1987 NFL season

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 with week three being cancelled in its entirety. 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.

Player movement



  • On October 31, 1987, the Los Angeles Rams traded Eric Dickerson to the Indianapolis Colts in a three team trade involving the Buffalo Bills. The Rams sent Dickerson to the Colts for six draft choices and two players. Buffalo obtained the rights to Cornelius Bennett from Indianapolis. Buffalo sent running back Greg Bell and three draft choices to the Rams, while Indianapolis added Owen Gill and three of their own draft picks to complete the deal with the Rams.[1]


The 1987 NFL Draft was held from April 28 to 29, 1987, at New York City's Marriott Marquis. With the first pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected quarterback Vinny Testaverde from the University of Miami.

Referee changes

Chuck Heberling retired during the 1987 off-season. He joined the NFL in 1965 as a line judge before being promoted to referee in 1972. Games that he officiated include the Hail Mary Game and The Drive. Fred Silva, who was a swing official in 1986, was given his own crew again.

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 midsection or lower) so that the owners could charge more money for the suites, while similarly reducing the ticket revenue by replacing 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.

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, 5 and 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, 49ers running back Roger Craig, New England Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent.[2] The replacement players were mostly those left out of work by the recent folding of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes and the 1986 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 and cities with strong union presence, including a low of 4,074 for the lone replacement game played in Philadelphia) — but nonetheless were counted as regular NFL games.[3] Final television revenues were down by about 20%, a smaller drop than the networks had expected.[4] 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, with the Washington Redskins at the Dallas Cowboys. Along with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins were the only other 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.[5][6] A fictionalized account based on the 1987 strike formed the basis of the film The Replacements.

To date, the 1987 NFLPA strike was the last major interruption to an NFL regular season due to a labor dispute.

American Bowl

A series of National Football League pre-season exhibition games that were held at sites outside the United States, the only American Bowl game in 1987 was held at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Date Winning Team Score Losing Team Score Stadium City
August 9, 1987 Los Angeles Rams 28 Denver Broncos 27 Wembley Stadium United Kingdom London

Regular season

Scheduling formula

AFC East vs NFC East
AFC Central vs NFC West
AFC West vs NFC Central

Highlights of the 1987 season included:

  • Thanksgiving: Two games were played on Thursday, November 26, featuring Kansas City at Detroit and Minnesota at Dallas, with Kansas City and Minnesota winning.

Final standings


  • 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).


Jan 9 – Candlestick Park
5 Minnesota 36
Jan 3 – Louisiana Superdome Jan 17 – RFK Stadium
1 San Francisco 24
5 Minnesota 44 5 Minnesota 10
Jan 10 – Soldier Field
4 New Orleans 10 3 Washington 17
NFC Championship
3 Washington 21
Jan 31 – Jack Murphy Stadium
2 Chicago 17
Divisional playoffs
Wild Card playoffs N3 Washington 42
Jan 9 – Cleveland Stadium
A1 Denver 10
Super Bowl XXII
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
AFC Championship
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 Man of the Year Dave Duerson, Safety, Chicago
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Doug Williams, Quarterback, Washington

Coaching changes

Stadium changes

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

Uniform changes

  • The Buffalo Bills switched from blue face masks to white
  • The Indianapolis Colts began wearing their white pants with their blue jerseys, discontinuing their gray pants
  • The Miami Dolphins introduced a redesigned jersey to coincide with the opening of Joe Robbie Stadium. The stripes on the sleeves were discontinued in favor of repeating the helmet logo on the sleeves; TV numbers moved to the shoulders; and numbers changed to a new Dolphins-specific font.

Media changes

The eight-year old ESPN cable network signed a three-year deal to become the first cable television broadcaster of the league, broadcasting a series of Sunday night games during the second half of the season.[7] Its program ESPN Sunday Night NFL (subsequently rebranded as ESPN Sunday Night Football) debuted on November 8, 1987.

ABC, CBS, and NBC each signed three-year contracts to renew their rights to broadcast Monday Night Football, the NFC package, and the AFC package, respectively.[7]


  • NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
  • NFL History 1981–1990 Archived October 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine (Last accessed December 4, 2005)
  • Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League ( ISBN 0-06-270174-6)


  1. ^ NFL 2001 Record and Fact Book, Workman Publishing Co, New York, NY, ISBN 0-7611-2480-2, p.286
  2. ^ Merrill, Elizabeth (June 9, 2011). "NFL replacements part of history". ESPN. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  3. ^ Farnsworth, Clare (October 3, 2001). "NFL crossed the line on Replacement Sunday". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  4. ^ "N.F.L. TV Ratings Drop". The New York Times. October 9, 1987. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b Quinn, Kevin G. (2011). The Economics of the National Football League: The State of the Art. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 338. ISBN 978-1-4419-6289-8.