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!
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|
|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:
|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:
|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:
|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:
|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.