the Pro Bowl, including one astronaut who was from Hawaii.  And if you listen closely, you hear someone start yelling in the crowd and was followed up by a clear retort “shut up!”  With proper respects paid (or at least attempted), the AFC would kick off with Gary Anderson of the Steelers and back deep was Joe Morris of the Giants (who was not a returner), and Ron Brown of the LA Rams, who was a Silver medalist in the 1984 Olympic Games as a sprinter.  Brown would take the kickoff at the 2 yard line and he would run to the right and make it out to the 29 yard line, where he was hit down by Fredd Young, who made the Pro Bowl as a Special Teamer from the Seattle Seahawks.  Starting the game for the NFC was Phil Simms as the starter, as he replaced the 49ers Joe Montana as the starter due to injury.  On first down, Simms dropped back with time to throw and he would hit TE Doug Cosbie of the Cowboys over the middle at the 35, and Cosbie would get out to the 40, where he was hit down by LB Karl Mecklenberg of the Denver Broncos, and he would actually fumble but he recovered it, good for a first down.  First down, Simms handed off to Roger Craig of the 49ers (who became the first player to get 1000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season in 1985), and Craig picked his way out to the 45, hit down by NT Joe Klecko of the Jets and LB Steve Nelson of the New England Patriots.  2nd and 5, Simms would give to Walter Payton of the Bears, and Sweetness was running to his right, following the pulling guard Kent Hill of the Rams, but he would cut back over the middle, and he would accelerate out to the AFC 49, hit down by Mecklenberg, but enough to move the sticks.  First down, Simms would fake the handoff to Craig and with time to throw, would check down to Craig in the flat, but he overthrew him and nearly got it picked off LB Mike Merriweather of the Steelers.  2nd and 10, Simms dropped back and would feel some pressure on this play as the Broncos’ DE Rulon Jones would beat Hill and get a hit on Simms as he threw the ball and it went incomplete in the direction of Craig.  3rd and 10, Simms in the gun, and he would step up past the rush of the Jets’ Mark Gastineau and he would find time to drill a pass into his rival on the Washington Redskins, WR Art Monk at the 37, where he was covered up by Louis Wright of the Broncos, but good for another first down.  First down, Simms would fake a sweep to Payton and he’d have Craig wide open in the flat at the 36, but Craig would drop the pass.  2nd and 10, Simms would again drop back, and again with time try to hit Cosbie on a seam pass, but it went over his head, and he was covered well by Denver’s safety Dennis Smith.  3rd and 10, Simms in the gun, and with time, tried to hit the Eagles’ Mike Quick on a streak, but the Raiders’ Mike Haynes stayed with him.  John Robinson decided to test some leg strength, as the Saints’ Morten Anderson would come on to try a 54 yarder, with Simms as the holder, and for a moment it looked good, but fell just short.  

The AFC would start at the 37, as back in 1985, you got the ball at the line of scrimmage on a missed field goal, not at the spot of the kick.  Dan Fouts of the San Diego Chargers would get the starting job and his first play was a play action pass where he got the pass off to the Seahawks’ Steve Largent at the 49, and he would get spun around by the Rams’ Leroy Irvin, and then pushed out of bounds by the Giants’ Harry Carson, but good for a first down.  Fouts would drop back, and with Lawrence Taylor of the Giants coming in on him, he would again go to Largent over the middle at the NFC 44, where he would haul it in and get taken down immediately by Carson.  2nd and 3, an inside handoff to the Raiders’ Marcus Allen and he would gain just 2 yards, hit first by the Saints’ LB Rickey Jackson and Carson cleaned it up.  3rd and inches, Fouts would take a handoff to the Patriots’ Craig James and look to throw deep to the Steelers’ Louis Lipps, but it was covered and he went to Allen who got away and caught it at the 37, got both feet in and went out of bounds as Carson was coming over to hit him, but good for a first down.  First down, a draw to Allen over the middle, and it looked to be a big gainer, but he was hit down by LT (wearing #58) at the 32, after a 5 yard gain.  2nd and 6, Fouts got pressured by LT, who beat the Patriots guard John Hannah, and he rushed a throw towards the Raiders’ TE Todd Christensen, who dropped the ball at the 25.  3rd and 5, Fouts dropped back, and he got some pressure by the Bears’ Richard Dent, but he was able to step away and hit his Chargers’ teammate, WR Wes Chandler at the 24, who beat Irvin and he would take off running to the left and towards the sidelines where he was hit down by the Eagles’ safety Wes Hopkins and LT at the 12.  First down, a deep pitch to Allen running to his right, but he was cut down after just a yard gain by the Niners’ safety Carlton Williamson.  2nd and 9, Fouts dropped back, and with no blitzes or stunts allowed, had plenty of time to find Largent over the middle at the 5 yard line, and he would get dragged down at the 4 by Carson.  3rd and 2,  running a variation of a wishbone with Allen joined by the Jets’ Freeman McNeil and the Browns’ Kevin Mack, and the ball would go to Allen running to his right, he’d fake a pitch back to McNeil and keep it himself, avoiding Hopkins at the 5 and he would run into the Bears’ Dan Hampton at the 3 and get stood up as his Chicago teammate Mike Singletary and the Cowboys CB Everson Walls tried to strip the ball out, but Allen was finally taken down by the sidelines.  After a measurement, it was ruled a first down, and set up a first and goal.  And it was time to reward Allen for his efforts

Having done the hard work to get down there, the AFC gave the ball to the former Heisman Trophy winner and Allen took the handoff up the middle where the Patriots’ offensive linemen Brian Holloway and John Hannah pretty much blew Hampton off the ball, and the Rams’ LB Jim Collins couldn’t keep Allen out who barged into the end zone on a very physical play, particularly for a Pro Bowl.   Gary Anderson’s extra point was perfect, with the hold by the Colts’ punter Rohn Stark and gave the AFC a 7-0 lead.

Anderson’s kickoff would go to Brown at the 5, and the Rams returner would get to the 29, hit down by Merriweather.  First down, Simms gave the ball to Payton, who decided to keep playing even feeling sick with the flu, and he took the ball up the gut out to the 33, where he was hit by the Jets’ LB Lance Mehl, and Payton would drag Mehl out to the 35.  2nd and 3, the ball went to Craig, who only gained 1 yard, as he was hit down by the Raiders’ DE Howie Long.  3rd and 2, Simms back and we would see the difference in Pro Bowls in the 1980s

Keeping in mind that now the Pro Bowl is basically flag football, here is Simms dropping back, feeling a rush from Long, stepping up in the pocket and trying to scramble and he would take a hit by the Browns’ NT Bob Golic and the Broncos’ Jones would come over to share a pretty hard sack at the 30.  On to punt for the NFC was Dale Hatcher of the Rams, sending the ball to the Patriots’ Irving Fryar.  Hatcher would send Fryar all the way back to the 14 yard line, and Joey Browner, who made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer from the Minnesota Vikings would essentially take Fryar down with a textbook horse collar tackle (something Browner did a ton with his strong hands) at the 15.  But in 1985, that wasn’t a penalty.  

