The week 16 game between the 3-12 Green Bay Packers and the 7-8 Phoenix Cardinals in 1988 had a profound effect on the future of the NFL. The Packers won 26-17. The game was pretty much meaningless at the time but it determined the future of many NFL players and franchises. Let's take a look at what happned as a result of that game and what would have happned if the result would have been different.
The Packer win gave them the second pick in the 1989 draft and the Cowboys the first pick. The Cowboys drafted UCLA QB Troy Aikman and the Packers drafted OL from Michigan St. Tony Mandarich.
The Cowboys also drafted Miami QB Steve Walsh in the first round of the supplemental draft later that year using one of the two first round draft picks that had for the 1989 draft (the additional 1st round pick was the Minnesota Vikings pick they gave to Cowboys in the Herschel Walker trade).
In 1990 the Cowboys drafted Florida RB Emmitt Smith. The rest is history. The Cowboys went on to win 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all time leading rusher and Aikman and Smith were inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. .
Mandarich was a bust. In 1992 the Packers went on to trade for QB Brett Favre. Favre led the Packers to two Super Bowls winning one and finishing up his career as a first ballot Hall of Famer. As Favre got older the Packers drafted his replacement Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Today Rodgers is among the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Let’s go back to week 16 in 1988. What if the Packers lost that game to the Cardinals?
A loss would have given the Packers the first pick in the 1989 NFL draft. The Cowboys would have ended up with the second pick. At the time Troy Aikman was at the top of almost every team’s draft board. He was considered a sure thing by many scouts at the time.
Packer QB Don Majkowski was coming off a sub par season throwing 9TD’s and 11 INT’s. He was also hurt that year and only started 9 games. The Packers needed a franchise quarterback and Majkowski was not the answer. The Packers most certainly would have drafted Akiman.
Another player (at the time) considered a sure thing by scouts was LT Tony Mandarich. Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson said he loved Mandarich and would have loved to draft him. In fact he seriously debated drafting Mandarich over Aikman.
Dallas took QB Steve Walsh as an insurance policy in the 1989 supplemental draft. Remember the Cowboys had two first round draft picks in the 1990 draft. I believe Jimmy Johnson would have kept QB Steve Pelleur who was a serviceable QB. At the Time Steve Walsh was not considered a strong first round prospect. Remember it was Jimmy Johnson who came up with the draft point value system and he knew having two first round picks in the 1990 draft was like having pocket aces with two aces showing on the flop. Since the Cowboys were in need of a QB Johnson probably would have used the two first round picks to move down to draft a quality quarterback.
Johnson very well might have tried to trade down with the Baltimore Colts to select Illinois QB Jeff George but most likely would have drafted down and taken Houston QB and Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware.
With no first round draft picks remaining for the Cowboys Emmitt Smith would have still been on the board. It was no secret that the Cleveland Browns, who had the 18th pick in the 1990 draft, were smitten with Smith and would have taken him.
Aikman is a hall of fame QB who at the least would have been a serviceable QB for the Packers lasting over a decade. He might have even taken them to a Super Bowl or two.
With their QB Aikman firmly in place the Packers would have not traded for Brett Favre in 1992. That year the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos were in need of a QB. There’s a good chance the Falcons would have traded Favre to Cincinnati or Denver.
Assuming that Aikman would have retired in 2000 with the Packers as he did with the Cowboys the Packers would have an immediate need of a QB.
From 2001 to 2004 several good QB’s such as Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were drafted. Odds are one of these QB’s would have been drafted by the Packers.
Having a good young QB on the roster to take Aikman’s place would have negated the Packers need for a QB in 2005. The result of the Packers not drafting a QB in 2005 would have resulted for a longer wait in the draft room for California QB Aaron Rodgers.
Among the teams with a need at QB that year were the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears. With Rodgers still available in the second round one of these teams would have selected Rodgers.
It is truly amazing the impact of this one game had on the NFL from 1989 through the present. This is why every game counts. This is why every game, even the seemingly meaningless games at the time, are important and why football is the greatest sport ever.