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Tecmo’s Supplemental Draft

The Supplemental Draft shaped Tecmo as we know it. When we think of how our favorite players ended up in Tecmo Super Bowl, we think of the regular NFL Draft. We see bright-eyed college kids mounting the stage at Radio City Music Hall. We see the NFL Commissioner at the podium. We hear Philly fans booing. We see newly-minted NFL players taking their jersey, putting on their cap. We see the inevitable Commissioner Bro Hug.

Not all players arrive in the NFL through the draft. Some, such as former Browns Kick Returner Josh Cribbs and journeyman LB Jerome Harrison, went undrafted and signed to their clubs as free agents[1]. Still others arrive via a tertiary, more mysterious method: The Supplemental Draft.

The NFL and NFLPA negotiated a regular Supplemental Draft in addition to the regular college player draft in the spring of 1977[2]. The Supplemental Draft allows players ineligible for both college play and the regular NFL draft to turn pro. Usually, this means players suspended or dismissed from their college teams.

To illustrate: in 1977, Notre Dame suspended Senior RB Al Hunter for having a woman in his dorm room after hours, then a violation of the university’s conduct policy. This wouldn’t have been a major issue except Hunter was already on probation for a 1974 incident where Lawson was caught with a woman in his dorm room[3].

The Supplemental Draft process is fairly simple. Excepting 1984, which we’ll discuss shortly, teams place a draft pick “bid” on players. The team with the highest bid wins said player. However, any successful bid in the Supplemental Draft is lost in the next years’ NFL Draft. So, in the first year of the Supplemental Draft, Seattle bid a 4th round pick on the troubled Notre Dame RB. Their bid was the highest and they won the rights to Hunter. As a result, the Seahawks forfeited their 4th round pick in the 1978 NFL Draft[4].

The Supplemental Draft shaped Tecmo Super Bowl’s landscape perhaps more than any single year’s NFL Draft.

1984 – The USFL Supplemental Draft

As we’ve mentioned, the early 1980’s saw the startup United States Football League challenge the NFL. The USFL held their annual player draft in January, a full three months before the NFL. As such, they were able to lure stars such as Herschel Walker and Nebraska RB Mike Rozier. It soon became clear, however, the USFL’s heavy spending and declining revenues spelled disaster.

Heading into the 1984 NFL Draft, some NFL owners their less scrupulous peers would bet on the USFL’s implosion and use mid-to-late round draft picks on USFL stars. A 5th round pick for Steve Young? Yes, please. Others worried, that should the USFL fold sooner rather than later, there would be massive bidding wars for USFL stars.

To solve both problems, NFL owners and the NFLPA agreed to a special Supplemental Draft in 1984[5]. Owners promised not to select USFL players in their regular April Draft. In exchange, the NFLPA bargained for expanded rosters—from 45 to 49. The 1984 Supplemental Draft of USFL (and Canadian Football League) players, held in June, would eschew the bidding process and instead use the regular draft rules for a three-round affair.

The 1984 Supplemental Draft brought in a number of Tecmo Legends. Tampa took Brigham Young University/LA Express Quarterback Steve Young. The New York Giants selected Hall of Fame Offensive Tackle Gary Zimmerman. Neither Zimmerman nor Young would hit TSB cartridges with the team that drafted them. Tampa, perhaps foolishly, gave up on Young in 1989 and shipped him to San Francisco. Zimmerman, who had no desire to play in New York, sued the NFL. Zimmerman and his lawyers argued the NFLPA had zero rights to bargain a special draft of players who, by virtue of playing in the USFL and CFL, did not belong to their union[6]. The USFL’s Philadelphia Stars also brought suit, arguing the Supplemental Draft constituted collusion among NFL owners to meddle in the USFL’s affairs. The Supplemental Draft also formed a major argument in the USFL’s 1985 antitrust suit against the NFL.

In all three cases, the lawsuits fell the NFL’s way. Zimmerman eventually agreed to be traded to Minnesota. The USFL folded.

