Elway & Marino, Who Was Better?

BothI love a good sports argument as much as the next guy.  Who was better, who would you want on your team?  Who are the guys lost to time?  All of which brings me to Dan Marino and John Elway.  Elway won two Superbowl games right at the end of his career and completely changed the discussion about who was the greater player.  This even though the Broncos won with a stout defense and Terrell Davis taking handoffs.  Elway was still good, but he wasn’t still John Elway.   Meanwhile Dan Marino ended his career with Jimmy Johnson trying to recreate Dallas and failing to do so in Miami.  I’ve argued many times that Marino actually had a better career, but Elway had a better ending.  Let’s see what the cards tell us.

The Quarterback Class

I graduated from college in 1983 so I always liked that I am a part of the great QB class of ’83.  I mean I didn’t play QB but I got half of it!  To recap the ’83 draft opened with the Stanford Legend who had told the Baltimore Colts to pound sand getting taken first by, the Baltimore Colts.  Eric Dickerson went second to the Rams, not many drafts can boast a Hall-of-Famer with the first two picks.  In fact, a total of six Hall of Famers went in the first round, the first two picks and the last two picks, Marino and Darrell Green.  Jim Kelly and Bruce Mathews were the other two, which means 3 QBs from round one are in Canton.  Richard Dent, in the eighth round, was the only other HOFer chosen in this draft.  Seven tickets to Canton, that’s pretty good.

In addition to Elway, Kelly and Marino the QB class included first rounders Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien and late rounders Bruce Mathison, Gary Kubiak, Tom Ramsey, Babe Laufenberg, Jeff Christensen and Reggie Collier.  Different than today, at the time it was unusual for a QB to go #1 overall, prior to ’83 the last time it had happened was Steve Bartkowski in 1975.  The next time it would happen would be Vinny Testaverde in 1987.

The NFL gets their Bird and Magic

1983So, Marino and Elway move into the league and immediately the comparisons began.  It became apparent before the first game that Marino had been underrated and Don Shula put him under center in game one.  Elway had to wait behind Steve DeBerg until halftime of the first game.  He came in and wasn’t very good and the pair split time most of the season.  A look at their cards tell the whole story of the opening round.  Marino is a 4 to Elway’s 2.  Marino has a 1 on 66, Elway a very weak 3.  Elway has a 24 & a 22 while Marino just has a 22.  Check out 31 and 51, Marino has 8’s and Elway 17’s.  I mean, this isn’t close out of the gate.

For round two things get better for John, he’s a 4 and he can complete passes.  Sadly, for Broncos fans, Marino also gets better.  A lot better.  Elway moves to a 4 in his second year, but Marino stays ahead of him as a five.  A straight comparison of their cards gives Marino a 17-10 advantage. 1984 I am giving Elway a + for his 26 and 27 results because he can run, and Marino can’t.  Elway has another 24 but this time Marino matches him.  They both have full fumbles, but I am guessing that’s a little worse for Elway since he’ll take off and run far more than Dan will.  All in, at the end of the second round, if this were a Heavyweight fight the ref would be keeping an eye on Elway.

Getting to Primetime (But not like Deon)

19851986The first thing you notice about the 1985 cards is Elway’s R column.  He stops being an all-purpose runner and is an outside scrambler for the first time.  The second thing you notice, or maybe it’s 1A is that he has 17 single number R results.  That’s excellent.  Both guys keep their ratings from last year so three years in the #1 pick has not been rated higher than the #27 pick.  1985 is also the year that another ’83 #1 pick got his team to the Superbowl games as Tony Eason started for the Pats.  That was a disaster for another time but he’s the only class of ’83 QB that got his team to a Superbowl games and didn’t get himself to the Hall of Fame.  Once again Marino has a superior passing card, for some reason Elway gets a better result at 35 for the second year in a row but he has 9’s at 31 and 51 to Marino’s 7’s.  No 1 on 66 this year for Dan but a 2-3-3 is certainly better than a 2-5-5.

1986 is Elway’s first trip to the Superbowl.  His performance in the playoffs was outstanding and the entire pregame conversation was could Superman lead his team to victory.  The answer was, of course, “yes” because Superman wore 56 for the Giants.  Elway’s card had several errors which you can see have been corrected.  I didn’t confirm these, but I feel sure they’re accurate corrections.  It doesn’t matter, Marino is still a 5 and Elway a 4 and Marino gets his 1 back for 1-2-5-5 to 2-4-5-5.  Marino has 8’s at 31 and 51 to Elway’s 9’s and again, mysteriously, Elway has a better result at 35.  Elway again has 17 single digit run numbers.  That’s powerful and in hindsight would have been a problem to replicate if we were still playing the old football game.  I think capturing QB scrambles was high on the “must have” list for the new game.  Elway would be exhibit “A”.  We are 4 seasons in, and Marino is 4-0.

Ready For Primetime Players

1987The Broncos go to their second straight Superbowl in ’87, Elway becomes the first QB from ’83 to go to two.   1987 gives us the first nickname, as Elway checks in with “Wood”.  One wonders, what exactly is that?  Setting it aside, before I get in trouble, both QBs seem to hit their peaks simultaneously, both guys get a 5 rating.  Very uncommon for there to be two five QBs.  I know that when it happened in 1976 it was the first time any QB had gotten a five in years.  Something I have never really understood.  Elway gets his best card to date but it’s, again, not really close to as good as Marino’s.  Elway gets 3 26’s, which should lead to some nice runs as he, again, has an excellent R column.  But Marino has 2-2-5-5 to John’s 2-3-5-6.  The superior result on 35 flips to Marino as well.  I’m not sure why I am fixated on this, but I seem to be.

1988Both guys drop back to a 4 in 1988.    Elway missed a game, so he gets a J4 and his 26’s become 27’s.  He also loses his 2 on 66.  That’s a killer especially for a guy that scrambles.  No reason to play the pass on this card.  His 3-3-5-5 power is very pedestrian.  Marino, as always, has better power with a 2-3-5-5.   In fact, Marino has a far better card except for, wait for it, result 35 where Elway gets an 8 and Marino a 9.  Interestingly Elway has a 22 and 22 while Marino gets stuck with a 24, both have the same INT. % for the season.  It’s going to be tough to turn Elway over in S and there’s no good reason to go D, so I think he’d come in under his INT % for the season.  Neither guy has a full fumble number, especially important for Elway since he is going to run.  If you’re keeping score, Marino has had a better card 7 times, out of 7 seasons.  Elway has 2 Superbowl games to 1, anyone doubt that if the Broncos had taken Marino first that’d be different.

1989 marks Marino’s worst season to date.  He lead the league in interceptions for the first and only time.  His QB rating falling below 80 for the first time.  Fair to note that Elway had only been above 80 once.  Despite what I would call pedestrian numbers both guys get a 4.  That’d be a reputation rating more than anything.  1989Elway and Marino both get 2-3-5-5 power, so far this is the first time that Marino wasn’t better.  While closer than normal, Marino still has a better card.  Both guys have a 24 this go around, Elway still takes off 3 times, 2 27’s and a 26.  He’s down to 16 single digit results.  That’s still strong but doesn’t offset some of the completion issues.  Once again, this season Elway ends up getting crushed in a Superbowl.  He’s been to three now.  His reputation gets battered worse and worse each time.

As the decade turns to the 90’s both guys hold steady at a 4 rating.  Elway though takes a step back from his Superbowl card with a 3-4-5-5 power card, which is really pretty dreadful.  Marino is not a lot better at 2-4-4-5.  This is the worst number that Dan has gotten on 11.  It’s not terrible but it’s pretty bad.  Overall, I can be persuaded either way on these cards.  Elway still has a great R column behind 3 R numbers.   Someone must have gotten into Dan’s ear because he goes from a 24-pick number to a 22, which is better than Elway’s’ 23.  Still I think I will select Elway on this one, if for no other reason than to get him on the board.  I have it as Marino 7 to Elway 1.19901991

1991 shows some improvement on Marino’s card and one significant improvement on Elway’s card.  Marino’s power is 2-3-4-5 with 5’s on 44 and 55.  That’s a great medium pass card.  Elway is 3-3-5-5.  Again, not having a 2 on 66 is a big hit to a QB in APBA.  I am actually a little surprised how often Elway has not gotten a 2 so far.  The big improvement for Elway is his nickname.  The borderline uncomfortable “Wood” gives way to “Duke”.  That’s a great QB nickname.  Marino’s card is again the better card, 8 times in 9 seasons that’s the case.  Elway will have to get a better card than Marino for the rest of his career to pull even.  Spoiler alert, he doesn’t.

