1987 NFL season

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1987 National Football League season
Regular season
Duration September 13, 1987 – December 28, 1987
A player's strike shortened the regular season to 15 games.
Start date January 3, 1988
AFC Champions Denver Broncos
NFC Champions Washington Redskins
Super Bowl XXII
Date January 31, 1988
Site Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego, California
Champions Washington Redskins
Pro Bowl
Date February 7, 1988
Site Aloha Stadium
The San Diego Chargers hosting a pre-season game against the Los Angeles Rams at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium in 1987.

The 1987 NFL season was the 68th regular season of the National Football League. This season featured games predominantly played by replacement players as the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) players were on strike from weeks four to six. The season ended with Super Bowl XXII, with the Washington Redskins defeating the Denver Broncos 42–10 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. The Broncos suffered their second consecutive Super Bowl defeat.

The NFLPA Strike

A 24-day players' strike was called after Week 2. The games that were scheduled for the third week of the season were cancelled, reducing the 16-game season to 15, but the games for Weeks 4–6 were played with replacement players, after which the union voted to end the strike. Approximately 15% of the NFLPA's players chose to cross picket lines to play during the strike; prominent players who did so included New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, New England Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent.[1] The replacement players were mostly those left out of work by the recent folding of the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes and the 1985 dissolution of the United States Football League, as well as others who had been preseason cuts, had long left professional football or were other assorted oddities (such as cinematographer Todd Schlopy, who, despite never playing professional football before or after the strike, served as placekicker for his hometown Buffalo Bills for three games). The replacement players, called to play on short notice and having little chance to jell as teammates, were widely treated with scorn by the press and general public, including name-calling, public shaming and accusations of being scabs. The games played by these replacement players were regarded with even less legitimacy (attendance plummeted to under 10,000 fans at many of the games in smaller markets, including a low of 4,074 for the lone replacement game played in Philadelphia), but nonetheless were counted as regular NFL games.[2] Final television revenues were down by about 20%, a smaller drop than the networks had expected.[3] The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants went 0–3 in replacement games, ultimately costing them a chance to make the playoffs and to repeat their championship. The final replacement game was a Monday Night Football matchup on October 19, 1987 between the Washington Redskins at the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins were the lone NFL team not to have any players cross the picket line and were surprising 13-7 victors over the Cowboys who had plenty of big name players cross the picket line.

The 2017 film Year of the Scab, which aired as part of the ESPN series 30 for 30, documented the story of the replacement players who crossed the picket line to play for the Redskins.[4][5] A fictionalized account based on the 1987 strike formed the basis of the film The Replacements.

Stadium and location changes

The Miami Dolphins began playing at their new home, Joe Robbie Stadium. This was also the Cardinals' final season in St. Louis; the team relocated to Tempe, Arizona, the following season.

Media changes

ESPN Sunday Night NFL (subsquently rebranded as ESPN Sunday Night Football) debuted on November 8, 1987, broadcasting a series of Sunday night games during the second half of the season.

Major rule changes

  • If a defensive player commits pass interference in his own end zone, the ball is placed at the 1-yard line, or if the previous spot was inside the 2-yard line, the penalty is half the distance to the goal line.
  • Except for the first onside kick attempt, if a kickoff goes out of bounds, the receiving team takes possession of the ball 30 yards from the spot of the kick or the spot it went out of bounds.
  • In order to stop the clock, the quarterback is permitted to throw the ball out of bounds or to the ground as long as he throws it immediately after receiving the snap.
  • During passing plays, an offensive player cannot chop block (block a defender below the thigh while the defensive player is already engaging another offensive player).
  • Illegal contact by a defensive player beyond the 5-yard zone from the line of scrimmage will not be called if the offensive team is in an obvious punt formation.
  • During kicks and punts, players on the receiving team cannot block below the waist. However, players on the kicking team may block below the waist, but only before the kick is made. On all other plays after a change of possession, no player can block below the waist.
  • Revenue sharing was changed so that NFL players received a portion of the ticket revenue, while the owners kept the revenue generated by skybox rentals. This led to many teams pushing for new stadiums which lowered many skybox suites from the less-desirable outer rim of a stadium to more desirable locations closer to the field (typically, the mid-section or lower) so that the owners could charge more money for the suites, while similarly reducing the ticket revenue by removing the higher-priced seats with lower-priced "nose bleed" seats. Overall, the number of available general admission seating was also reduced in favor of larger suites.

