Once again, the 2019 pro season release for SECOND SEASON Pro Football game includes a College All-Star team, designed to be compatible with the team cards of the 32 real-life pro clubs. If you're under the age of 50, though, you might not be aware that this isn't something we just made up! Here's the backstory, as told by PLAAY Games' Keith Avallone...
Every year as pro football training camps begin to open up, I hearken back to when I was a kid and remember how eager I was for this time if year to arrive—these were the days before ESPN, NFL network and the internet, days when the football season was OVER when the championship game ended, and pro football went into hibernation until July. Back then, the pro exhibition season (which was six or seven games long!) opened with the annual College All-Star Game, played between the reigning NFL champions and a college all-star team made up of draft choices headed to their first NFL training camp. The TV broadcast of that game was, for me, "must-see TV!" It was like re-connecting with an old friend after many months of being apart.
The Chicago Charities College All-Star Game had a long tradition and rich heritage dating back to 1934. It was the idea of newspaper sports editor Arch Ward, who was part of the braintrust that came up with Major League Baseball's all-star game. Pro football's owners were eager for the exposure—in those days, college football had a far bigger fan base than professional football did (hard to fathom now, but true). Indeed, the college stars won four of the first five contests before the pros began to catch up. The series attracted significant interest and drew huge crowds to Chicago's Soldier Field into the 1970s. You can read more about the Chicago Charities College All-Star Game series here.
As the popularity of pro football skyrocketed and players began to earn very large salaries for playing football (entering the 1960s, most pro football players held off-season jobs—again, hard to fathom these days, but true), players, coaches and owners all began to be less enthusiastic about the college all-star game, fearing that an untimely injury could keep a prized draft pick on the sidelines during a club's training camp, or worse. The 1974 game was cancelled due to a player strike, but the game returned—with some grumbling—in 1975.
The 1976 game would be the last of the Pro vs. College series. It was played under what developed into a violent thunderstorm, complete with drenching rain and massive lightning. It started ominously when the all-stars lost their top two quarterbacks (Mike Kruczek and Craig Penrose) to injury. Under third-string QB Jeb Blount, facing the legendary Steel Curtain defense, not surprisingly the college kids could get nothing going. The NFL champion Steelers powered to a 24-0 lead late in the third period. At that point the rain turned into a thunderous downpour, the game was halted. During the break, the field was invaded by rowdy fans who tore down the goalposts and did mud-slides on the turf. The field unplayable, the game was called. The injury-plagued beginning and game-ending fan debacle served to underscore the pro league's sentiment to do away with the game entirely. While the Chicago Tribune wanted to continue the series and made plans for a '77 game, the league said no and the series ended.
But the beauty of tabletop sports is that we're not under the constraints of time, money, or sentiment. So starting with the 2012 Pro Season, I re-started the College All-Star Game series—for the tabletop! I created the college team based on the players chosen in the real-life pro draft, assigning startinng positions based on draft order and plugging players into the roster pick-by-pick until all the slots were full. We're seven games into the resurrected series, and so far the pros have won six of them. Here's a quick recap of the previous games. Remember, the year the game was played, we used the (at the time, just released) previous pro season's team cards...
2013 Game • Baltimore 31, All-Stars 20: Played at the World Board Game Championships in Lancaster, PA. Steve Tower drove down from Boston, and coached the Ravens to a 31-20 win. I kept the All-Stars in it until about midway through the fourth period. Trailing 24-20, All-Stars punter Jeff Locke dropped one inside the Ravens 10, but coach Steve and Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a 91-yard touchdown drive that pretty much put the game away. E. J. Manuel played pretty well for the All-Stars, 10 of 14 for 122 yards and a touchdown.
2014 Game • All-Stars 24, Seattle 20: Again played at the World Board Game Championships in Lancaster, PA, this time with Chris Palermo on the sidelines as the all-stars coach. Chris coaxed a stunning upset from Blake Bortles and his fellow his rookie class members, directing a 71-yard drive in the game's final three minutes, connecting with WR Mike Evans on a 2-yard scoring toss with just 10 seconds left to play. The Seahawks were culprits in their own demise on the final drive, with loose coverage and costly penalties. With 30 seconds to play and the All-Stars looking for field position for a game-tying field goal attempt, Bortles (who was 17 of 25 for 173 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and no interceptions) dumped off to RB Bishop Sankey for a short gain to the Seattle 25. But Hawks DE Michael Bennett was flagged for a late hit on the play, setting up the All-Stars with a first and goal from the 10 yard line. RB Jeremy Hill powered to the Seattle 2, and, after an All-Star time out, Bortles connected with Evans for the game-winner.