The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, wanted no part of the 1984 Supplemental Draft. They traded all of their 1984 Supplemental picks to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a few late-round regular draft picks[7]. Instead of 3, the Browns selected 6 players in the 1984 Supplemental Draft. Among them: Clemson/LA Express RB Kevin Mack, Virginia Tech/Philadelphia Stars LB Mike Johnson and Baylor/Houston Gamblers WR Gerald McNeil. Without the 1984 Supplemental Draft, the Tecmo and TSB Browns squads would be very different indeed.

1985 – “QB Browns” Games the System

The following year, the 1985 Supplemental Draft further cemented our beloved Tecmo Browns[8]. Consensus agreed, that should Miami University’s Bernie Kosar leave college, he would be the best QB available. Prior to the draft, the Buffalo Bills, holder of the #1 pick but committed to Jim Kelly, signed Virginia Tech DE Bruce Smith. Days later, Kosar decided to forgo his 2 remaining years of college eligibility and enter the NFL. Warren Moon’s Houston Oilers, not needing a QB, traded their #2 pick to the QB-thirsty Minnesota Vikings.

QB Browns had other ideas. Kosar, born and raised in Northeast Ohio, wanted to play for his hometown Browns. So in a bit of cloak-and-dagger subterfuge, Cleveland traded for Buffalo’s 1986 1st round pick. The 1986 1st rounder, coupled with Buffalo’s worst overall record in 1984, gave Cleveland the most bidding power in the 1985 Supplemental Draft.

Bernie Kosar, though he had announced his desire to enter the NFL draft, had not formally filed his paperwork with the NFL. So Bernie accidentally-on-purpose submitted his papers after the April 15 NFL Draft deadline. This made Bernie eligible for the 1985 Supplemental Draft. Houston and Minnesota, begged NFL Commissioner Rozelle to intercede on their behalf. Rozelle refused, saying neither Kosar nor the Browns had broken any rules[9].

Cleveland bid Buffalo’s 1986 1st Round pick in the 1985 Supplemental Draft and won QB Browns.

In October of 1985, the NFL instituted what it called the Kosar Rule. Instead of Supplemental Draft order being based solely on a team’s previous season W-L record, the league instituted an NBA-style Supplemental Draft Lottery. Teams received lottery entries in proportion to their losses. The Supplemental Draft order was then drawn minutes before the regular draft[10]. This meant to guard the Supplemental Draft system against gamesmanship. Which isn’t to say some didn’t try anyway.

1987 – CC & The Boz

Brian Bosworth tried to replicate Kosar’s gambit in 1987. Tampa had already agreed to terms with Vinnie Testarverde at #1 overall. Not wanting to play for sad-sack teams like Indianapolis, Buffalo or Green Bay, “The Boz” intentionally withheld his paperwork for the 1987 NFL Draft. Bosworth wanted to play for a big-market, win-now team. He stated he would only play for the Rams, Raiders, Jets, Giants or Eagles.

New Supplemental Draft rules made it so Buffalo, Indy and GB still had a shot at the Boz. Instead, the lottery among losing teams awarded the #1 Overall Supplemental Pick to the Seahawks. Despite Boz’s warnings, Seattle selected him wits 1st round Supplemental Draft. He played only two years, and is most famous for being absolutely trucked by Bo Jackson. His play, though, is one of the few bright spots for a sluggish Seattle (Knights?) squad in OG Tecmo[11].

The 1987 Supplemental Draft also saw the Philadelphia Eagles bid a 4th rounder on suspended Ohio State WR Cris Carter. 1991’s TSB saw Carter struggling to catch Wade Wilson ducks with the Vikings. It wouldn’t be until subsequent SNES iterations of Tecmo that Carter would rise to Hall of Fame greatness.

1989 – Arizona Stumbles, Denver & Dallas Steal Stars

Building on the Kosar/Boz template, the 1989 Supplemental Draft is perhaps the most important in NFL and TSB history[12]. The 1989 Supplemental Draft saw 5 players taken, three of them with 1st round picks. Arizona snagged Washington State QB Timm Rosenbach. Denver bid a 1st round pick and won Alabama RB Bobby Humphry.

