Sometimes, You Get Lucky …

Sometimes you get lucky … but only after wasting lots of time getting it wrong.

I had a request, probably back in 2017 when I wrote Pen & Paper Football, to come up with a scheme to put stats to actual historical football teams. It was an interesting idea, but it required more work than I had the time for then, so I let it go.

When I was playtesting my game, I came up with a crude way to generate stats for teams using the 2016 stats of pro football teams. For my playtesting, I wanted a wide range of stats so I could see how the rules would work with extreme differences in stats. To do this, I took each team’s rating in passing, rushing, receiving, etc. and assigned stat scores starting at 18 for the top two teams, 17 for the next two, and so on from there. Fortunately, the league has 32 teams and I had 16 numbers between 3 and 18, so the process was pretty simple. This approach was crude, but it served my needs. Unfortunately, it was not what the person making the request was looking for to simulate old teams.

The problem with generating ability scores from game stats is that the ability scores in PPF are abstract. The QB/Passing stat, for example, overlaps to some extent with the WR/Receiving stat. It involves not only a team’s starting quarterback, but also the back-ups, and the offensive line’s ability to protect the passer and give him time to find his targets. Then there’s the coaching – the head coach, the quarterback coach, etc. – and their game plan and philosophy. How do you quantify this?

What I needed was an approach that didn’t just compare one team to another team in a given year, but which laid down an ideal quantification and compared any team, from any era, to that ideal. Back in the 1960’s, the league created the concept of a Quarterback Rating, and I figured I could use that as a basis for my work. It’s a somewhat complex formula (at least for hobby gaming), and I put some work into modifying it to rate running backs, but I would need it for receivers as well, and the defense, but defense stats weren’t compiled very well in the old days, and the receiver stats for a team were bound to mirror the quarterback stats, and … oh boy – what a mess!

My post showing off my brilliant scheme was going to appear last weekend, because I was sure I could clear it all up and produce a spreadsheet for people to use. Oh brother – what a huge waste of time. My whole philosophy about gaming is that it should be simple and fun – quick and easy. This wasn’t.

And then it happened. I was working at my desk the other day when a thought popped into my head. A simple way to simulate a team’s stats, using easily obtainable information, without any formulas or much work involved at all. Like I said – sometimes you get lucky!

Player-By-Player Stats

We begin by dividing among the PPF stats (QB, RB, WR, LM, LB, DB) the actual player positions. For each stat we take the three best starting players on a team that are tied to that stat. The position-to-stat breakout is as follows:

QB Quarterback, center, offensive guards
RB Running back, fullback, offensive tackles
WR Wide receivers, tight end
LM Defensive tackles, defensive ends
LB Linebackers
DB Cornerbacks and safeties

We rate players by their highest level of achievement while playing. This can make things a little tricky if we’re trying to recreate teams from the recent past, or from the present day, but with a little brain work and argument, I think one can figure it out.

Each player is scored for their lifetime achievement in pro football:

Achievement Score
None in particular 3
One pro-bowl/all-star game 4
Multiple pro-bowls/all-star games 5
Hall of Fame 6

Rookies deduct two from their score. One can also knock a point off for a player in the twilight of their career if they have clearly lost a step.

For each stat, you take the three best players, by rating, associated with that stat and add them up to get the relevant ability score.

For an example, I give you the 1984 Miami Dolphins:

Stat Players Score Bonus
QB Dan Marino (6), Dwight Stephenson (6), Ed Newman (5) 17 +5
RB Tony Nathan (4), Woody Bennett (3), John Geisler (3), Cleveland Green (3) 10 +3
WR Mark Clayton (5), Mark Duper (5), Dan Johnson (3) 13 +4
LM Bob Baumhower (5), Doug Betters (4), Kim Bokamper (4) 13 +4
LB Bob Brudzinski (3), AJ Duhe (4), Charles Bowser (3), Mark Brown (3) 10 +3
DB All players rate a 3 9 +3

The Minnesota Vikings were less successful that year – their stats are as follows:

Stat Players Score Bonus
QB Tommy Kramer (4), Ron Sams (3), Curtis Rouse (3), Terry Tausch (3) 10 +3
RB All players rate a 3 9 +3
WR Sammy White (5), Mike Jones (3), Steve Jordan (5) 13 +4
LM Charles Johnson (5), Neil Elshire (3), Mark Mullaney (3) 11 +3
LB Matt Blair (5), Scott Studwell (5), Dennis Johnson (3), Fred McNeil (3) 13 +4
DB John Swain (3), Rufus Bess (3), Tom Hannon (3), Carl Lee (5) 11 +3

The value of this system is that it requires little in the way of mathematics, and it is broadly applicable to different eras of football, since concepts like all-star games are pretty old, and players from the very beginning of football have been enshrined in the Hall of fame.