Now in at QB was the Jets’ Ken O’Brien replacing Fouts, and he would begin with a handoff to his Jets’ teammate McNeil, but the play was blown up by Jackson who tackled him at the 12.  2nd and 12,  McNeil again got the ball, running up the middle and around the Giants’ Leonard Marshall, and he would find a lane to his left and he would take off past Carson and get out to the 19, hit down by Walls.  3rd and 5, O’Brien had time and threw a pass out to the Miami Dolphins’ Mark Clayton at the 30, hit down by the Bears’ Dave Duerson, but good for a first down.  First down, a draw to McNiel, who ran to his left and around Hampton and he would duck under a big hit attempt by Carson and slide down at the 36.  2nd and 4, Jackson came on a blitz and was about to nail O’Brien, who got a quick pass to Mack in the flat, but it was dropped.  3rd and 4, but this time O’Brien had no time to throw, as Hampton beat the Colts’ Chris Hinton and grabbed O’Brien and dragged him into Richard Dent where they sacked the Jets’ QB back at the 27.  Rohn “H for Hangtime” Stark came on and he boomed it to Irvin at the 25, and a fair catch.  

Coming out for a 3rd drive, John Robinson decided to get tricky and pitched to Payton running to his right where he pulled up and uncorked a deep shot towards Monk, but the ball sailed over his head and incomplete.  2nd and 10, Simms would drop back with time to throw and hit the Tampa Bay TE Jimmie Giles at the 38 and Giles would fall forward out to the 40, hit down by the Seahawks’ safety Kenny Easley but good for a first down.  Payton would get the handoff up the middle and gained 2 yards, hit down by Nelson.  2nd and 8, Simms would drop back and dump it off to Craig over the middle where he was hit down at the 45 by Nelson.  3rd and 5, Simms in the gun, with pressure from Golic by his feet, Simms drilled a pass over the middle to the Packers’ WR James Lofton at the AFC 45 and he would get it down to the 40, taken down by Easley on the final play of the first quarter.  To start the 2nd quarter, Simms remained in the game, but this time his backfield mates were Joe Morris and the Falcons’ Gerald Riggs.  Riggs, playing at fullback, took the quick handoff inside and rumbled past the Browns’ LB Clay Matthews (yes, the father of Clay Matthews Jr.) and got out to the 33, taken down by Jones.  2nd and 3, an inside draw to Morris, who picked his way back to his right and gained only a yard as he ran into Gastineau and Golic.  3rd and 2, Simms in the gun and he got a rush from Gastineau and forced him to step up and he tried to dump the pass off towards Riggs, but they weren’t on the same page, and this time it was nearly picked off by Merriweather.  On 4th and 2, at their own 31 and after Morten Andersen’s earlier miss, John Robinson decided to go for it.

Keeping in mind that the players only get together for a week, and only really practice for 2 days, there isn’t much of a playbook to work with.  So Robinson looking out at an offensive line, which at this stage of the game included 3 of his own Rams’ lineman (Kent Hill, Dennis Harrah, and Jackie Slater), decided to hand it off inside to Riggs, who followed Harrah up the gut and got hit by Mecklenberg in the hole, but fell forward towards the first down.  However, they didn’t get the benefit of the spot and he was marked short of the first and turned over on downs.

So the AFC took over, and Fouts took over at QB again.  Fouts would take a deep shot towards Largent, who was blanketed by Irvin and the ball was knocked away at the 30.  2nd and 10, Allen took a pitch running to his right and he got a good head of steam going and was hit by Collins at the 34 and he fell forward to the 35, with the Cardinals LB EJ Junior helping to clean up.  3rd and 5, we’d get an exciting defensive play

Again, keep in mind, this is a Pro Bowl and how in today’s game the offensive and defensive lines pretty much just stand up.  Or you do things where Saquon Barkley is playing as an edge rusher.  Here the NFC defensive line came in on a legit pass rush, with Leonard Marshall, playing at right defensive end instead of his usual on the left, looped inside a stunt by Dan Hampton and got a push right into Fouts’ face and hit him as he threw.  Fouts would uncork a pass in the direction of the Browns TE Ozzie Newsome, but Browner, a safety by trade but at the Pro Bowl as a special teamer despite 184 tackles on the year  (he would make several Pro Bowls later as a safety), came over to make an easy pick at the 48.  Browner would take off up the field, with only the Patriots offensive lineman Brian Holloway to beat, he easily sailed in for a pick 6.  Simms, again the holder for the lefty Andersen, took a high snap from the Bears’ Jay Hilgenberg (it wasn’t until many years later did the NFL add in a long snapper spot to the Pro Bowl, and the Giants’ Zak DeOssie has gotten that honor twice), but Simms got it down and the extra point was good to tie the game at 7-7, though it never bounced off the cross bar as Gifford mentioned, he might have been out for a few Hawaiian drinks the night before himself.

Andersen’s kickoff would go to Fryar at the 3 and he would get out to the 22, taken down by Duerson and Junior.  So after the turnover, the AFC would start with a handoff to Allen up the middle and he would pick his way to the 29, hit down by Duerson.  2nd and 2, a very delayed draw to Allen didn’t work at all, as Dent ran right into him and took him down at the 25.  3rd and 7, Fouts dropped back, but this time was able to settle into the pocket and threw to Largent at the 31, but he was hit immediately by LT and knocked back.  But the veteran Largent knew where the sticks were and forward progress got the first down by half a yard.  First down, Fouts got a rush by the Bears’ LB Otis Wilson and Hampton, and tried a quick dump off screen to Allen, but the ball was dropped.  2nd and 10, Fouts again looked for Largent, and hit him on a comebacker at the 40, where he was taken down by the inside linebackers Junior and Collins.  3rd and 3, the ball was given back to Allen who ran to his right and he made it out to the 44, hit down by Collins.  First down, Fouts came with a hard count, which nearly got the Cowboys Randy White to jump, but he dropped back and had time until Marshall came free late to hit him, but he dumped it off to Allen on a safety valve at the 45 and the LA Raider got it out to the 48, taken down by Junior and Browner.  2nd and 6, it was time for Shula to try his own razzle dazzle.

Earlier in the game, John Robinson tried to have Walter Payton throw a deep shot to Art Monk that didn’t work.  This time, the AFC ran a pitch to the right to Allen, which they had been doing most of the game.  But this time, Allen pulled up and threw his own deep pass to Wes Chandler as he had Wilson coming in on him.  Chandler had a step on Walls and was in line with Duerson.  But Walls got his feet tangled up and fell, and Duerson, who was better as a run stuffer than in space safety, misplayed the ball as Chandler came underneath him to snag it at the 6 yard line, bobbled it but held on and went into the end zone for a 51 yard TD pass.  The Steelers’ Anderson put it through to make the score 14-7 in the 2nd quarter.