2015 Game • New England 16, All-Stars 3: Played in Cleveland, Mark Kroynovich coached the college stars this time, I coached New England. The game began as you would expect the first quarter of exhibition season play to begin—ragged, sloppy, penalty and mistake-filled. New England moved to the All-Star five yard line on the opening drive, only to see Tom Brady get served a bad snap, LB Vic Beasley recovering for the All-Stars to kill the threat. The shoe was put on the other foot in the second period, when the All-Stars got a 53-yard punt return by Bryan Jones to the New England 6, only to see Melvin Gordon fumble away the ball on the next play. By the end of the half, each team had managed only a field goal, and it was 3-3. The Patriots got a huge break to start the second half, when the All-Stars' RB Ameer Abdullah fumbled on the second play after the kickoff, recovered by New England LB Dont'a Hightower at the All-Star 16 yard line. Brady hit Brandon LaFell for the touchdown, and New England led 10-3. The next two New England drives resulted in Stephen Gostkowski field goals, extending the lead to 16-3. The college stars managed to drive deep into Patriot territory, sparked by Jameis Winston's 26 yard run and a couple of pass completions. With a first and goal from the New England one yard-line, Winston was dragged down for a 3-yard loss by Rob Ninkovich, and then on the next play, a miscommunication between Winston and center Cam Erving resulted in the ball sailing over Winston’s head, Winston chasing it down for a 12-yard loss. Two incompletions followed, and that, as they say, was the ball game. For the game, Winston played pretty well: 12 of 17 passing for 141 yards and an interception, sacked twice. Todd Gurley was the All-Stars leading rusher, with 39 yards before leaving the game with an injury in the second period. The game featured five turnovers and seventeen penalties for 144 yards.
2016 Game • Denver 35, All-Stars 21: This game was streamed live on Steve Tower's AFR channel, with Steve coaching the All-Stars and me coaching Denver. This was the first game that really underscored the "elephant in the room" of using the previous season's team cards to play the College All-Star Game: Peyton Manning had retired after Denver defeated Carolina—but here he was, back on the field to kick off the new pro football season! The easy fix would be to play the college all-stars against the PREVIOUS year's pro champion (in this case, 2014 New England), but that doesn't work either, because then you'd have the possibility of a rookie being on both teams. Oh well—we'll just have to say that the game takes place the weekend after the Super Bowl, haha! In any event, there wasn't much drama in this one until the Broncos pulled their starters in the third period, allowing the college stars to get back in it. At that point Manning re-entered the game and threw the clinching TD pass in a 35-21 Denver win.
2017 Game • New England 27, All-Stars 20: This game was played at PLAAY HQ, the night before our 2017 Time Machine Tournament. Erik Holdaway and Brian Preece co-coached the All-Stars, vs. David Santistevan and Lew Witham running the Patriots. New England broke to a 10-0 lead, and extended it to 20-7 early in the third quarter. The college kids matched up much better, though, against the Pats third stringers, and eventually tied game 20-20. In the fourth quarter, New England's starters were brought back into the game, and the Pats offense quickly marched down the field to regain the lead for the pro champs. Midway through the fourth, Brady found Gronk on a 23-yard strike for the go-ahead score. The last-chance All-Star drive ended with an "end of game chaos play" that died around midfield. Brady finished the game 16 of 18 for 188 yards, Gronkowski caught five passes for 77 yards. For the All-Stars, Mitch Trubisky completed 14 of 24 for 160 yards, but was sacked five times. Joe Mixon was the All-Stars play-maker, with three carries for 63 yards and another 30 yards on three catches out of the backfield.
2018 Game • Philadelphia 26, All-Stars 15: Played at PLAAY-DOT-CON 2018 was just getting underway, Philadelphia (coached by Keith Curtis and David Santistevan) posted a convincing win, despite a solid performance from Baker Mayfield, who was 22 of 34 passing, 186 yards, 1 INT, 1 TD. Mayfield's late TD pass made the final score closer than the game really was. Erik Holdaway and Brian Preece reprised their co-coaching roles for the all-stars from last year's game—(one of these year's, they'll steal a win!)
2019 Game • New England 29, All-Stars 25: Streamed live on the PLAAY Games YouTube Channel with SECOND SEASON Express, the All-Stars ALMOST posted their second upset win of the series, it was a real barn-burner! The Pats took an early lead, then—as we stipulate for this game, since it's the pro custom now—pulled the starters for the second and third periods. The All-Stars came back to tie, then took the lead with 3 minutes to play on a Matt Guy field goal. Brady then returned to the game and delivered a patented "GOAT" last-minute game-winning-drive, complete with the obligatory big catch from Gronk. Brady ended it ended ruthlessly, handing off to Sony Michel who dove over from the one with just seven seconds left on the clock, leaving no time for a college stars comeback. You can watch the archived video stream here!
2020 Game • Kansas City 19, All-Stars 17: We streamed this game live on the PLAAY Games YouTube channel, the All-Stars took an early 7-0 lead and out-played the KC starters, holding the lead into the second half. It was the Chiefs back-ups that came through, but it was an exciting finish with the all-stars making a last-gasp attempt to set up a winning field goal. They couldn't get out of bounds to stop the clock, though, and Kansas City hung on for the win.