You can also use this system to create pro squads from the starting players of a given year instead of rolling a team’s stats. Use a random draft for the first year of play, then hold real drafts each year thereafter.

Earlier Eras of Football

To prove one can use this for different eras of the game, I present the 1920 Canton Bulldogs, with a couple caveats:

First – the game of football was different then, so the ability scores must change a bit. This is something else I’m working on for the next edition of PPF. For football before the forward pass dominated that game, you use the following ability scores:

BK (Backfield) = Tail Back, Full Back, Blocking Back, Wing Back, Center

RL (Right Line) = Right End, Right Tackle, Right Guard

LL (Left Line) = Left End, Left Tackle, Left Guard

Note that you only need the one set of stats, since players played both offense and defense in the same general spots.

In this version of the game, the defense commits to stacking their defense on the right or left, rather than against the run or pass, and the offense runs their plays to the right or left. Also keep in mind that the offense’s right is mirrored by the defense’s left, etc.

Using these stats, the 1920 Bulldogs look as follows:

Stat Players Score Bonus
BK Jim Thorpe (6), Pete Calac (3), Tex Grigg (3), Joe Guyon (6), Al Feeney (3) 15 +4
RL John Kellison (3), Pete Henry (6), Bulger Lowe (4) 13 +4
LL Bob Higgins (3), Cub Buck (3), Cap Edwards (3) 9 +3

So the Bulldogs are stronger on the right than the left, and have a pretty good backfield. With just one more all-star in the backfield, that could bump their backfield bonus to +5. Even without another all-star, Coach Thorpe can win some ballgames with these guys.

Ready for Some Pen and Paper Football

It’s an October Sunday, and by golly I was in the mood for some football. I’m not a huge fan of the modern iteration of the game (or the modern iteration of anything, for that matter), but I am a fan of a little game I wrote called Pen & Paper Football. It’s easily my top seller – being priced very affordably probably helps that. I haven’t really messed with it for a while, so this weekend I rolled up a quick league, spent a ridiculous amount of time designing uniforms to go with my helmets, and even made a few football cards (because it was fun, that’s why) … and eventually got around to rolling up some quick games. For the playoffs and championship I’ll play the games out longhand.

In the process of opening old files, I found a bit I wrote a while back and never published … well, I don’t think I ever published. It was some random “quirks” for football teams, to give them a little more personality.

D20

QUIRK

1

No quirk

2

+1 to d20 rolls during the first half of the game

3

+1 to d20 rolls during the second half of the game

4

+1 to defense while leading in a game

5

+1 to offense d20 rolls when more than a touchdown behind

6

+1 to offense in dome stadiums; -1 in outdoor stadiums

7

+1 to offense attacks in the red zone

8

+2 to passing attacks on 4th down

9

+2 to running attacks on 4th down

10

+1 yard per dice while passing in second half of game

11

+1 yard per dice when running  in second half of game

12

+1 to offense attacks on special plays

13

+1 to DR inside the red zone

14

+2 to DR when opponent is still scoreless in the 4th quarter

15

+1 to passing attacks when opponent is down by more than a touchdown

16

Anytime the defense sacks the QB, there is a 1 in 10 chance he must sit out the remainder of the offensive series (i.e. lose star QB, or -1 to QB bonus)

17

Get do-over when playing on the road instead of at home

18

Launch one cheerleader battle per game; roll 2d6 – opponent has to roll higher; if they do, you have to roll higher still, and so on until somebody falls; winner gets a do-over on the last play

19

After one blitz results in a sack, sacks now occur on a roll of 1 or 2 on offense attacks

20

Gain one do-over when opponent is ahead in the second half

Sorry for the brief post, but it’s been a busy weekend, and between California setting itself on fire and blowing the smoke in Vegas’ face and good old fashioned fall allergens, I haven’t had much sleep. Still, not a bad weekend overall – I made my pumpkin pasta that officially begins the fall season in the Stater household, discovered that Mr. T made a show in Canada (T and T) that ran from ’87-90, watched Rock & Rule for the umpteenth time and had the family over for a birthday party.  Ooo – I also found a Sony combination DVD/VHS player for my old TV for $4 at a thrift store … and it works!

There’s plenty of cruddy stuff going on out there folks, so accentuate the positive and do the best living you can do!