Anderson would kickoff to Joe Morris (who really wasn’t supposed to get the ball with Ron Brown next to him).  And Little Joe would cut across the field to his right, and get past Darren Smith and would get spun down by Merriweather at the 19 yard line.  The NFC would finally make a QB switch, with Jim McMahon taking over for Phil Simms.  McMahon, fresh off the Bears’ Super Bowl domination of the Patriots, and at the height of his popularity and controversial attitude, would start off with a play action fake to Morris, that fooled no one, least of all Howie Long, who came in and sacked him at the 11.  2nd and 18, McMahon would drop back near his end zone, draw in the defensive line and dump off on a screen to Riggs at the 6 yard line.  With a few blockers in front, Riggs broke out of a tackle attempt by Mehl, but would trip up and get covered by Matthews at the 17 yard line.  3rd and 10, with McMahon in the gun, he would draw Klecko offsides who came in on a free run, and the refs would blow the play dead.  3rd and a long 5 or 6, McMahon would get another chance at making a play

Well, McMahon made a play, but he did so for the AFC.  In the shotgun, McMahon got a little pressure from Gastineau but he was pushed past the pocket and he had plenty of room to step up and tried to throw a deep out to Mike Quick of the Eagles.  However, keeping in mind that these guys didn’t get much practice in (and odds are McMahon had been consistently drunk since the end of Super Bowl XX), the ball went right to the Broncos’ CB Louis Wright at the 31 (and he was also double covered with Smith there as well).  Wright took the ball back to the 19, where Quick came back and took him down.  

With great field position to work with, the AFC and Louis Lipps running literally on to the field as the ball was snapped, and gave it to the Browns’ Kevin Mack, who ran it up the middle for just a gain of two yards, hit down by Dent and LT.  2nd and 8, Ken O’Brien would drop back and got pressure up the middle from Hampton and he dumped it towards Largent coming on a crossing pattern, but it fell incomplete, with LT in coverage.  3rd and 8, O’Brien dropped back and tried to force a pass to Christensen at the 8 yard line, but it was nearly picked off by Browner, with LT right there as well.  However, a flag on the play for a hold on the Bengals’ OT Anthony Munoz, who literally tackled Dent coming in to prevent a sack.  The NFC would decline and the Steelers’ Gary Anderson would bang through a 34 yarder to make the score 17-7.

Brown would take the kickoff this time near the goal line and he would take it back to the 20, where he was cut down hard by Lance Mehl.  So the NFC came back out, with McMahon starting by handing off to Riggs on a draw, but they fumbled the exchange, and Riggs would fall on it for a loss, with Long covering him up.  2nd and 11, McMahon would try to hit Monk on a seam route, near the 30, but Dennis Smith got a hand on it and nearly picked it off.  That set up a 3rd and 11, and another disaster for the NFC

McMahon was not having fun in his first Pro Bowl.  Gastineau, one of the best pass rushers in NFL history, was known for his speed off the edge.  In this case, he was going up against the Redskins Joe Jacoby, a left tackle by trade, moved to play right tackle.  Jacoby was also a massive lineman (for the time) and had problems with speed rushers (like LT, but LT gave everyone problems).  Gastineau got off the snap and ran right around Jacoby, and then he also got around Riggs, who was back to help.  The Jets DE grabbed McMahon at the 9 yard line for a sack and knocked the ball free, where it was recovered by Rulon Jones at the 10.  The other thing Gastineau was known for was his “sack dance”.  And lest you think the NFL was known as the “No Fun League” only under Roger Goodell, the Shield got tired of Gastineau’s antics and actually made his on field “dance” a penalty due to a fight in 1983 vs. the Rams.  In fact, OJ Simpson made mention of the fact that Jackie Slater of the Rams, who started the fight with Gastineau at Shea Stadium after that sack in 1983 was not on field on this play.  

Yet again the AFC was set in great field position because of a turnover.  And Ken O’Brien would get a little luck of the Irish

Ken O’Brien was an outstanding pocket passer, and he did put up some great numbers as a QB, but later in his career, O’Brien had a penchant for taking sacks and getting rattled by pressure, leading to picks and bad throws.  So much so that he would routinely get benched for Pat Ryan (including before the 1986 Wild Card vs. the Chiefs).  On this play, you nearly saw the worst of O’Brien, but it worked out for the best.  Rickey Jackson would initially pressure him on a blitz, but he would get picked up by the Oilers’ guard Mike Munchak and allow O’Brien to spin away and find some room in the pocket.  But that didn’t last long as Dent and Marshall came barreling in on him and Dent hit him as he threw the ball and it bonked off the helmet of the Patriots Brian Holloway.  O’Brien got off a mortar shot towards the end zone, in what was essentially the shortest Hail Mary you’d ever see.  With about 6 guys in the end zone waiting on the play like a waiting for a punt, Dave Duerson would get run over by his teammate Mike Singletary, giving Louis Lipps and Mark Clayton a nice lane to make a play, with only the Rams’ Gary Green somewhat able to help.  Lipps would out jump them all to haul it in for another TD.  O’Brien took a shot on the play and seemed to hurt his hand, which Joe Namath picked up on, as Anderson came in to convert the extra point and it looked like a blowout in the Pro Bowl, with the AFC up now 24-7.  

Anderson would come on to kickoff again, and it would go Brown at the 1, and he would take it back 23 yard line, hit down by Mecklenberg.  So two drives and two turnovers for McMahon with 3:50 to go in the half, and on first down an inside handoff to Riggs was stopped on a delay of game (we think because referee Bob McElwie decided to not bother to tell the crowd), making it 1st and 15.  Joe Morris took a draw up the middle, but was hit in the backfield for a loss of 3 by Joe Klecko.  2nd and 18, McMahon dropped back and got pressure from Klecko, which forced him to scramble from the pocket and he took off up the middle and out to the 22, where he slid feet first in front of Mecklenberg.  3rd and 11, McMahon in the gun, and with plenty of time to throw, McMahon tried to throw an out pass towards Lofton, but it went out of bounds and not close to a catch, which brought some rare boos in Hawaii.  Dale Hatcher would come on to punt, and sent it to Fryar at the 33 yard line, but he was grabbed immediately by Browner after just a 1 yard gain.

With 2:08 to go in the half, the AFC put Fouts back at QB, and he tried to set up a screen, but Dent came in too fast and knocked him down just as he dumped the ball off incomplete.  2nd and 10, an inside draw to Allen was read by Singletary who tackled him after a 2 yard gain as the clock hit the 2 minute warning.  3rd and 8, Fouts got pressure from Dent, stepped up and threw a strike to Chandler at the NFC 48 yard line, hit down by Williamson for a first down.  However, an illegal motion penalty on the AFC backed them up 5 yards.  

3rd and 13, rather than let Fouts take a hit, they pitched to Allen running to his right where he was dragged down from behind on a near horsecollar by the Cardinals’ EJ Junior at the 37.  On the play, Mike Munchak hurt his knee, which is the nightmare of every Pro Bowl.  Munchak would get helped off the field.  Stark would come back on the field to punt and send it to Leroy Irvin at the 11 yard line.  Irvin picked his way to the 28 yard line, hit down by Kevin Mack.