1992Marino gets a 5 back in 1992.  It’s the first time for either of them since the both pulled it down in 1987.   While his card isn’t bad it’s not as good as the moving to a 5 might make you think.  His power is 3-3-3-3, which isn’t as good as you might think, in fact it’s really sort of odd.  The lack of a 2 is one thing but getting 4-3’s, that’s really strange looking.  Elway gets 3-3-5-5, again no 2.  Elway has a 24 while Marino only has a 23 and Elway’s fumble number is a 33 while Marino only has a partial number.  This is as bad a card as Marino has had in my opinion and it’s still a lot better than Elway’s.

Beginning to Go Grey

1993When you’re playing your 10th year in the league you are already pretty special, and you are probably pretty beaten up.  1993 is the year that made Scott Mitchell rich as Marino got hurt and only played in 5 games.  His XF card gives him a 4 rating, something that surprised me a little.  There’s been some talk of new sets where injured guys get good ratings and how that was not “how it was done”.  Well 1993 was a long time ago and it was done that way than.  Marino does get a good card with 2-3-3-5 power and a 22-pick number.  Elway gets a 2-3-5-5 and actually has better power throughout the card.  He only has 2 R results down from his usual 3 and he has a 22-pick number.  John does lose the full fumble result as well.  No question that this year belongs to Elway.   After 11 cards it’s 9-2 Marino.

Marino rehabbed his way back to his prime and this card shows it.  He’s a five once again with 2-3-5-5 power, interestingly Elway follows suit with the same rating and power numbers. Marino and Elway have much closer result numbers, but Marino continues to edge Elway out.  Results 45 and 46 are typical in that Elway gets a 14 and a 16 and Marino an 11 and 12.  That’s a big difference throwing short.  Think about the fact that in 1994, 11 years into their careers, both guys are still cranking out 5’s.


1995The 1995 cards seem to suffer from some justification issues.  Elway’s card just looks bad to the eye.  Marino gets another 5 while Elway drops to a 4.  Once again both guys check in with 2-3-5-5, Marino has a 24 while Elway only has a 23.  Elway still takes off a lot but with only 8 single digits in the R column his days of being a gazelle seem long past.  In 1996 it’s Elway who gets the 5, with Marino stepping back to a 4.  Elway gets the 2-3-3-5 again but Marino changes it up with a 2-2-4-5.  I think I like Marino’s power better here but it’s close.  Elway gets a 23 but Marino only threw 9 interceptions, so he gets a 21 as his worst result.  That seems a little low to me.  I’d have expected a 22.  Even though Elway can run a little, I think Marino’s card is still clearly superior in both these seasons.

Where the Critics rave

1996We’ve come to that part of our journey where Elway leads his team to two straight Superbowl victories.  Prior to 1997 he has gone to 3 Superbowl games and gotten destroyed 3 times.  The Broncos run to the Superbowl and subsequent victory were the feel-good story of the year and it was capped by the famous “this one’s for John” moment.  This is the season where people start to talk about Elway as the greatest from his class or of his generation because he “has his ring”.  Certainly, he’s in the discussion.  Marino on-the-other -hand is getting disappointing results in Miami.  After a 10-6 season they beat Buffalo but got waxed by Denver in the divisional round.  That game is where the Elway is better discussion started.  In fact, he may have been better in 1997.  His power is 2-3-3-5 versus Marino’s 2-3-5-5.  Elway adds a 5 on 44 for good measure.  Elway gets only a 22 but Marino doesn’t even have that number.  Both guys can fire it around.  I think it’s close but with the 5 and at least a decent R column I score this one for Elway.Elway 98 Marino 98

Back to back Superbowl games, that’s why people talk Elway instead of Marino.  He passes Jim Kelly for most Superbowl games from a class of ’83 QB.    The guy also closed out his career with a 5 for the second straight year, which is incredible.  Marino is still a 4, with power numbers 2-3-5-5 versus Elway’s repeat of 2-3-3-5.  So, John closes it out with two 5’s and his two best production years.  Still a match-up of the cards still favors Marino.  It’s closer but Marino has more completion numbers.  Elway has a 22 but again Marino only has 20’s.  It’s really remarkable how he has lost his INT numbers in the last few years.  Elway is a 5 and won the Superbowl but I don’t think it’s close. This is all Marino.

A last Hurrah

1999Elway retired after the Superbowl, Marino came back to try and win one.  No truth to the rumor that Elway heard APBA was going to produce green cards and he wanted no part of that.  For the first time Marino is less than a 4 checking in as a 3.  His 2-3-5-5 is familiar but his 23 is a new addition after being solid for several years.  This card is perfectly acceptable but not what you want from Marino.

And in the End

In the end, in the sixteen seasons they played together Marino had a better card 13 times.  Elway was a 5 six times and Marino 7 times, while Elway got a 2 in his first year and Marino a 3 in his last, all the rest were 4’s.  Marino far more consistently had a better power card with a 1 or 2 on 66 15 times to Elway’s 11.  8 times Marino has a better number on 31 (which I see as sort of the end of the line for single digit numbers by and large) while Elway never had a better number on 31 than Marino.

I don’t think it’s close, at least it’s not here in APBA which is really all I care about.  Dan Marino was a far better Quarterback than John Elway.  If you want to argue the point, I’d love that.  Let’s get a beer!


Why the Master Game over the Basic?

For those APBA Football players out there who only play the Basic game and have ever wondered if they are missing something not using the Master Game booklet, my answer to you is a resounding “YES”. Let’s review the game I just rolled in my 1968 AFL/NFL replay between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a record of 2-11-1 compared to Los Angeles Rams 10-3-1, however, they just upset the Rams 31-26 on my tabletop.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has a split rating of 30 (pass)/33 (run) against the vaunted Rams defense rated 46 (pass)/47 (run) resulting in the Steelers being -16/-14. The Rams offense is +7/+2 and generated 449 net yard of offense and were PLUS 4 in the turnover department. So how in the world could they possibly lose this game? Fortuitous rolls at the right moment and features only associated with the Master game. Twice the Steelers stopped the Rams on fourth down and one situations on called run plays even though the Rams averaged 6.1 per carry. Since the Steelers were -16/-14, they would only be in “C” index if using the Basic game, however, the Master game offers an “Offensive Index Finder System” which allowed them a reprieve on a couple of plays. Secondly and most importantly, the Master game has a “Rare Play (RP)” section. The Steelers racked up 414 net yards of offense and 31 points, however, 163 yards and 14 points came off of RPs. Pittsburgh scored a 95-yard TD on RP8-10, “Pass complete for 22 yards to 01, who immediately laterals to 010, who runs for a touchdown.” This play resulted in a 95-yard yard touchdown pass. To make matter worse for the Rams, the Steelers also had RP3-5, “Ball carrier scores touchdown, flag on play, see penalty Column TE.” The penalty was against the Rams, resulting in 68-yard touchdown run for Dick Hoak. Los Angeles could have survived one of these RPS but two was too many.

So if you were rolling the Basic game, most likely the Steelers would have only generated 251 net yards of offense and lost 31-12 but as a gamer you would not have experienced the fun and excitement of this thrilling upset.

If the Master game is not on your Christmas wish list, it most certainly needs to be!

Joe Namath, An APBA Career

Our esteemed Editor and Chief Mr. Barath apparently noticed that I hadn’t posted an article in a little while and suggested I write one.  Since I hate to disappoint I have picked up the quill, figuratively, to write.  Greg suggested I write a retrospective on Tom Brady’s APBA career but since his career is not over and since the one season I lack is a season that ol’ Tom played, I decided to co-opt the idea but with a different QB.  Let’s ask APBA, what kind of a career did Joe Namath have?