Final standings

W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT = Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against

AFC East
(3) Indianapolis Colts 9 6 0 .600 300 238
New England Patriots 8 7 0 .533 320 293
Miami Dolphins 8 7 0 .533 362 335
Buffalo Bills 7 8 0 .467 270 305
New York Jets 6 9 0 .400 334 360
AFC Central
(2) Cleveland Browns 10 5 0 .667 390 239
(4) Houston Oilers 9 6 0 .600 345 349
Pittsburgh Steelers 8 7 0 .533 285 299
Cincinnati Bengals 4 11 0 .267 285 370
AFC West
(1) Denver Broncos 10 4 1 .700 379 288
(5) Seattle Seahawks 9 6 0 .600 371 314
San Diego Chargers 8 7 0 .533 253 317
Los Angeles Raiders 5 10 0 .333 301 289
Kansas City Chiefs 4 11 0 .267 273 388
NFC East
(3) Washington Redskins 11 4 0 .733 379 285
Dallas Cowboys 7 8 0 .467 340 348
St. Louis Cardinals 7 8 0 .467 362 368
Philadelphia Eagles 7 8 0 .467 337 380
New York Giants 6 9 0 .400 280 312
NFC Central
(2) Chicago Bears 11 4 0 .733 356 282
(5) Minnesota Vikings 8 7 0 .533 336 335
Green Bay Packers 5 9 1 .367 255 300
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4 11 0 .267 286 360
Detroit Lions 4 11 0 .267 269 384
NFC West
(1) San Francisco 49ers 13 2 0 .867 459 253
(4) New Orleans Saints 12 3 0 .800 422 283
Los Angeles Rams 6 9 0 .400 317 361
Atlanta Falcons 3 12 0 .200 205 436


  • Houston was the #4 seed in the AFC, winning a tiebreaker over Seattle based on better conference record (7–4 vs. Seahawks' 5–6).
  • Chicago was the #2 seed in the NFC, winning a tiebreaker over Washington based on better conference record (9–2 vs. Redskins' 9–3).
  • New England finished ahead of Miami in the AFC East based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
  • Dallas finished ahead of St. Louis and Philadelphia in the NFC East based on better division record (4–4 to Cardinals' 3–5 and Eagles' 3–5), and St. Louis finished ahead of Philadelphia based on better conference record (7–7 to Eagles' 4–7).
  • Tampa Bay finished ahead of Detroit in the NFC Central based on better division record (3–4 to Lions' 2–5).


Divisional Playoffs
    Jan. 9 – Candlestick Park        
NFC Wild Card Game NFC Championship
 5  Minnesota  36
Jan. 3 – Louisiana Superdome     Jan. 17 – Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium
 1  San Francisco  24  
 5  Minnesota  44  5  Minnesota  10
Jan. 10 – Soldier Field
 4  New Orleans  10      3  Washington  17   Super Bowl XXII
 3  Washington  21
    Jan. 31 – Jack Murphy Stadium
 2  Chicago  17  
 N3  Washington  42
Jan. 9 – Cleveland Stadium
AFC Wild Card Game AFC Championship    A1  Denver  10
 3  Indianapolis  21
Jan. 3 – Astrodome     Jan. 17 – Mile High Stadium
 2  Cleveland  38  
 5  Seattle  20  2  Cleveland  33
Jan. 10 – Mile High Stadium
 4  Houston  23*      1  Denver  38  
 4  Houston  10
 1  Denver  34  
* Indicates overtime victory


As awarded by the Associated Press
Most Valuable Player John Elway, Quarterback, Denver
Coach of the Year Jim Mora, New Orleans
Offensive Player of the Year Jerry Rice, Wide receiver, San Francisco
Defensive Player of the Year Reggie White, Defensive end, Philadelphia
Offensive Rookie of the Year Troy Stradford, Running back, Miami
Defensive Rookie of the Year Shane Conlan, Linebacker, Buffalo
NFL Comeback Player of the Year Charles White, Running back, LA Rams


  • NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
  • NFL History 1981–1990 (Last accessed December 4, 2005)
  • Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)


  1. ^ Merrill, Elizabeth (June 9, 2011). "NFL replacements part of history". ESPN. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
  2. ^ Farnsworth, Clare (October 3, 2001). "NFL crossed the line on Replacement Sunday". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
  3. ^ "N.F.L. TV Ratings Drop". The New York Times. October 9, 1987. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
  4. ^ Allen, Scott (September 13, 2017). "Joe Gibbs won't say it, but 1987 Redskins replacements deserve Super Bowl rings". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
  5. ^ Weber, Greta (May 26, 2017). "An ESPN Documentary About the 1987 Redskins Replacement Players Is the Ultimate Underdog Story You've Never Heard". Washingtonian. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
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