Out would come the NFC again with 1:25 to go in the half, McMahon would try to set up a screen, which was read well by the AFC, as McMahon dropped back nearly 15 yards and threw towards Craig, who had the ball just out of his reach.  2nd and 10, McMahon in the gun, tried to throw to the Cowboys’ WR Tony Hill and that one also was nowhere near the reciever and out of bounds as more boos came down.  On the play, the Niners’ center Fred Quillan would go down and they were checking his knee and similar to Munchak had to help him off the field too.  3rd and 10, McMahon in the gun, gave on a draw to Craig up the middle and Craig would get out to the 31, hit down by Merriweather.  That would bring out Hatcher again to punt, as the AFC called a time out.  Fryar would take the punt at the 21 and call for a fair catch as Browner was buzzing near him, a nice 48 yard effort by Hatcher.

With :57 to go in the half, Fouts would float a deep out to Largent at the 42, who would catch it and step out of bounds, as the ball just went over Williamson’s head.  First down, and with the pocket breaking down around him, Fouts dumped the ball off to the Patriots’ Craig James at the 42, and he would get to the 43, where he was hit down by Junior.  Running a hurry up, Fouts this time would feel the heat from Hampton and get hit just as he got the pass off and the ball fell incomplete.  3rd and 9, Fouts would again get pressure by Marshall and Hampton and roll to his right, where he threw a deep shot to Chandler, who had the ball hit him in the hands at the 39, but he would drop it as he took a shot from Williamson.  Stark would again punt to Irvin, and rather than bother with a return, the Colts punter just sent it into the end zone for a touchback.

On first down, McMahon would pitch to Morris running to his right, and he’d follow the block by Riggs, find a lane and get out to the 26, hit down by Matthews on the final play of the first half with the AFC dominating 24-7.

To start the 2nd half, the NFC would kickoff with Morten Andersen sending the ball on a low line drive to Deron Cherry of the Chiefs at the 3 yard line in the corner and away from Fryar and he would get out to the 23, where he was taken down on a high tackle near his helmet by the Bears’ Otis Wilson.  Ken O’Brien started the 2nd half, with some worries that he got hurt on his TD pass in the 2nd quarter and got some ice, so that made Jets fans exhale, and he would begin with a handoff to McNeil up the middle and he would get to the 26, hit by Wilson and Carson.  2nd and 7, a pitch running left to McNeil and he would cut around Dent, make a move just to get around Irvin and would find his way out to the 30, where he was cleaned up by Carson and Jackson.  3rd and 3, again McNeil got the carry and he would go to the right this time, and he would find a lane and get out to the 35 for a first down, taken down by Carson, Hopkins, and Randy White.  1st and 10, Otis Wilson came free on a blitz and nailed O’Brien just as he released the ball in the direction of Lipps and it sailed incomplete.  2nd and 10, this time the AFC OL gave O’Brien time and a pocket and he was able to make a nice out pass to Mark Clayton at the 42 yard line, easily beating a mismatched Harry Carson and he would get out to the 50, and ducked out of bounds as Irvin came over, but good for another first down.  

On first down, O’Brien got pressure from White up the middle and forced him to scramble to his right, where he was chased by Marshall, Dent, and Jackson and threw a pass towards Christensen, who made a nice catch at the 32 yard line, but he was hit out of bounds by Williamson and was ruled no catch.  Replays would show he actually got both feet in bounds, but in 1985 there was no review (that would come in 1986).  So while rules and lack of technology would hurt the AFC here, it wouldn’t hurt as much as the next play.  Perhaps still thinking of the missed big first down, O’Brien botched the snap from the Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster and had it slip out of his hands.  It looked for a second that O’Brien would recover it, but Randy White ripped it away for a big turnover.  

So one NY QB started the 2nd half, and it was time for the other, as Phil Simms came back out on the field.  On first down, he would pitch to Roger Craig running to his left and the play would get strung out by Gastineau has he beat a double team and forced the play right to Merriweather who took the ball back to the 50 and no gain.  2nd and 10, Simms would make a nice fake to Morris, stand back and drill a pass over the middle to Cosbie at the AFC 35 yard line and the big TE from Dallas would bounce off a tackle attempt by Cherry at the 32 and make his way out to the 26, with Cherry finally riding him to the ground.  First down, Simms would stay in the air, with a good pocket to throw in and hit his other TE, Jimmie Giles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the 17, where he was spun down by two Broncos, Mecklenberg and Smith.  On 2nd and about a foot, it was a quick handoff inside to Craig to spun off a hit by Jones and went down at the 15, but good for a first down.  Simms would drop back and looking comfortable with time to throw, would take a shot at the corner of the end zone to Quick, but it was just out of his reach as he beat Mike Haynes of the Raiders.  On 2nd and 10, Simms would rectify that mistake

With Joe Namath saying Simms timing was off on his pass towards the Eagles’ Quick, Simms would take the next snap and this time try for another WR from a division rival, Art Monk of the Redskins, but on the other side of the field.  In this case, he threw on the back shoulder of the Broncos’ CB Louis Wright and he would over run the play, allowing Monk to come back and tip it in the air momentarily at the 1 yard line and catch it on the rebound in the end zone for a TD.  Andersen’s extra point would make the score 24-14 advantage AFC.

With the came now getting a bit closer, the NFC would kickoff as Andersen would do the same thing he did at the start of 3rd, a line drive kick to Cherry (and away from Fryar) at about the 5 yard line.  Cherry bobbled it and started up the field, and was tripped up by Browner at the 26.  Don Shula kept with his formula and gave this QB series to Fouts, and the Chargers Hall of Famer would take a deep shot in the seam to Largent, who had some room between Walls and Hopkins, but it was off his hands at the 45 and dropped.  2nd and 10, a draw to Allen up the middle, where he did a jump cut at the 25 and got out to the 28, where he was hit by Jackson, Carson, and Wilson.  3rd and 7, Fouts got heat up the middle from Marshall and he uncorked a deep pass up the right side to Fryar at the 35, who had a step on Walls, but Hopkins came over and dropped what should have been a fairly easy INT, as it looked like Walls might have knocked it free.  Stark would come on to punt and he’d get off a pretty weak effort on a live drive (particularly for him) and it was taken by Irvin at the 30 and he motored up the field and looked to have room, until the Colts’ OL Chris Hinton came down the field and destroyed him at the 40.  

Simms would come back at QB, and word came down that McMahon’s knee was hurting him and he had a big wrap on it.  McMahon, who was forever injured in his career with the Bears, injured his knee in the Super Bowl and needed surgery after the season to clean it up.  With Joe Montana already out of the game, and only 2 QBs on the Pro Bowl roster in 1985 (they would change that to 3 QBs later), Phil Simms would have to play the rest of the game at QB.  So he led the NFC unit and started out by dropping back, avoided the rush up the middle by the Jets’ Joe Klecko, and stepped up in the pocket and tried to hit Tony Hill on a streak, but he was well covered by Haynes and the ball was out of his reach.  2nd and 10, Simms gave on a quick inside draw to Morris, who darted past Howie Long and was spun down by Mecklenberg, Tippett, and Mehl at the 43.  3rd and 7, Simms in the gun, and he’d take a shot to the face by Jones and throw in the direction of Lofton who dove and had the ball bonk off of him at the AFC 49 and it rebounded nearly into the arms of Monk.  But it was incomplete in the end and forced another punt.  Hatcher would actually shank one off the side of his foot, where it went down to the Patriots safety Fred Marion, who was the “need” player selected by Don Shula for the AFC, who fair caught it at the 27 as punt returning really wasn’t his gig.