A Rookie hits Broadway

1965I am a little young for the early years of Joe.  Still I lived in a Suburb of New York City for most of his career and I was certainly aware of him even as a little kid who was yet to follow the game.  Joe came to the Jets to be a star.  We can argue his value as a Quarterback all night long but one thing that nobody can ever argue is, Joe Namath was a big star from the moment he walked on the field in New York.  My mother, if asked to name a Football player would name Namath.  If we asked her to name another one, she would not be able to do so.


1965RJoe’s rookie season has been carded twice by APBA.  The original card from the old game and the latest version which came out in the last year are here.  You’ll notice that he’s a 3 now where he was a 2 back in the day.  This very much reflects two things about APBA under Mr. Seitz.  One, he downgraded rookie Quarterbacks because he felt, probably correctly, that they lacked the field general skills right out of the shoot.  Two, he capped the AFL players at a 4, especially in 1965.  Seitz was an NFL first guy and that is apparent here.

One thing we will see with Namath throughout his career is what I’ll call “great power”.  Joe has 2-2-5-6-6-7 on the new card, that’s great.  The original is a very impressive 1-1-7-8-9-10.  I think the new card is actually more powerful, but you can certainly score with either.  The other theme is turnovers.  Joe was going to give the ball up.  He has 4-20s, 2-21s and a 24 on the new card.  Plus, a half a fumble number.  While not terrible, the medium pass has a good chance of getting picked off.  Interceptions were different in the old game but the 20 and 21 are likely picks and the 2-16s, 17s, 18s and a 19 are all at risk.  My guess though is that if you are in a draft league in 1965 you would take Namath over the other “name” rookie, Craig Morton.

The coming of Broadway Joe

1966-67 When you look at Joe’s cards for 1966 and 67 the thing that jumps out is how fast he goes from good to great.  The 1966 card has a 1-3-7-7, underwhelming power column.  1967 jumps to 1-1-6-9.  Still not your best card but ultimately a nice amount of power.  What’s interesting is that he has a 9 at 44 and a 16 at 55 but 7 at 31 and 51 and 8 at 13 and 53.  I’ve not seen that distribution before and while in total it looks right it also looks very strange.  Joe gets a 3 from Seitz for both seasons, even though he was much better statistically in ’67.  He passed for 4,000 yards for the first time.  Daryl Lamonica was the 1st team all AFL QB (and player of the year) so Joe wasn’t likely to get a 4 from APBA.   I think if we carded that season now he’d be a 4, though a 3 in ’66 still seems likely.

A legend Comes into his own.

You may never have heard this but after the 1968 season Joe Namath guaranteed the Jets would win the Superbowl.  I remember in the 90’s all the NY athletes would make a similar guarantee, no doubt in the hopes of being the next Namath and eating for free for the rest of time.  Patrick Ewing in particular seemed to like to make this oath.  It’s less impressive when you lost to Indiana.

1968Any way 1968 is the greatest season in the history of the Jets and Namath is certainly the man on that.  A card that starts 1-3-7 and has 8 single digit results is solid.  Joe still is going to throw a pick but it’s not as bad as previous seasons.  He’s only a 4 here, I feel certain that his 1st team all AFL would net him a 5 these days.  For a guy who had a reputation for being a statue this is also his second straight card with 16 single digit running results.  The old game didn’t have a QB scramble number, but you could do worse than sending Joe on a bootleg.

1969With his 1969 card Joe shows that he is what he is and what he is, for APBA, is very good.  A 1-1-7-7 is again good, double 1’s is actually very impressive even in the old game.  So, with his first 5 cards Namath got 3-1s and 2-3s on 11.  That’s a nice way to start a career.  Joe keeps his 4 in ’69 as well.  While I will admit that I don’t know the old cards like I used to or like I know the new ones, I think the 69 card is a little better than ’68.


The Beginning of the End

1970Peak Joe was short-lived.  An injury held him to 5 games in 1970 and 4 in 1971.  He was not terribly good in those 9 games if we’re being honest.  He keeps his 1 on 66 but the 5 on 11 represents the worst number he’s seen there.  His completion numbers are down, and he appears to have another full interception over his peak two cards.  Also, the running has evaporated.  Joe is a 2 in ’70, ending the two-year run of 4.

1971 is an improvement, he climbs back to a 3 and he has 3-1’s so the familiar power is back.  On the other hand, he has


no results between 9 and 13, which kills his completion percentage.  This is clearly his worst card for interceptions, which is not a surprise with his 10% INT rate.  That he’s back to a 3 is actually more a reflection (I am guessing) that the leagues are merged, and Joe is now a middle-of-the-pack QB.



One More Time With Feeling

19721972 is an interesting season in the NFL for a lot of reasons.  First, I feel sure that no season has ever had more football games replicate it.  APBA has done it a few times.  I know my friend Greg likes this season and for good reason, it was the renaissance of Joe Willie.  I look at the R card (for the new game) this time.  Joe’s power is back with 2-2-3-5-5.  That’s very impressive.  In addition, he has 4 6’s, you just want to call a medium pass and roll the bones with this card.  Of course, there’s a few issues.  A 29 is a big sack number and a 27 is probably not going to gain any yards.  Plus, with a 24 and a 25 he has two big INT numbers.  With 4 18’s and 3 20’s I’d have my linebackers blitzing all day long, if I can’t get a pick 3 times I’m just not trying.  Namath is a 4 this season, a rating that is well deserved to be sure.

19731973 was not as magical for either the Jets or Namath but for the author it does represent the first foray into APBA football.  The first game I ever played included Namath and the Jets.  My dad took that team and I specifically remember him saying “I’ll take Joe Willie and the Jets”.  This is who Namath was at this point.  My Father could name maybe three more football players than my mother, but Namath was someone he not only knew but understood was worth his time in a game like this.

One interesting note off the top (literally) this is the first card that Joe is not listed as 6’ 2” 191 points as he has “ballooned” to 200 pounds in ’73.  For lots of players I’d not believe the stats, but Namath seemed like the kind of guy who kept the weight off not only while playing but really since as well.  The power is down with this card, 1-3-5 is pedestrian but does keep his 11-power number strong.  The R column is comically bad at this point as Seitz apparently has seen him hobble around long enough.

For 1974 I will use a card from a set I have made for the new game.  I wanted to capture Joe’s last good season with a new game look.  A 4 in this set, which based on his stats seems a little high, one might expect a 3.  However, I think the rating is right for a player with Namath’s experience taking a bad team to the heights of mediocrity with a pretty limited supporting cast (save for Riggins).  I mean David Knight is the second-best receiver on this team and he’s not exactly an all-timer. 1974 With a 2-3-3-4-4-5 Namath keeps the power numbers strong.  Rushing for a TD strengthens his R column and he has 26 scramble number, so the sack problem may be as bad as we’ve seen.  With a 23 and a 25 he still has an interception issue.  It’s worse in other seasons but with the power down this card will be a little more challenging to generate scores over turnovers.

Broadway Begins To Degrade

1975 is the real beginning of the end for Namath.  His QB rating is terrible, his team is terrible and really the physical toll his career has taken on him is starting to show.  I always thought it interesting that Namath was threatening to retire as a much younger man but when faced with the fact that his talents were diminishing stubbornly hung around looking for another gold ring.  I think the “Broadway” thing takes something away from him as he really was a tough SOB when you get down to it.

1975Namath returns to a 3 in ’75 with 1-3-6-7-8-8 power.  This is I believe Namath’s worst season but it’s not his worst card.  He has enough completion numbers to make it an OK card.  Plus, he’s a 3, which is probably too high but since the under-rated him more often than over-rate I can live with it.  The interception issue is here in spades so, basically, this is a bad version of Namath but there is still some value.

1976 is the last season with the Jets.  I replayed this season in ’77-79.  Namath was dreadful.  This card is for the new game and is bad but not as bad as I recall the old version being. 1976 A 3-6-7 is not a great start.  Not having a power number on 66 for the first time in his career hurts.  After 11 seasons of knowing a 66 was going to be a score this is quite a come down.  Unfortunately, the loss of a TD doesn’t get offset on the turnovers.  2-25’s is death, add in a 21 and good luck throwing medium.  Plus, a 28 and 29 is not a combination you want.  Namath gets a 2, which feels right.  This Jets team was starting a rebuild with another Alabama QB, Richard Todd.  Namath definitely looks like a QB ready to start a broadcast career.

