Okay, so we’ve covered 1966, 1970, and 1978 helmet designs. I was initially going to relive 1985, but thought 1987 would be more fun, so instead, I decided to leap ahead two years. For the first time in this helmet design series, we’re sticking with the same number of teams, so no expansion anywhere here in the 1987 NFL Season, but we do have something else; numerous upon numerous changes in helmet design.
One reason I decided to switch to 1987 is because there was a bit of a crevasse in the season, which was shortened to fifteen games due to a player strike.
For three weeks, 85% of the NFLPA (player’s union) walked out while 15%, including big names like Joe Montana, Steve Largeant, and Randy White, remained with their teams. The rest of the rosters were filled with replacement players, who were made up of the recently defunct USFL which folded prior to 1986, the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes (not the current incarnation), who folded shortly before, and preseason roster cuts, and only one week of the season was missed, so teams played 15 games in 1987 rather than 16.
Despite the games continuing, attendance plummeted all across the NFL landscape while TV revenues dropped by 20%. Cities that had a strong union presence saw game attendance under 10,000 over the 24-day strike.
Okay, so enough NFLPA talk; let’s talk helmets real quick.
Facemask colors have changed time and again here and if I haven’t located a helmet with the particular facemask design, just like when covering 1978 I’ll have links available to the authentic helmet. Again, facemask color might be the only real inconsistency here, which will become less and less of an issue come my next article which features the 1990 season.
Who’s ready to relive (or in anyone in my age group study) the 1987 season?
Let’s go for it.
Okay, so if you look closely, the Dolphins’ facemask color is now aqua, the Patriots now have a white facemask, and the Bills now have a red helmet and white facemask. The Colts are now playing in Indianapolis, having relocated to Indiana following the 1983 season.
The Bengals had gotten rid of their Browns-like helmets prior to the 1981 season; also the Oilers now don red facemasks.
No real changes here, except the Seahawks’ facemask is now blue. However, the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles following the 1981 season.
The Giants removed all but the red helmet stripe on their helmets.
Blue facemasks for the Bears, purple for the Vikings, green for the Packers, and Honolulu blue for the Lions.
Blue facemasks became official for the Rams, while the Falcons now sported black facemasks.
AFC Championship Game
Cleveland Browns: 33
Denver Broncos: 38
In a wild contest known today as ‘The Fumble,’ the hometown Broncos jumped out to a 21-3 lead over Cleveland, but the latter battled back and by the middle of the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 31. Denver scored again with six minutes remaining before Cleveland marched down the field one last time. With 1:12 to go in regulation, Cleveland sat at Denver’s 8-yard line, looking to avenge last season’s heartbreak in the same game known as ‘The Drive.’ Byner took the handoff with nothing but end zone in front of him, but at the one-yard-line, was stripped of the ball which Denver recovered and the Broncos took a safety.
The game marked the third playoff game that ended in heartbreak for Cleveland, the other two being Red Right 88 in 1980, which resulted in Raiders’ defensive back Mike Davis ending the game on an interception in route to a Super Bowl Championship for the Raiders. Then in 1986, John Elway drove the Broncos 98 yards facing a 20-13 deficit against the Browns. Denver would eventually win in overtime.
The Broncos and Browns met in one more AFC Championship Game in 1989, which marked the last time Cleveland won a division championship and to date, the team’s last appearance in an AFC Championship Game. Since 1989, the Broncos have won three Super Bowls, playing in four overall.
NFC Championship Game
Minnesota Vikings: 10
Washington Redskins: 17
The Vikings were the NFL’s Cinderella team in 1987, barely making the playoffs as a final seed and upsetting the 12-3 Saints and 13-2 49ers in route to the NFC Championship Game for a date with the Redskins. The two teams battled one another tooth and nail, taking a 7-7 tie into halftime. The two teams would trade field goals before the Redskins took the lead for good with six minutes to go in the game, ending the Vikings’ run.
The Redskins went on to blow out Denver in Super Bowl XXII, 42-10, becoming the only team in the NFL to win both Super Bowls in the 1980s during strike-shortened seasons (1982). The Redskins would go on to win one more Super Bowl in 1991 and while the Vikings held formidable squads, have failed to reach the Big Game despite playing in several NFC Championship Games since.