With 8:10 to go in the 3rd quarter, the AFC kept Fouts at QB for this series and he handed off to Allen on a sprint to the right side, and LT started chasing him down the line and nearly caught him before John Hannah got in his way, allowing Allen to turn the corner at the 25, get past Wilson and he ran into Browner at the 33 and fell forward to the 36 for a nice gain.  2nd and 2, Allen took a draw up the middle, broke a tackle from Wilson and got blasted by Singletary and Duerson at the 42, but good for a first down.  First and 10, Fouts and Largent put on a clinic for a 5 step drop and throw an out pattern by the sidelines and past the first down marker for an easy pitch and catch play and out of bounds at the NFC 45, with Williamson in coverage coming over late.  

Now, I’ve mentioned a few times that there was no horsecollar penalties in 1985.  It wasn’t until the mid 2000s, when the Cowboys’ safety Roy Williams made it his patented move which got a lot of media attention and eventually Terrell Owens broke his ankle on a tackle like that.  Joey Browner was known as a guy who had possibly the strongest hands in the NFL.  There were highlight videos which included him tackling Barry Sanders with one hand by grabbing the back of his jersey, under the shoulder pads and dragging guys to the ground.  In this case, Allen took the handoff and ran to his left, and around LT.  Browner came up in run support and seemed to over run his contain as Allen turned the corner at the 45.  But using his left hand, Browner came over and grabbed the back of Allen’s jersey at the 42 and using his body weight and strength, pulled Allen backwards and out of bounds at the 41 yard line.  Allen, sitting down, playfully threw the ball at Browner and they had a laugh and Browner helped him up as they were former teammates at USC.  If that happened today, there would be flags all over the place and no one laughing.  2nd and 7, Fouts tried to recreate the same play that he did with Largent earlier, meaning a 5 step drop and an out pattern to the right side.  However, this time he tried to go to Wes Chandler and this time he got pressure from Hampton that forced a pass before he was ready and it went out of bounds.  3rd and 7,  Fouts started to feel pressure coming from Dent and Hampton but stood in and slung a pass to Largent over the middle at the 34, where he caught it and was thrown down by Browner, and actually stripped the ball out, but forward progress was given and another AFC first down.   Allen got another inside handoff, but he ran into Dent at the 35, and spun back to the line of scrimmage where he was taken down by LT and Singletary.  2nd and 10, we got a play by a Giants defender

Again, bear in mind the way the Pro Bowl is played today which is not even 2 hand touch.  Fouts dropped back as the NFC came on a 5 man rush.  LT came barging in off the edge as he normally did, with Hannah waiting to pick him up.  Meanwhile, Dent and White ran a stunt inside (which you really weren’t supposed to do in the Pro Bowl), and Allen had to pick up White coming in on Fouts.  With all that going on around him, Marshall beat the Dolphins’ guard Roy Foster to engulf Fouts for a sack at the 42, putting his 300 pounds flat on the Chargers’ QB.  That set up a 3rd and 16, Fouts back and he took another shot from Hampton as he threw, but he was able to make a nice throw to Chandler, who came back for the ball and made a diving catch at the 18, where he was covered up by Walls.  It might have looked like it hit the ground, but Chander did snag it and it was good for another AFC first down.  But as Fouts started to feel good about himself, he made a mistake

On one of the rare times in the game, the NFC only rushed 3, which gave Fouts plenty of time in the pocket to set up.  Of course, that meant that there were 8 men in coverage in the red zone.  Fouts had an outlet in Allen, but he decided not to dump it off and tried to force a pass into the end zone with 2 AFC receivers (Newsome and Largent were both there) in the corner.  But waiting there was Irvin, and the Rams’ corner was able to pick it off in the back of the end zone and went out of bounds for a touchback with 3:43 to go in the 3rd quarter.

So starting at the 20, the NFC began with an inside handoff to Criag, where he was stopped by the Cleveland Browns NT Bob Golic after a 3 yard gain.  2nd and 7, Simms would drop back, get a nice pocket to throw in and he’d hit Craig coming out of the backfield over the middle at the 25 where he easily beat Mehl in coverage who got turned the wrong way.  Craig took off to his left and ran up the sidelines out to the 42, where he was forced out by Mehl and Marion but good for a first down.  On first down, a pitch to Morris running to his right with Riggs leading the way, and Morris faked an end around to Monk and he found a lane and took it down midfield where he was hit by Mecklenberg and Mehl.  

2nd and 2, Simms would fake to Morris, but coming from his blindside was Clay Matthews of the Browns (an injury replacement at OLB for his Cleveland teammate Chip Banks), who got around Giles and had a free shot on Simms.  Now, the reason I highlighted this play was to show the difference between the Pro Bowl in 1985 and what we have seen in 2018 and slightly earlier.  Matthews came barging in and basically had a chance at a kill shot.  If this was the regular season, he would have destroyed Simms.  But being the Pro Bowl, this was the closest you would see to “letting up”, and he still gave Simms a decent shot, and tried to knock the ball free.  Simms held on and went to the ground for a sack at the 44.  Compare that to the Pro Bowl today and if someone comes near the QB, they just blow the whistle.  Anyway, enough yelling at kids to get off my lawn, that would set up 3rd and 7, and Simms in the gun, had 2 guys running basically the same route, Monk and Giles in the seam.  Simms threw it past Monk and hit Giles right between the numbers and what would have been a huge gain, if not a TD, but Giles dropped the perfect pass.  On came Hatcher to punt, and with no pressure, was able to boom a deep one down the middle, it would bounce at about the half yard line and go backwards where it was field in the air on a jump by Browner at the 6 yard line and downed to bury the AFC deep in their own end.  

Ken O’Brien was aback at QB and on first down was a handoff to McNeil running to his right, and Rickey Jackson smacked him for a 2 yard loss.  2nd and 12, O’Brien in his own end zone and he got pressure up the middle from White and was hit just as he uncorked a deep shot down the left side towards Lipps, but it was beyond him and out of reach of Irvin and Hopkins as well.  3rd and 12, a give up call as O’Brien handed off to McNeil, who danced his way up the middle, breaking an arm tackle by Marshall, and a diving attempt by Junior, and he would get out to the 10 yard line, hit down by Jackson.  That would be the final play of the 3rd quarter and as the teams switched sides, Stark was standing in his own end zone to punt and he would get off an average effort, out to the 48 yard line where Irvin fielded it on the run and he would get out to the 32, where he stepped out of bounds with Matthews and Merriweather closing in on him, but put the NFC in great field position.