With a trade to the Rams Namath got a fresh start in 1977.  It 1977didn’t help as he was clearly done.  With 1-5-6 power he is at least back to 66-1.  Unfortunately, that’s about the only nice thing to say about the card.  He still throws picks and gets sacked.  Playing on a very good team he will be a problem for the replayer.

So, What Have We Learned?

Anyone else surprised that Namath was never a 5?  I thought he might have scored one.  If the company does ’68 I’d bet, he gets one.

How about a guy that in 12 seasons gets a 1 or 2 on 66 11 times?  Plus, he has a 1 or 2 on 11 5 times and a 1 on 33 once.  That’s pretty great.

I think in total Namath is who we think he is.  Charisma doesn’t really transfer to cardboard.  Statistically he’s not a great Quarterback but in his time, he was considered one of the greats.  He threw deep, he threw often, and he racked up some pretty good numbers along the way.

Plus, he’s arguably the biggest “star” in New York sports.  Mantle is the only argument.  Finally, the guy who manages this fine establishment has a favorite player.  If he’s good enough for the Oguard, well that’s all I need to know.

This was interesting.  If you wonder about another player throw a name out.  No promises but I may just write them up.


Bringing a F-2-F Mindset to Solitaire Play

There are so many ways to enjoy the APBA games and Football is no exception.  I sometimes think that people get so caught up in playing things “right” that they take some of the fun out of playing the games.  People that know me, particularly my friend Gilles, know that I like to quote Mr. Seitz “You are the manager!” So while I am tasked by the OGuard to talk about Face-to-Face, he also told me to talk about anything I want, so for this one I am going to talk about another way to play solitaire.

There is more than one way to go about things of course and ultimately it depends on what your goal is.  Greg B. and Mark Z. are full bore replayers and they are the masters of that.  Other folks prefer to play a tournament style, or a “what-if” or maybe just the occasional game.  Each of those scenarios are created to come to a different goal.  The what-if is really just an exercise in imagination.  I am a big fan of the what-if play.  The Tournament is a nice easy way to get the feel of a season, play everyone and not commit to 180- 400 games.  The replayer, ultimately, wants the stats to look like Real Life.  Finally the occasional gamer wants to pull two teams out of a box, set up the game and roll dice.  They want to do that pretty quickly.

I want to focus on the “Non-Replayer” for this purpose.  Greg, Mark, et al. have given everyone plenty of material around doing a replay.  For the non-replay what should you consider?  Here’s a short and no doubt incomplete list of things to consider:

  • What is your usage thought? Do you care about over playing a running back/ quarterback/ Wide Receiver?
  • Are you going to be keeping Sack/ Interception stats?
  • For that matter what stats do you want to track?
  • Injuries?
  • How do you want to call defense?
  • How do you want to call offense?

So there’s a little bit to consider.  Let’s take the questions in order:

The thing about usage is, it’s more important when replicating a season then it is in any other scenario.  In real football how many times have we seen a guy who was not a big part of the season be a huge part of the playoffs or Superbowl?  James White, Tim Smith, that’s just two that spring to mind.  So basically, if you’re playing a game as a one-off, play whoever you want, have fun with it.  If you’re playing a tournament it probably makes sense to put some guard rails up.  I like to use a combination of average attempts/catches and maximum attempts/ catches so that I can see how the game plays out.  So if a team gets ahead by 14-17 in the fourth quarter I don’t feel hamstrung to pass because of usage.  I am a very big believer in playing the game as it comes, even if that means someone is overworked.

What stats to keep is a little different than the Sack/ Interception number because of the finder column.  If you’re playing a game I’d recommend you don’t worry about finder columns and just use the board results.  It doesn’t affect the outcome of the game in anyway and it dramatically reduces setup.  For tournaments and what-ifs I think it’s worth getting the finders setup.  Find the excel doc that will help you with this and do it as you go.

What stats to keep is a personal preference issue.  Scoresheets and Excel today make keeping more stats than you may have 20 years ago be much easier.  Still, the more stats you write down the slower your game play will be.  I like to keep attempts, yards, turnovers, touchdowns, first downs, penalties, punting, kicking and return stats.  I notice that Greg B. accumulates as he goes, something I had never done, and it seems to make totaling easier.   I know a guy who told me he just keeps final scores and scoring plays and he’s quite happy with it.  There is no wrong way and I was impressed when he could describe games in great detail even though he didn’t have stats.

Injuries are a big part of the game so I recommend that you at the least play in game injuries.  If you are playing guys based on what they actually played you don’t need to keep the carry-over injuries (since you have done that already) for a tournament you may want to play the multi-game injuries out as it will, potentially, be in the storyline.  Personal preference again but I think it’s pretty cool to have that as a “great unknown”.

Finally we get to play calling.  We seem to be moving towards a world where the players of the football game all use some form of a computer to call plays.  On behalf of Mr. Seitz I implore you to call your own plays.  Frankly I always thought the most fun about the game was to call your play.  The brochure even brought you into the huddle with Terry Bradshaw to see if he should throw short to Frank Lewis or send Franco Harris into the line (how old am I) to get the first down.  What I recommend is that you take a look at the team you’re playing and in your head create a “game plan” for that game.  Include your C receivers and your lesser players in that plan.  I don’t see any issue with throwing to your C in the second quarter on a second and 8 and throwing to your A* in the fourth quarter on 3rd and three down 6 points.  Do you?  Who does Big Ben throw too in the 3rd down spot?  I’d also point out that if you only want to give the ball to your best runner and throw to you’re A’s, there’s really no law against that.  Just understand the effect on the final result.

Defense is usually called with some sort of automatic caller.  I use flip cards that I designed to try and replicate playing a person FTF.  That’s what I like to do.  Others use the APBA defense cards, the Fletch System or some other automatic play caller.   My advice is, whatever you do, don’t try and “game” the defense.  I have a set of “match up” cards that Ray Dunlap gave me several years ago.  He’s simplified them in the interim but I like the “complicated” cards a little better.  What I do is roll three dice, a 1 or a 6 and I draw from Ray’s deck and otherwise I use mine.  Since I don’t know before I call the play there’s really no chance that even subconsciously I will game the system.

In the end this is all supposed to be fun.  I am starting to think that one of the reasons Football fell behind the other games in APBA sales is because people found it daunting to play a game.  It doesn’t have to be.  Like all games APBA makes it’s a roll of the dice.  Find where you are comfortable and play there for awhile.  You may find yourself adding more in as you go.  In-the-meantime don’t be afraid to call a medium pass to Antonio Brown without the help of a computer.  My mantra is, as it has always been, make sure it’s FUN!

Scouting the Quarterbacks

Scouting doesn’t just have to be in real life.  You can take a look at the team you’re going to play and adjust your game plan accordingly.  As I have said in the other articles about face-to-face play, there more than one way to go about scouting.  I will review what I like to do.  For this article I will be using two Quarterbacks from the recently released 1976 set.  I really believe that the APBA game is best played with that era of football, it was designed then and the game play just “fits” the era better.

My two choices are Ken Stabler and Dan Fouts:


Stabler had one of the great seasons for a quarterback ever, up until that season.  He and Bert Jones had a QB rating over 100, the first two since Staubach in 1971 and the first time that two guys in one season were over 100.  Fouts, at 25, was handed the keys to the Chargers and finished the year as a very average quarterback.

I’ll be referring to this chart:


My scouting starts with what I will call the “power numbers”, how many 1, 2, 3 and 4 does he have?  Part of that is I will want to know what happens if I blitz and the 3 and 4 become 1 and 2?  My next check is for interception numbers.  How many and how many specifically are 24 and 25?  I want to know what I am going to get for turnovers and I am going to be very happy to see the 24 and 25 because I’ll be able to play more S and still get the interceptions.  I’ll want to see 26 and 27 results, because if the QB can run I may need to account for that (as I did with Mariota in the defense article).  Finally I like to see how many sacks I have a shot at.