For Arizona, their first-ever Supplemental Draft pick busted. Rosenbach is a bad QB on a bad TSB Cardinals Team.

For the Broncos, their Supplemental pick hit triple 7’s. Humphry is a TSB beast, with elite 63 Max Speed.

The most important pick in the 1989 Supplemental Draft, both for Tecmo and the NFL, came when Dallas took Miami QB Steve Walsh with a 1st round pick. Walsh busted in the Big D. However, when Troy Aikman won the Cowboys’ starting QB job in September of 1990, Dallas exchanged Walsh for 3 New Orleans draft picks. One of those picks ended up being 1991’s #1 overall. Together with picks pried from Minnesota in the Herschel Walker trade, Dallas built an NFL and Tecmo Juggernaut. By the time TSB hit Sega and Super Nintendo, picking Dallas basically amounted to cheating.

Walsh, for his part, played middling ball with New Orleans. Though the Saints’ TSB starter, backup QB John Fourcade actually possesses better stats.

The Supplemental Draft has since changed again. Now teams are grouped into three tiers–losing teams, winning teams, and playoff teams. Supplemental Draft order is chosen randomly among those tiers. Any losing team can win the #1 supplemental pick. Teams with winning records then slot in randomly after the losing teams and playoff teams randomly fill out the rest.

The Supplemental Draft is a strange bit of NFL ephemera, a back door into The Shield. Though instituted as a way to give a chance for troubled collegiate players, for a brief period in the 80’s, players used this secondary entrance to, ironically, “choose” their teams. 25 years later, we remember that handful of players who, determined to make their own way, made Tecmo Bowl and TSB as we know it.


NOTES:

[1] Both of whom attended Kent State University, aka, Undrafted Free Agent U.
[2] Though most sources cite a spring 1977 NFL owners’ meeting as the genesis of the NFL Supplemental Draft, there seemed to be some mechanism for a supplemental draft dating back to the first NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement in July 1968. A June 16, 1970 article in the Baltimore Sun describes Notre Dame player Tom Lawson being chosen in a “supplemental draft” on June 15, 1970 for six players who became NFL-eligible after the regular draft. (“Notre Dame End Picked.” Baltimore Sun; Baltimore, MD. p.C5). However, I could find no other mention of the other five players being drafted and no mention of an organized “Supplemental Draft” prior to 1977. Until I can get the full text of the 1968 or 1970 NFL CBA to verify, we will say the “Supplemental Draft” as described in this article was instituted by NFL owners in 1977.
[3] Irish’s Hunter Faces Suspension. Condon, David. The Chicago Tribune, 4 June 1977, Sec.2, p.1:1
[4] Seattle, Hunter Reach Terms. Chicago Tribune . 07 Sep 1977: c3.
[5] “Players Agree to let NFL Hold USFL Draft.” Stellino, Vito. The Sun; Baltimore, MD.  21 Apr 1984: D1.
[6] “Court Grants Giants Rights to USFL Offensive Lineman: Pro Football.” The Hartford Courant; Hartford, CT. 29 Mar 1986: D2
[7] “USFL Demise Hurts Bears.” Hewitt, Brian. Chicago Sun–Times. 08 Sep 1985: 12
[8] “Beloved” by me, anyway.
[9] “Rozelle: Kosar Free To Choose…” Brennan, Christine. The Washington Post; Washington, D.C. 24 Apr 1985: D1
[10] “NFL Rejects Use of TV Replays in ’85 Playoffs.” Toronto Star; Toronto, ON. 17 Oct 1985: E10.
[11] “Seahawks Defy Odds, Select Bosworth.” Wilbon, Michael, The Washington Post; Washington, D.C. 13 June 1987: c01
[12] “Walsh a Cowboy Too…” Cotton, Anthony. The Washington Post; Washington, D.C.  08 July 1989: D1

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Keith Good

Keith Good is a future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and 8-bit game geek. A perpetual optimist, he convinces himself every September that this could finally be the Cleveland Browns' year. He was once told to eff off by one of the Tecmo Browns. You can check out his other work at www.keithisgood.com and follow him on twitter @keithisgood.

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