Simms would start off by dropping back and tried and outlet pass to Riggs who was open, but the ball bounced off his hands and incomplete.  2nd and 10, the AFC would rush only 3 and Simms had plenty of time to rifle a pass in to Crosbie at the 15, and he would fall forward to the 14, hit down by Smith.  First down, a quick handoff to Craig running to his right and he would bounce off Dennis Smith at the 10 and fall forward out to the 6, where Mehl cleaned him up.  2nd and 2, Riggs got the ball up the gut and he barrelled out to the 2 yard line, hit down by Jones, Cherry, Mehl and Smith.  Mehl thought the ball came loose, but it was blown dead.  That set up a first and goal and Simms gave to Morris who ran into a brickwall of two Jets in Klecko and Mehl for no gain.  2nd and goal at the 2, the NFC would make it closer

Running one of Bill Parcells’ favorite plays of Simms faking to Morris and throwing to Mark Bavaro over the middle in the end zone.  Only this was the Pro Bowl, and while Simms and Morris were on the field, it was John Robinson making the call.  Morris would end up picking up Tippett on a blitz and gave Simms time to hit the Cowboys’ TE Doug Cosbie in the back of the end zone for a big TD, as Cosbie beat Mehl in coverage.  Andersen banged through the extra point in a now exciting 24-21 score as the AFC lead was cut to 3 with 11:49 to go in the game.

With the crowd into the game, Andersen’s kickoff would go Fryar at the goal line and he would take off out to the 21, where he was dragged down by Duerson.  First down, O’Brien still at QB, would fake the handoff to McNiel, get some time and throw a strike on an out pass to the Steelers’ Louis Lipps at the 33 and he would go out of bounds with a first down as Gary Green of the Rams forced him out.  First and 10, Craig James got a handoff up the gut as he ran over EJ Junior at the 35 and fell forward to the 37.  2nd and 5, O’Brien would drop back and dump a pass off to McNeil out of the backfield in the flat at the 38 and he would take it out to the 43 where he was taken down by Junior but good for another first down.  McNeil would get the ball again and would gain 2 yards as he was tripped up by Marshall.  O’Brien would drop back on the next play, the AFC would pick up the NFC pass rush and allow the Jets’ QB to get a pass out to Christensen at the NFC 47 and he would spin out to the 42 where he was taken down by Junior and Walls.  First down, the AFC would stay in the air, and he would hit Clayton on a quick out at the 31 and out of bounds with Walls in coverage.  The next play was not so lucky, as McNeil was hit by Dent at the 35, and he was able to fight off him, but he was cleaned up by Singletary and Williamson at the 33.  So 2nd and 12, O’Brien would get pressure from Dent and force a quick pass out to Clayton at the 30 yard line.  Clayton would get a good block on Williamson from McNeil and get out to the 25 where Singletary hit him.  It would have been a 3rd and 4, but we’d get a rare penalty in the Pro Bowl, and an especially rare roughing the passer penalty on Otis Wilson for hitting O’Brien and throwing him down.  That made it first down at the 12, and the ball was pitched to the right, but Jackson got in the backfield and took him down for a 1 yard loss.  2nd and 11, with the clock running under 8 minutes, we’d see the bad of Ken O’Brien

This was the Ken O’Brien who drove Jets fans nuts for nearly 8 years.  O’Brien could throw with the best of them, particularly outdueling Dan Marino head to head.  But he was careless with the football.  In this case, with a lead and in position for points, O’Brien had time as he backed away from Hampton’s rush and set up and looked to try to hit Ozzie Newsome in the back of the end zone.  But the NFC only rushed 3, meaning they kept 8 men back.  And like Fouts did earlier, O’Brien got picked off in the end zone by Mike Singletary.  

So the AFC again leaves points on the board with a turnover in the end zone and Simms brought the NFC out at the 20.  Simms dropped back and tried to hit Joe Morris on a seam route who was wide open but at 5’7”, he was over thrown.  2nd and 10, Craig got the ball up the gut, and he gained 5 yards, hit down by Jones.  3rd and 5, Simms in the gun and with a perfect pocket he drilled a pass in to Lofton who dove and made the catch at the 38 and he would literally crawl out to the 43 where he was finally covered up by Marion.  First down a near disaster

For many years, people would say “who is the next LT?”  And for a long time, there was a question of “who is the AFC’s LT?”  The answer would invariably go to the New England Patriots Andre Tippett.  It was said that LT on a running back was a mismatch.  Pretty much the same was for Tippett.  In this instance, the running back was Joe Morris.  Morris tried to pick up Tippett, who just shoved the smaller Morris out of the way and swiped at Simms to knock the ball loose as Howie Long also met at the QB.  The ball was on the ground but Morris was alert enough to fall on it at the 35.  So Simms in the gun, gave to Riggs on an inside draw and he was taken down at the 36, hit down by Mecklenberg.  3rd and 16, Simms would make a play

In the shotgun, Simms would get in the pocket, he’d feel the pressure coming from Gastineau and move up in the pocket where there was room and set up and fire a bullet to Monk at the AFC 48 and the Redskins WR would fall forward to the 47 as Matthews came in to hit him, but good for a huge first down.  So the drive remained alive, and Simms pitched to Morris running to his left, and again the NFC faked a reverse, this time to Tony Hill, but Morris kept the ball, cut back and accelerated up the middle, breaking a tackle by Long at the 44 and getting all the way down to the 35, hit down by Mehl but good for another first down.  First and 10, a quick handoff up the gut to Riggs only gained 2 as he was hit by Mecklenberg.  2nd and 8, and the clock running under 3 minutes, Simms faked to Riggs, with no pressure threw a perfect timing pass to Monk towards the sidelines and completed it at the 15 and out of bounds, beating Louis Wright.  1st and 10, Simms wasn’t done making plays

It’s no secret that Phil Simms loved throwing to his tight ends.  When you had Mark Bavaro and Zeke Mowatt, that makes sense.  With the clock running and a field goal to tie, the NFC went for the lead.  And Simms would fake the handoff to Riggs on a sweep, set up and throw a touch pass over the linebackers and to the Buccaneers’ TE Jimmie Giles in the end zone on a perfect pass for a TD that gave the NFC the lead, Simms’ 3rd TD pass of the game.  Andersen would hit the extra point to make the score 28-24 with the NFC in the lead.