So with Stabler you get a very strong double 1 and a 2.  He doesn’t, however, have any 3 or 4 results.   He has a 24 and a 25 so I can get picks but he only has 1 20.  With a 28 and a 29 he will get sacked but not the big sack.  He has a 26 so he is not a huge threat to run and his R column is dreadful so it’s basically another sack.  Fouts, on-the-other-hand has a 2 and a 4 for power, he has a 21 and a 25 for pick numbers, plus 3 20’s so there are defenses that will push Dan over 3 picks and in one case much higher.  With a 28, 29 and 30 he can get some big sacks.  He has one 26 and his run column is actually pretty good.

Let’s start with Stabler.  First if the ’76 Raiders are opponent get your mind around giving up some points.  This is a really good offensive team.   A check of the chart shows that Stabler has 2 picks and it’s hard to get even a third.  So if the Raiders roll out 3-Wide what is better, Dime middle or Nickel light?  Let’s see, if I go Dime Middle then we’ll assume that the Raiders will be BS even, there are plenty of A receivers after all.  That means 16 completions (basically half or a little more with the RP/ Fumble et al.), 2 interceptions and 3 touchdowns.  If I go nickel light then he’s BD up two lines so you pick up a half an interception but no completions or TDs.  So if the choice is Dime Middle or Nickel light and I think he is going medium I think I’d opt for nickel and drop the running game down 2, even in light plus a yard.  Now if it’s short he’s up to a tremendous 21 completions, with 2 interceptions and 3 touchdowns against a dime and 19.5, 2 interceptions and touchdowns against a nickel.   So again I like the nickel.  One more thought on defending Stabler, because he doesn’t have a 3 or a 4 you’re not going to add any additional touchdowns to him even if you blitz.  Look at the chart, he’s either 2 or 3 TDs.  The 1 is always a TD and there are a few short passes where the two doesn’t get it done.  My theme is there’s no “harm” in blitzing and you do knock his completion percentage down.

Fouts is different, as you’d expect.  Against a Dime Dan is going to get 12.5 completions medium and 18 short.  In both cases he gets an interception and a touchdown.  Against a nickel the completions are 12 and 16.5 but you take a TD off the board and medium Fouts goes to 3.5 interceptions.  So I would be very comfortable blitzing but if I am not blitzing I am likely to stay in S otherwise because I am not getting enough out of going to D.

Remember the basic tenet of defense is don’t be predictable but if you scout you can ride the odds.  If the opposing QB has a 3 on 66, therefore no 1 or 2 results, stay away from the blitz.  It’s tough to score without a TD result.  If you can force field goals from the Raiders of ’76, that’s a win.


The Art of Calling Defense

You have heard me say it more than once and I am not the only one that believes it,  APBA football is the best face to face game available, anywhere.  I think that is in no small part because of the excitement there is in calling defense.  Winning and losing can come down to dice rolls but there are small victories in the game, those moments when you “got him” and you know it and he knows it.  I especially like when the offensive coach is looking at me and I get it right and he gets a look on his face, crestfallen, defeated, annoyed, maybe all those things.  That’s part of the fun of calling defense in APBA Football.

So let’s start from the start.  You’re choices for defensive calls are: Standard Light Line, Standard Middle Line, Standard Max Line, Goal Line, Middle, Goal Line Max, Nickel Light, Nickel Middle, Dime Light, Dime Middle, Blitz, Nickel Blitz and Dime Blitz.  That’s 12 choices that do a variety of things to the offense.  You can move teams offensive index, either up or down, or their result lines up or down 2 or in some cases 4 lines.  You can turn a great play into a dud or a dud into a great play.  It’s a lot to consider.  What you want to try and understand is not just line movement but also Offensive Index (Column) movement.  It’s not just up and down, it’s also left and right.

So let’s start by simplifying what you want to do.  It’s my belief that in APBA the key to stopping a team is stopping their Quarterback.  This is true in the NFL in this day and age but I think it’s always been true in APBA.  So many of the results sit on the QB card so it’s that card that you need to focus your attention around.  So the rudimentary questions to ask yourself are:  Does the QB have a 1 or 2 (or more than 1) in their P column?  How many 26 and 27 results are in his P column?  What are his interception numbers (20-25) in his P column?  Does he have 15, 16, 17 in the R column or is he a 3, 5,7?  Armed with this information you can begin to formulate what I’ll call your “base defense”.  By “base” I mean the defense you are going to spin your game plan around.  You want to be grounded in 1 or 2 formations so that you can be surgical about how to call a game.  If you don’t determine a starting point you might wind up spinning around out of control and just guessing on every play.

So let’s look at answers to the questions.  The issue on 1 and 2 versus 3 is simply this, it’s going to be hard for your opponent to score when he only has a 3 on 66.  This means you don’t need to be anywhere near as aggressive on defense, the card does some of the work for you.  Scramble numbers are important because they can really hurt you when you are in a light line or, especially in a blitz.  This is even worse with a QB that has a lot of 3’s and 5’s.  The additional yard against nickel and dime is also underrated and important.  Finally the interception number comes into play if you are looking to turn the ball over.  A 22 is a tough one to get an interception on so you need to be cognizant of it.  Really it’s only on medium passes and only then half the game.  If the QB has a 23 or 24 there’s a greater chance of an INT and a 25 is an INT basically against any and all defenses.

So let’s assume I am now defending Marcus Mariota.  To refresh Marcus has 1 “2”, on 66, he has a 22 for an INT number, he also has 2 “20’s” but I am not too worried about those.  He has 2 “26’s” and a “27” so he can scramble, his R column is loaded with 3 “K’s”, 4 “3’s” and 6 “5’s”, so more than 33% of his R column is going to be very beneficial if I am aggressive against the pass.  On-the-other-hand, I can’t get a pick if I am not aggressive.  This is why I think the Titans will do well in a replay, they’re tough to defend.  Given that Murray and Henry have good cards I am going to default far more to two defensive calls, Dime Middle and Nickel Light.  In shorter yardage situations I may use Standard or even Goal line middle even against a pro-set.  I know that moves Mariota up two lines but his card won’t necessarily get more completions from that as he doesn’t have a lot of numbers in the teens.  Basically I am willing to over commit against the run to put the Titans in passing downs where I think I can get some stops.

So let’s assume I am defending and my opponent comes out with a play calling sheet like I outlined in the offensive play calling discussion.  Because of my belief in being a little aggressive early my first call will be Nickel, Light line… Double Walker.  So Mariota will throw the ball in B Light to Sharpe.   What I like to do when “keying” is pretty simple. I will double only A receivers, if my opponent has an A* he’ll get 75-80% of my attention because I can’t move him to B so I need to drop his lines.  I will sort of rotate around the A’s but I will try and determine who my opponent is likely to “go to” in a big spot.  My guess is that a coach of the Titans will come back to Walker in a big spot but by halftime I’ll know if I guessed right.  Whoever I think is his “Go to” I won’t key until I think it’s a play he has to have.  Basically just lying in wait for a moment that will hurt most.  If I think he has to have a play, chances are he thinks the same thing.  There’s a lot of mind play in the calling of defense.

Let’s assume Mariota’s pass went incomplete.  He’s out pro set on second and 10.  Assuming pass I’ll again go nickel, light and double Murray.  My guess is off as he called an outside run.  A, light plus a yard let’s give Murray a first down.  Offense comes out 3w on first and 10 and since I have gone nickel two plays in a row I’m going to go Dime/ Middle and double Sharpe.  At this point I’ve doubled three different guys, so no pattern and I’ve called two defenses.  I’ve also been aggressive against the pass by going with an extra back in all three calls.  I may want to be conservative but I won’t worry about it too much until I’m 8-10 calls in.  On the fifth play Tennessee is going 2-TE and I will call a Standard Defense and Key Murray.  The call is a short pass to Walker so it’s A-S down 2 lines.  I like that.  More on this later.

I want to establish a couple of things early.  One is that the offensive coach isn’t going to know who I am double covering, the exception being if he has an A*, I don’t care if he knows I’m doubling him, maybe he thinks twice about throwing to him all the time.  The second thing is I want to establish that I may go to any defense despite the offensive formation.  Solitaire players almost all automatically go to Dime against a 3-Wide offense.  They almost always go to a Standard D against a pro set and they almost always go Goal Line against a 2-TE.  I like to make sure my opponent knows, I am not necessarily going to do that.  By calling Nickel twice early he is now not sure if he can pass out of a pro set.  I guarantee that early in the game when the Titans go three wide I’ll call a standard defense and perhaps even key Murray or Henry.  I recognize A up two lines can be a killer but if my opponent is passing there’s a chance he’ll roll a 26, 27 or 29 and that will take the wind right out of his sails.GL Stand

I am basically going to call a Nickel Light or Dime Middle 65% of the time in this game.  That’s my fallback/ go to defense.  So basically the Titans will be passing in Light up two or Middle even all in B column.  I think I can do OK keeping him there.  He’s going to get a lot of +1 yard on the run but ultimately I think I can overcome that.  Everything else, all of which I will probably call at some point, comes from that base.

I like the Blitz when I am playing some QB’s.  I don’t think I’d blitz here very much against Marcus because I’d risk too much on runs and screens.  If I were playing against the Patriots, for example, I’d blitz a lot.  I know there are people who are deathly afraid of the screen and draw plays.  My attitude is a little different.  If you roll a good number those plays are great.  There’s also a lot of results that are just not that great.  Basically I’d rather have Brady/ Big Ben/ et al. rolling a good number on a screen pass than a Medium Pass.  The one tenant of this whole thing is, you have to accept that sometimes an offense is going to break a big play.  It’s hard to completely shutout a good team in APBA.  As it should be.

One thing about how I play defense that may be different and will on occasion cost me a game is this, I want turnovers.  I think I am heavily influenced by my first F-T-F league experience.  I was in a league on the North Shore of Boston and my team was terrible.  I also didn’t really know what I was doing.  The end result was 0-10 for the season.  Now the offense was led by the two Superbowl Quarterbacks, 1985 Jim McMahon and Steve Grogan.  They were both putrid.  It was the defense, however, that killed me.  In ten games I had zero interceptions and only a handful of fumble recoveries.   What I learned was, if you never get a turnover you’re going to give up too many points.  Ever since than I have aggressively pursued interceptions.  The quandary/ challenge that Mariota provides is that if I try and get a pick I open up myself to his running successfully.  While I don’t necessarily recommend playing D, I think in the second and third quarters when the 22 is a pick in the Medium/ Light line area I would play more D.  Especially if I think a Medium pass is the call.  My experience is that interceptions are huge game changers.  Offensive coaches tend to get a little gun shy after throwing one which is another advantage.  As an aside after my QB throws a pick I like to toss one medium on his next throw, just to try and get balance in the universe.  Also, if I sense that Short Pass is going to be the call well more often than I should I’ll worry a little less about it.  It’s hard to win a game only throwing short passes.

A word on defending the double Tight-End.  Don’t automatically go to Goal line.  If the Titans come out with the 2-TE set I would more often than not go Middle line and key Murray.  I am not worried about Henry, let him get some yards, but I am keeping Murray even and I am dropping Mariota two lines on all passes, that’s a killer to the offense.  I may go Max Line and Key Murray but I won’t be going Goal line so that the passing is even-up in A column, that’s too powerful.  If I feel like my opponent is going to go Goal Line and I am operating the Titans, I will pass like crazy from that formation.

Finally there is an element of calling defense that we can’t ignore, that of getting in your opponent’s head.  Take full advantage of getting a call right, make sure he knows you’re all over him.  You want to set your opponent back on his heels some, that’s an advantage to you.  If he crosses you up, acknowledge it.  I bet I say “good call” to my opponent 4-5 times a game.  Always before dice roll.  A call is good whether the dice work out or not.

It takes about 8-10 games to really get a handle on Offense and Defense, specifically around line/ index changes.  Once you do, there’s nothing better.  If you can get a friend to go through the learning curve, you’ll have a lot of fun on the other side.

Calling Defense is an art, not a science.  Find the things that you like and then build from there.  It’s the most fun a person can have sitting at a table playing a game.

Calling Offense Face-to-Face

The tag line at APBA, once upon a time, was “You are the Manager!”  I genuinely feel like that is now lost to the more modern age.  It’s so much easier now to create charts and leave the decisions to a “system” that people lose sight of what these games were designed to do.  Namely, have some fun playing against someone and trying like all get out to win.

I am going to take a look at strategy from both sides of the ball, starting with Offense.  As I have emphasized already, there’s more than one way to play this game.  No matter what, the dice will ultimately decide.  Still, as the Late Great Howard Ahlskog used to remind me, Football is the only APBA game where you have the ability to turn a 66 dice roll into a nothing play.  That’s for the defense.  On offense you’re hoping to set up even a 25 to be a good play.

I recognize that when you set up a game for F-T-F you may not have a ton of “prep” time.  If you do than one thing you want to do is prep the offense.  For this discussion I am going to use the Tennessee Titans.  Why the Titans?  Well they have a good combination of Running Backs and Receivers and their QB is good not great.  This is a 9-7 team but I think when the Oguard replays the 2016 season some time in 2021 Tennessee might over achieve.

mariota.jpgTo start I will tell my opponent that my lineup is:

Pro-Set:  Mariota/ Murray/ Fowler/ Walker/ Sharpe/Wright

3- Wide: Fowler out and Harry Douglas in

2-TE: Wright out Henry to FB and Fowler to Tight End..

Now what I do is I map out my first 10-15 plays.  The reason for this is I don’t want to get Down/ Distance dependent early and I want to see how my opponent reacts.

Here’s the script:

Formation Play Call Player
Pro Medium Pass Sharpe
Pro Outside Run Murray
3W Short Pass Wright
Pro Inside Run Murray
2-TE Short Pass Walker
3W Medium Pass Wright
Pro Outside Run Sub Henry/ Henry
3W Short Pass Douglas
3W Outside Run Henry
3W Medium Pass Sub Murray/ Sharpe
Pro Short Pass Wright
Pro Inside Run Fowler
Pro Outside Run Murray
2-TE Inside Run Murray
2-TE Short Pass Walker


Now that you’ve read it go read it again and see if you can determine my goal with this.

What I want to do is a few things.  I want to see how my opponent reacts when I change formations from Play to Play.  I want to see if the reaction is different if I stay in a formation for multiple plays.  What is the response when I substitute?  Will he automatically key the new player?  Does he ignore Douglas because he’s not an A (as he should) or is he just guessing?  What formations is he calling?  When I go 3-Wide does he automatically go to a Dime, as most solitaire players do?  When I am 2-TE is he always going goalline?  My whole intent here is to try and get the rhythm of my opponent.  Football games and APBA games are rarely won in the first quarter.  Setting things up is a crucial part of the game.

So what did I learn?

Let’s assume he called a straight defense/ middle line and keyed Murray on the first play.  Shows me he is playing a little bland to see what I have.  My play calling is heavily influenced by two books I read back in the 1980’s about offensive football.  I can’t remember either book but I remember the passion one coach had for opening with a big pass to set the defense on their heels.  I like to do that, hence the medium pass (which I can now never do again I guess).  If the coach went Nickel and doubled a receiver that would tell me all together something different.  He’s considerate of the pass and recognizes my 4-A receivers.

After plays I go 3W/Pro/2 TE/3 W/ Pro.  That gets me a feel of how my opponent is going to deal with formation shifts.  Here’s the thing about APBA football, you have to pay attention.  It’s not a dice rolling contest, if you can’t keep up with changes you’re going to struggle.  If I feel like making a bunch of formation changes will confuse than I will absolutely be doing that in big spots.

Then I go 3W for three plays, we’re into the game now and I want to see if my keeping a formation means my opponent stays in a stagnant defense.  I played in a league where a guy in my division refused to call anything against a 3W offense other than Dime-Middle and Double Cover.  I played him 6 times in three years and it was never close.  If I know what you’re going to call I know how to beat you.  The same holds true for Pro Set and 2 TE but I want to see what happens.