Andersen’s kickoff was a knuckleball squib kick that bounced at the 10 and was taken by Smith who had open field and he looked to potentially have something big going, and was chased down by Ron Brown at the 34 yard line.  With 2:36 to go, the reality of the winner share being $10k per player and the loser $5k got into the players’ minds.  Fouts back at QB, got some pressure from Jackson but he had enough time to find Newsome at the 42, hit down by Junior.  Fouts would run a hurry up offense, and dumped the ball over the middle to Allen at the 46 yard line, taken down by Junior for a first down as the AFC tried to get another snap off before the 2 minute warning, but the officials didn’t allow it.  And then came some craziness

You can actually feel the tension in the game, as Fouts took the snap, got pressure from Dent who got around Munoz and ran through Allen to bump into Fouts.  Fouts would stumble and looked to be sacked or at least in the grasp, but he got free and threw a duck towards Chandler who came back to catch it at the NFC 35 yard line where he was taken down by Williamson.  As the AFC ran to the line, but behind the play, Dent was exhausted or cramped and the NFC had to call a timeout.  So after all that, the AFC came to the line with 1:36 to go in the game, but the NFC had one last big play in them

As they got to the line, OJ Simpson made a comment that the NFC might ignore the blitzing rules to try to win this game.  But that turned out to not be necessary, as the NFC rushed their 4 linemen and Fouts set up to throw.  But he tried to get a deep throw out to the sidelines and across his body.  Perhaps he could have done that 10 years earlier, but this version of Fouts was at the end of his career.  The ball floated and Leroy Irvin ran up in front of Fryar and picked it off at the 20 as he undercut the route and took off up the field as he darted around Largent and got out to the AFC 48 where he was finally tackled by Fryar.  It was Irvin’s 2nd pick of the game.  

With 1:25 left, the ball went to Riggs on a run to the right, where he was hit down after a 1 yard gain by Tippett and Smith and the AFC called time out.  2nd and 9, Simms gave a hard count that drew Tippett offsides and a free 5 yards for the NFC.  That made it 2nd and 4, Morris got the pitch running to his right, he got around Gastineau and turned the corner, staying in bounds and falling forward at the 38, hit down by Mehl for a first down and the AFC called their 2nd timeout with 1:08 to go.  At this point, it was just kneel downs, as Simms took the snap, waited a moment and took a knee as the AFC took their final timeout.  

After the final timeout, Simms was named MVP, and with Frank Gifford in the booth, who as a Giants’ legend himself knew plenty about Simms, spoke of what this meant to him and all he overcame to get to this moment and this recognition and all his injuries.  The fans didn’t like the semi victory formation as the clock ran down and the final score held with a huge NFC comeback and a 28-24 victory and set the stage for Simms to get even more national recognition one year later after Super Bowl XXI.  