Hopefully by this time I know what makes sense to call when.  Understand that I may not go back to what I have learned until the fourth quarter.  I don’t want to emphasize an advantage too early and lose it after all.  Still if you are always going dime than I am going to run Murray and Henry straight down your throat, A index plus a yard with those two is going to garner me some real large chucks of real estate.  Murray has 14 numbers that A3 plus a yard will get me a first down.  Not counting the penalty numbers.   Oh by the way, so does Henry.  Murray’s 3 K’s mean som big shots at paydirt to boot.

Now we have to play a little “APBA”-ball.  Baseball isn’t the only place for that.  Mariota has a pretty safe Passing column.  He has a 22 which is not a big pick number, he’s got 3 26’s and a 27 so he’s going to run a lot, he has a 29 for a sack and a 32 which can be a lot of bad things.  He also has 2 35’s and a 36 which I am not crazy about.  He does have a 33 and a 34 in his R column, so he will fumble on the run but his scrambling is going to be generally a plus, especially if he’s running in light line (D).  Basically I am not overly concerned about Marcus turning things over but there’s a chance on a Medium pass he’ll lose the ball.

Once I move past the script I am much more focused on where on the field I have the ball.  In my end I like to be a little more conservative.  Short passes, inside runs being more to my liking.  I’ll gamble on a Screen/ Draw in my end a little more as well.  I don’t want to turn the ball over and give my opponent the short field.  Once I get to about my 45 I flip the switch.  Chucking deep from the 50 is fine, if he picks it off it’s probably better than a punt.  No reason not to take that chance.

Let me pause here to say a word about the Long Pass play.  Don’t throw it.  Okay, that’s three words.  Seriously though, don’t do it.  I love to play Gilles Thibault (the great T-Bo) but when we started he couldn’t help himself he’d be out there chucking the Long Pass.  I think he’s learned.  For whatever reason the company turned the “bomb” into a very High Risk/ Low Reward play.  It’s a Hail Mary and if you have 1-2 plays in the half or game than it makes sense but in general, seriously, don’t do it.

Once you’re across the 50 it’s really time to wear your APBA hat.  Look at your FG kicker and ask the question, can he make this kick?  Ryan Succop has a pretty good card.  He doesn’t’ have a 1, opening things with a 3.  The 1 is of interest because in quarters 1 & 4 the FG is good between the 40 and 48 but a miss between the 30 and 39.  So if you have a FG kicker with some 1’s you may be better off to go deep when you’re on the 42 so if it’s incomplete you can take a shot at a FG.

When I get to the 50 I like to “take a shot” deep with a Medium pass, basically my thinking is if it’s picked off it’s probably better than a punt.  Since Mariota only has a 22 it’s only picked in BD short and  AD half the time medium anyway, so as I said before, I am not really too concerned.   I’m not trying to “settle” for a FG but I want to make sure I get the best chance at points so from the 50 to the area where a 3 or 5 is a going to be a good (Succop has 18 of those plus 3 19’s) I can be a little more conservative.  So basically once I get inside the 29 I know I am going to get points.  My one caveat is if I get three straight FGs I try to be aggressive for a TD, trying to avoid “settling” once again.

There are a few other “tricks” I like.  One is if I get to the 15 or 16 yard line, the last line on the Medium Pass chart I like to throw that pass.  I figure you might as well take that shot.   You have two “trick plays” in your arsenal, here again I like to use them when it means a chance to score.  For example I had the 2011 Packers in the most recent APBA football tournament.  Before each game I told my opponent that my holder was Matt Flynn.  Nothing remarkable about having the backup QB as the holder.  This was the year that Flynn played one game and earned himself a boatload of money.  To say he had a nice card is to understate things.  So why does it matter if he is the holder.  Fake Field Goals, which one really can’t defend.  I ran one in every game and always successfully.  Realistic?  I don’t care and neither should you, the point is to try and win.  So if you have a receiver that is good on the end around, wait until it may mean a TD, I like to run them on or around the 20 yard line, 3’s will usually be a TD and a good End around receiver has a lot of 3’s.  Use your trick plays.

Audibles and Time Outs are another thing to use to your benefit.  There is really no excuse for not using these during the game.  I like to use audibles to stick my opponent in a formation from which he can’t do too much and then run a counter play.  So if I am 3W and call a Medium pass and my opponent calls a Dime-light defense I audible.  I know he is going to go Dime-Middle, he basically has too, so I know the defensive call and I can take advantage.  In the first half especially I use time outs to stop plays that are not going to work.  If I am throwing a medium pass to Walker and my opponent calls a Dime-Light double Walker, if I have all three timeouts I call one.  I also compliment the call, I mean he nailed me.  In the second half you may want to hold on to your Timeouts for clock management but there are times, just like in real-life, that you need to call a Timeout and reset the team.  Don’t be afraid to do that.

Calling offense in the APBA football game takes a good degree of focus.  You want to try and outsmart the defense.  Just like the NFL.  The game still relies on dice rolls so don’t be disheartened if you set up the perfect play and have a medium pass AS to your best guy and roll a 24 for an incompletion  Happens to the best of them.  Just keep your focus for that moment when you throw a screen to an A receiver against a blitz and turn a roll of 22 into a TOUCHDOWN!!

That’s when you are having some fun.


How To Get “Rolling” Face to Face

There us one very significant difference between playing solitaire and playing F-T-F.  I think sometimes it’s so obvious that it gets lost but it’s very real and very much the key.  When one plays solitaire the goal is to, on some level, recreate what happened.  Our host Greg B. is the master of creating a path to the recreation of reality.  It’s a genuine mindset and the results speak for themselves.  The goal of F-T-F is a little simpler, it’s to win the game.  There are many paths to that goal but in the end, winning is what you want, much like any game you play against someone.  In Clue you’re not worried about making sure the weapons are evenly distributed and the murder isn’t always in the same room, right?  We can talk about reality all day long but if I have the chance to “over use” someone to win a game.  Guess what, he’s going to be worn out from the usage.

My approach to what I will write is going to be this, I’ll talk about how to play a game F-T-F, drawing on my years of playing that format.  That will be what I talk about here.  Subsequently I’ll focus on strategies, both offensive and defensive, then I’ll take up some rudimentary scouting ideas.  In the end though remember that my whole goal is for you to win games, not to get stats right.  My friend Steve Ryan commented to me after I won the Football Tournament in Alpharetta last year that he thought my biggest advantage was just that, I only cared about winning.  We see it all the time on the forums, people roll dice for basically everything in the game.  I was never about that.  I call the plays, even solitaire I pick the runner/ receiver.  I throw to the C because I know I should but on a 3rd and 12 down 6 points with three minutes to go I don’t want to throw a pass to my third string TE because I rolled a 65 on the receiver chart.  That’s the F-T-F mentality.

So let’s play a game of APBA football F-T-F.  The first thing you want to do is decide what, if any regulations around usage you want to use.  My advice is to keep that very simple, I guess I’ve said that a few times already!  Maybe a player can’t be the target/ carrier more than 2 plays in a row for example.  This can be tricky as one commenter pointed out he played a guy who would only throw to his A receiver.  We can talk about how to stop that with strategy but basically if that happens, only double that receiver, he’ll stop eventually.  You can also limit backups to something like 5 carries or 5 receptions if that makes sense.  I am not advocating that you allow Danny Woodhead from last year to carry the ball 30 times in a game, I am advocating that you keep whatever you do simple.  Once you decide how to regulate it’s time to pick teams.

Picking teams is important, especially if you are “breaking in” a new person.  You want to get teams that have a decent offense because when you’re learning the game a 9-3 defensive battle may not bring a player back.   Also there’s some fundamental issues with the structure of the APBA game that come to light with a limited offensive team.  For example, as with the above team, one A receiver is a pretty easy offense to defend.  The same is true with only one good running back.  APBA developed their rules back when teams routinely had two backs who carried the rock.  So defending the 1972 Dolphins of Csonka and Morris or the 1976 Steelers with Franco and Rocky is harder than the 1983 Redskins with Riggins being the single setback.  There are a lot of teams that have good offenses each year that choosing one shouldn’t be too hard.  Remember that “reality” is not a big part here.  So when I played the 2015 Patriots in a tournament I regularly paired James White and Dion Lewis even though in reality White didn’t really play until Lewis got hurt.  It made the keying much tougher when both were back there.  Same concept with A receivers, the more the merrier.  I’d also recommend that to start you pick two teams that will start in B index for the game.