 Post Mortem/ Interesting Tidbits

  • Giants sent 5 Pro Bowlers that year
    • Simms (first Pro Bowl and he would make it in 1993, his final season but he did not play)
    • Joe Morris (first Pro Bowl and he would go one more time in 1986)
    • Leonard Marshall (Started in first Pro Bowl and he would go one more time in 1986)
    • Harry Carson (Started in his 7th Pro Bowl, he would go 2 more times in 1986 and 1987)
    • Lawrence Taylor (Started in the Pro Bowl for the Giants- It was his 5th straight Pro Bowl and he would make it 10 straight years from 1981-1990).
  • LT wore number 58 in the Pro Bowl because the numbers went by seniority.  The Rams’ center, Doug Smith also wore #56, so he would get the nod. In 1985, Smith would get named to the Pro Bowl but miss it due to injury.  He was replaced by the Niners’ Fred Quillan, who also had seniority, so he got to wear #56.
  • LT didn’t actually wear #56 until 1990, his 10th and final Pro Bowl.  That was because Doug Smith finally was not elected as the center. The Bears’ Jay Hilgenberg would go to his 6th Pro Bowl that year (he’d make 7 overall).  But LT was helped by his teammate, Bart Oates, who was named to his first Pro Bowl. That finally kept Smith out and gave LT #56.
  • Simms and Morris were the first 2 offensive players to make the Pro Bowl since 1972
  • Simms became the first Giants QB to ever start an AFC-NFC Pro Bowl
  • Singletary and LT were the only unanimous Pro Bowl selections
  • McMahon was the first Bears’ QB to play in an AFC/NFC Pro Bowl
  • The Head coaches for this game were Don Shula from the Dolphins and John Robinson from the Rams.  Before the changes to the Pro Bowl that moved it to the week before the Super Bowl, it used to be held after it.  The consolation prize for the coaches who lost their conference championship games was a free trip to Hawaii and the stress free environment to coach the Pro Bowl.  Shula got the trip because his Dolphins were upset by the Patriots in Miami. Robinson’s Rams were road kill and shut out by the Bears in Chicago. Shula had never lost a Pro Bowl as the coach until this game.
  • The Jets’ 2nd year QB Ken O’Brien was named to his first Pro Bowl, marking the first time the Jets and Giants had their starting QBs in the Pro Bowl facing each other.  O’Brien had actually led his Jets to a better record than Simms did in 1985. The 1985 Jets went 11-5, while the Giants went 10-6. This brought to light a strange scenario that had the schedule makers concerned if both the Jets and Giants were good enough to reach the Championship Game and both host.  Back in the mid 1980s, as there were 3 divisions per conference, all division winners would get a bye. There were 2 Wild Cards, who were the 2 teams with the best record that didn’t win their division. The Jets and Giants both were the best of the Wild Cards, therefore they would host the game at Giants Stadium.  The Wild Card games however were split up, with the AFC playing on Saturday and the NFC on Sunday. The Jets would play first in 1985, losing to the New England Patriots, 26-14, in which O’Brien was replaced by backup Pat Ryan (which would be a recurring theme for the Jets for many years). The Patriots would go on to win road games in Los Angeles vs. the Raiders and then at Miami until they got curb stomped by the Bears.  The Giants meanwhile would beat the defending champion 49ers and falling the next week in Chicago 21-0, in a game that was closer than the score showed.
  • The Jets and Giants did have some overlap for Pro Bowl QBs.  Now both are media personalities, and back in the 1990s, Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason were both QB for their respective teams (Giants and Jets).  Esiason, a NY native was moved on from the Bengals when he won an MVP and led them to the Super Bowl in 1988. They used to joke with each other as they’d get confused as 2 blond QBs.  Both were named to their final Pro Bowl in 1993. Simms did not play, but Esiason did.
  • The Giants and Jets overlapped QBs in the Pro Bowl again in 2008.  That year was Eli Manning’s first Pro Bowl appearance, where he faced off against his brother Peyton who was the QB of the Colts.  Meanwhile the Jets sent their own veteran QB, Brett Favre who had his one year stint with the Jets after a nasty divorce with the Packers who decided to give the job to Aaron Rodgers. 
  • The game was played 2 weeks after the Super Bowl, it was changed to a week later and then to the week before the Super Bowl.
  • Steve Largent broke the single game reception record in this game, breaking John Stallworth’s mark of 7 catches back in 1983. 
  • Apparently a story came out during this game that the day before the 1985 Pro Bowl, there was a hit and run with a car that involved a little girl.  The Cardinals LB EJ Junior was at the scene and he and some others actually caught the guy who hit the kid and held him until the police arrived. And to further the story, Junior kept the locals from beating the hell out of the guy until the cops arrived.
  • Walter Payton had a shot at OJ Simpson’s Pro Bowl rushing record, but he left before halftime due to the flu and 13 yards short of OJ’s record.
  • Wes Chandler’s 114 receiving yards were a  Pro Bowl record. He was the first player to go over 100 yards in a Pro Bowl.
  • Coaches were able to take a “need” player, who was not selected and essentially was the runner up at a spot.  Usually they would take a player on their own team. The Giants first need player taken came in 1988, when Mike Ditka of the Bears took Giants safety Terry Kinard to the Pro Bowl.  It was Kinard’s only appearance in the Pro Bowl.
  • Leonard Marshall’s sack was his only Pro Bowl sack in his 2 games.
  • The side judge for this game was a very young Dave Parry.  Parry would end up the head referee in Super Bowl XLVI between the Giants and Patriots 26 years later.
  • The USFL had folded before the 1985 season, so this was the first Pro Bowl for players who came over from the failed spring league.  The first Pro Bowler to make the team after the USFL folded was DE Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles by way of the Memphis Steamboats.  Technically, you could also include RB Craig James from the Patriots, who was with the Washington Federals in 1983 for one season, but he left to join New England in 1984 and made  his only Pro Bowl of his career in 1985.
  • The game featured 31 first time Pro Bowlers. 
  • When it comes to selections for the Giants, here was their representation in their Super Bowl Seasons
    • 1986 (8- most in the NFL that year)- LT, Carson, Morris, Marshall, Jim Burt, Brad Benson, Mark Bavaro, Sean Landeta
    • 1990 (7-most in NFC but 2nd behind Buffalo with 10)- LT, Pepper Johnson, Erik Howard, Bart Oates, Sean Landeta, Reyna Thompson, William Roberts
    • 2000 (2)- Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead
    • 2007 (1)- Osi Umenyiora
    • 2011 (2)- Eli Manning, Jason-Pierre Paul
  • The most selections for the Giants in a season they didn’t go to the Super Bowl?  2008 when they sent 7 to the Pro Bowl (most in the NFC and 2nd to the Titans sending 8).  Giants sent Justin Tuck, Eli Manning, Chris Snee, Shaun O’Hara, Jeff Feagles, John Carney, and Zak DeOssie as a long snapper.
  • This would turn out to be the final Pro Bowl for several notable players
    • Dan Fouts- His 6th and final Pro Bowl for the Chargers QB who made the Hall of Fame in 1993
    • John Hannah- Generally regarded as the best guard of his generation and one of the best offensive lineman of all time.  Hannah played in his 9th and final Pro Bowl. He would retire after the 1985 Super Bowl loss to the Bears and he made the Hall of Fame in 1991.
    • Joe Klecko- Talk about a borderline Hall of Famer.  The former Jet made the Pro Bowl at 3 different positions (DE, DT, NT).  This was his 4th Pro Bowl, but his career was sidetracked and ruined by knee injuries, forcing his retirement after the 1988 season when he ended his career with the Colts.
    • Mark Gastineau- Like Klecko, another former Jet, but Gastineau’s trek to the Hall of Fame wasn’t stopped due to injuries, but rather all his off the field nonsense, not to mention his on it.  His sack dance that he would do would infuriate the opposition. But you couldn’t discount his talent. Gastineau was one of the top pass rushers in the 1980s, making the Pro Bowl 5 straight years from 1981-1985.  In 1983 he registered 19 sacks and followed that up with a long time NFL record of 22 sacks in 1984, which held until the Giants’ Michael Strahan broke it in 2001 with 22.5 sacks, which still stands as the record.
    • Everson Walls- Walls was one of the best UDFAs of all time as a cornerback coming out of Grambling.  Walls burst on the scene in Dallas, making the Pro Bowl his first 3 years in 1981 (when he led the NFL with 11 picks as a rookie), in 1982 (led the NFL with 7 picks in a strike shortened season) and in 1983/  through 1983. In 1985, Walls again led the NFL with 9 picks. However, similar to the Cowboys eventually decline in the Landry years, Walls didn’t make the Pro Bowl again. Eventually he was known for 2 things, both of which make Giants fans happy.  He was “posterized” on the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark TD, known as “The Catch” to win the 1981 NFC Championship for the 49ers over the Cowboys, which signified the real end of the Dallas dynasty and the birth of the San Francisco one. And 2nd, he joined the Giants as Plan B free agent castoff from the Cowboys as Jimmy Johnson purged the roster.  Walls expected to just be a nickle back ended up starting over Perry Williams and helped the Giants win the Super Bowl in 1990, his only championship.
    • Doug Cosbie-  Another former Cowboy, Cosbie was one of the premiere TEs in the NFC up until Mark Bavaro took that title way the very next year in 1986.  Cosbie would make 3 Pro Bowls from 1983-1985.
    • Ozzie Newsome- Speaking of the top TEs, the Browns’ Wizard of Oz was one the best in the NFL for many years, and he made 3 Pro Bowls.  Newsome was named to the Hall of Fame in 1999 and became one of top Executives in the NFL as the GM of the Baltimore Ravens.
    • Dan Hampton- With the possible exception of the 1986 NY Mets, no franchise has gotten more mileage out of a single championship than the 1985 Chicago Bears.  And as I noted above that Joe Klecko should have gotten Hall of Fame consideration if not for injuries, look at Hampton. Hampton made 4 Pro Bowls and at no time was he considered the best player on his own defensive team nor a “feared” defender such as his linemate Richard Dent.  Knee injuries also sapped much of his productivity. But he made the Hall of Fame in 2002, largely on the nostalgia for the 1985 Bears defense. Stop for a moment and realize that the Bears are one of the original NFL franchises. And they have as many Super Bowl championships as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, and New Orleans Saints.  And one fewer than the Baltimore Ravens.
    • Wes Chandler- One of the main parts of the Air Coryell days with the Chargers, and a favorite of Fouts, WR Chandler made 4 Pro Bowls (3 with the Chargers and 1 with the Saints). 
    • Gary Green- An underrated corner in the late 70s and early 80s for the Chiefs and then the Rams.  Green would make the Pro Bowl 4 times and retire after the 1985 season.
    • Randy White- Continuing to dance on the grave of the 1970s Dallas dynasty, White made his 9th and final Pro Bowl of his career which ended up with enshrinement in the Hall of Fame in 1994.  Of course, the Giants were mainly responsible for this mess. The Giants traded their first and second round pick to Dallas for QB Craig Morton in 1974, who was not going to play with some guy named Roger Staubach with the Cowboys.  Of course, the Giants finished 2-12 and picked 2nd overall. Dallas took Randy White with that pick. Welcome to the dark ages of Giants history.
    • Tony Hill- Another aging Cowboy superstar who was at the end of his productivity.  Hill made 3 Pro Bowls but retired after the 1986 season.
    • Freeman McNeil- An underrated all around back for the Jets, McNeil made 3 Pro Bowls and won the rushing title in 1982 (in the strike shortened season).  Played his entire 12 year career with the Jets and retired as their all time leading rusher until his record was broken by Curtis Martin.
    • Steve Nelson- The rugged longtime linebacker for the Patriots made 3 Pro Bowls over his 14 year career.