Once you’ve selected your teams you need to get organized.  My recommendation is that you have a pile of cards that is your starting Defense with the d11 on the top down through d1.  You’re probably only going to need to consult that pile only once or twice.  Get your kicker, punter and returners pulled out and keep them where you can consult their cards easily.  Finally organize your offense.  These are the cards, obviously, that you will be using the most.  Remember that in F-T-F you’ll be flipping through these cards to call a play so you don’t need to lay them out in front of you.  I’ve played guys who keep their QB card out on the table rather than in the stack to call a play.  That’s a mistake.  Don’t ever give the defense that advantage.

Once your cards are organized get a piece of scrap paper out so you can write down who is on the field for the other guy.  I usually give my opponent my base. 3-Wide and 2-TE starters.  Then I will tell him specifically who is in or out from those three “base” defenses.  In a friendly game if I make a change and my opponent keys on a guy not in the game I simply tell him to try again, before I mock his ability to remember things for short periods of time.  Finally make sure you know the indices for nickel and dime defenses as you’ll need that to roll for the index on a play.  Sounds like a lot and setup is longer for Football than Baseball but if you’re setup right the game will play faster and that’s key.

I think one thing that is oft overlooked is how to call a play in F-T-F.  I am not saying the way I do it is the only way but I think it’s how the game was designed to be called.  No matter how you choose to do it, make sure you and your opponent know in advance what your call means.  So let’s say its first and 10 on the 25.  The first thing one does is call the formation.  That should happen as you are choosing the play since the NFL has the guys in the huddle.  Let’s assume I am playing with last year’s Falcons.  I announce I am pro set and I have Freeman and Coleman in the backfield with Jones, Sanu and Toilolo as receivers for Matt Ryan.  I’ll note parenthetically that the Falcons didn’t usually play Freeman and Coleman together, that’s because APBA is a little different than the NFL.  I’ll have 6 player cards and the play calling cards in my hand, while I shuffle through to get the cards I want I’ll announce I am pro-set.  I’ll then select my play call and the player and place them face down on the table in front of me.  I like to hold the two cards on the table in my hand but that’s just me.

I’ve now called my play and the defense is up.  Here is where I think there’s differences in how things are called that are detrimental to the intent of strategy in the game.  Let me explain what I mean.  Each team has three time outs and two audibles in a half.  It’s when you can call them that seems key to me.  I don’t think you should audible after the key or double team call, only after the line setting.  So I call defense with a second “beat” between the line call and the key.  When I call defense I don’t use “D, S or G”, I like to sound a little bit more like Football and so I say “Light, Medium or Max” line.  So if I am calling a defense against Atlanta I would say “Light Line Double Jones”.  The way I believe the game is designed if I am throwing and my opponent goes light line I can audible if I’d like during the beat but NOT after I double Jones.  If you want to get out of a bad call there you have to take a timeout.

Finally I recommend that after the Offense turns over the play card the defense rolls on the index chart to see what index we start in.  Two reasons for this, index is very much a function of defense and it gives the defensive coach something to do on each roll.  Once the index is done the offense rolls for the play.  If they roll a 66 it probably doesn’t matter how smart you are, if they roll a 51 you may be a genius, or a dope.

I’ll run through a few plays to see if it makes sense.  Assume Atlanta still has the ball.

First and 10 on the 25

Offense: Pro Set / Now have a little fun with this “Ryan breaks the huddle and brings them up to the line”

Defense: Medium line Key Coleman

“Freeman on the run, defense is completely fooled” Freeman picks up 6, second and 4

Offense: Pro Set / “Ryan likes what he sees, from the shotgun”

Defense: Light Line (should I audible?  No too early) Double Sanu

Incomplete pass/  You can talk smack on Defense too “Knocked away by Revis, no completions today!”

Third and 4 on the 31

Offense:  3- Wide (My opponent knows that means Gabriel replaces Toilolo)

Defense: Nickel Light Offense calls audible.

Defense is now stuck in nickel unless they have a player that can move form LB to S, which is a lost art.

Offense must stay 3-Wide / “Ryan moving players around takes the snap”

Defense can call TO and kill the play (audible is done though), I’ll talk about that more under strategy, for now Nickel Light Double Jones.

My point here is that you need to be very specific in how you decide to call plays.  There is a great deal of strategy around this point of the game, really it’s the best part of it, but you need to make sure that you and your opponent are on the same page.

Once you get this part down the game really flows.  Also you start to see how the play calling can really help or hurt you.

I’ll get into that next time.

APBA Football F-T-F, Still the Greatest

APBA Pro Football game is the greatest Head to Head board game on the planet.  Note that I didn’t say the greatest “Sports” board game.  The football game is better than Monopoly, Life, even Clue.  There is no game that can combine the intensity and excitement that football provides with the thoughtfulness of a well-crafted game.  APBA football has that and more.

So, you may quite rightly ask, why isn’t it the most popular APBA game?  In fact it may well be one of the least popular APBA games at this point.  If it’s so great, why isn’t it more popular?  These are legitimate questions and the answer to both is the same.  There’s a learning curve to the football game that’s much longer than the other games.  Also, the football game takes longer to play than the other games APBA makes, that’s just reality.  If you want speed than Bowling and Baseball in that order.  If you want a memorable experience though, it’s Football.  Eventually the time it takes to play is about 4 baseball games, maybe a little longer if it’s a close game.  The difference is you’re all in all the time, so you won’t forget what happens anytime soon.

I am honored that Greg asked me to write about the F-T-F version of the Football game.  I am not sure how many folks still sit down to play a game but maybe we can get more people to do it if we talk about it.  The learning curve for the game is about 8-10 games.  That’s when you start to see the nuance, the strategy and the way you can really change the outcome.  Greg mentioned my time playing in Howard Ahlskog’s league.  I actually started in a league on the North Shore of Boston.  10 guys picking from the entire NFL in 1986.  The team I took over was terrible, Jim McMahon’s infamous 1985 card at QB, plus I didn’t know what I was doing.  The result?  0-10, the next season with Jim Kelly and Hershel Walker added I went 6-4 and lost my conference championship 24-20 when my final play was stopped on the 4 yard line.  I tell you this because it’s important to note that whatever I know about his game a learned by getting drilled and because I lost the NFC championship game in December of 1987 and I still know the score and many of the big plays.  Thirty years ago and it’s still there.  Because, Football.

Even before I moved to Western Mass and joined Howard’s great league we talked about the strategy often.  Howard loved the football game and really enjoyed tearing into questions like “which is better B/S or A/D down 2 lines?”  Football is the only game in APBA that you can do something on Defense to turn a 66 dice roll into a bad thing for the offense.  If you and a friend that enjoys football takes the time to learn the game it’ll be some of the great times you have rolling dice.  Of that I am certain.

My plan is to write about the “how-to’s” of playing F-T-F.  Give some tips on the best way to approach game planning and the like.  I’ll follow that with a little strategy around calling plays on both Offense and Defense.  As I said, I am not sure how many people are playing F-T-F but if there are some and you have some questions I’d love to hear them.

My thanks to Greg for asking me to do this.  I am hopeful that it helps to build the audience of fans that this great game deserves.apbacharts

Introducing – Greg Wells

I’m proud to introduce the newest author to the site, Mr. Greg Wells. Greg is a dear friend of mine and arguably the finest Face-to-Face (F-T-F) player on the planet. I’ve been taken to task by him numerous times and never witnessed him lose a pick-up or tournament game. He has easily won the convention tournament the last two years. I am thrilled that he will be contributing tips on the finer points of F-T-F play.

In the early 1980’s, Greg learned his trade doing battle with the legendary, Howard Ahlskog, in the Franklin County Football League. His first year in the league he experienced the typical growing pains and seldom won, however, after that he was a force to be reckoned with. I always enjoyed his stories about the “wars” in Howard’s basement, about how the games would go on for hours, Howard’s pacing around the room and each agonizing coaching decision. Great stuff!

Greg was an APBA Journal staffer and the Lead Football Writer between 1989 and 1993. He was inducted into the APBA Hall of Fame in 2013.