NFL SuperPro: A Look Back At Marvel's Failed Gridiron Superhero


Locker room fisticuffs. Ghoulish acts of domestic violence. Drunk driving that makes even the most merciless Grand Theft Auto gaming session seem tamer than Driving Miss Daisy. Recent times have seen NFL players further besmirch their sport’s reputation with a boneheaded bonanza of imbecility.

There's been no shortage of on-field nitwittedness, either. Last week saw Tom Brady, absurdly talented/maddeningly handsome quarterback of the New England Patriots, clear his name in the deflategate debacle. At least, to the satisfaction of a federal judge.

It’s getting to a point where an NFL player’s To-Do list consists of three simple words:

Better Call Saul.

Thursday, Sept. 10, sees the latest NFL season kick off with the Patriots—reigning Super Bowl Champs and bane of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s existence—taking on this writer’s beloved (yet infuriating) Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite untold disgust with these acts of moral turpitude, I’m looking forward to football's return. Tingling with excitement, even.

7-year-old me had two primary passions: Sports and comic books. Twenty-eight years later, this hasn’t changed one bit.

Part statistics-savoring jock. Part almanac of comic book knowledge. All nerd.

It’s among the reasons why I believe football—like pro sports in general—is more than a breeding ground for mindless, cash-lavished miscreants. Do select buffoons lining league rosters offer cause for concern? Oh, hell yes. There's a TON of work yet to be done. Utmost effort must be applied to correct a totally unacceptable state of affairs.

Athletes making headline news for dastardly nonsporting deeds make me feel guilty as a fan; watching games and purchasing team merchandise can be construed as supporting such behavior. It's disappointing. Embarrassing. And above all, totally unacceptable.

With that said, it seems unfair that every NFL athlete be tarred with the same debauchery-dipped brush. It certainly doesn't help further the game's recovery process. But I understand why it happens; in many cases, I can't blame those who think this way.

However, scores of genuine, good-natured players also grace the National Football League. They recognize their position of public prominence and strive to make the most of it, both on and off the field of play. More than 200 charitable associations are headed by current and former NFL stars, and the list is growing. This doesn't negate the wrongs committed by others; far from it. But it helps prove that football, much like comic books, plays host to its fair share of good and bad guys.

OK. Rant over. Now it’s time to draw attention to another of humanity’s downfalls … a grave offense that spliced two of my devout passions and created a monster. The NFL and Marvel Comics co-played the part of Dr. Frankenstein.

NFL SuperPro is their unthinkable abomination.

A (mercifully) short-lived series debuting in 1991, NFL SuperPro was the brainchild of writer Fabian Nicieza. It told the story of Phil Grayfield, an ex-football player who suffered a freak accident while saving a young child from danger. Career cut short, Grayfield switched his attention to reporting. Among his interviewees was an eccentric chemist/sports super fan who'd recently created a near-indestructible football uniform.

Lo and behold, merchandise-craving thieves decided to gatecrash the interview. After fleecing select items, the bandits (rather curiously) attempted to torch the stuff left behind. Including the super suit! 

Tied to a chair in the midst of this blazing inferno, Grayfield managed to knock over some chemicals which, coupled with fumes produced by the smoldering memorabilia, lavished abundant superpowers upon the ex-football star. Seeing as the chemist's ultramodern uniform would make for an ideal crime-fighting costume, Grayfield decided another career change was in order: Henceforth, he'd spend his days sacking bad guys!

Football is all Phil Grayfield knew. He was a team player. So in keeping with NFL tradition, SuperPro drafted a bunch of college-goers to assist his newfound quest for justice. His picks? Almighty Dollar ("blessed" with the ability to shoot loose change from his hands); Girth, a chubby bloke with a (ahem) talented tummy; Calculator, a Korean statistics whiz kid; plus Streak, a nimble speedster.

Joining this roster of peculiar paladins was Ken Reid, sports cameraman and SuperPro’s closest confidant. Jane Dixon, Grayfield’s ex-girlfriend, also made the cut.

Never-before-seen villains provided conflict during NFL SuperPro’s 12-issue run, including roid rage-fueled maniacs and a kicker/ninja dude. The most notable foe was Instant Replay, an assassin who could (wait for it) travel short distances through time.

I suspect Pete Carroll wishes Instant Replay was on the Seattle Seahawks’ sideline during Super Bowl XLIX’s closing seconds....

NFL SuperPro is widely regarded as one of the all-time Rubbish Comic Books. Stories oozed bloodcurdling dialogue and an endless slew of football puns; ex-QB Phil Grayfield would be more fittingly remembered as The Punslinger.

So what was The House of Ideas thinking? What prompted publication of such nightmarish guff? An early '90s licensing deal with the NFL is the prime culprit. Development of a football-flavored comic book property was part of the deal, and when assigned writers failed to produce, editor Bob Budiansky requested external assistance. Fabian Nicieza, a veteran writer who's enjoyed an otherwise full and accomplished career, crafted a script, and the NFL was so impressed they insisted he take charge of the entire series.

Nicieza later revealed his sole motivation for writing the book: Free tickets. New York Jets tickets, no less. The one thing more harrowing than pandemic fan backlash: Watching Mark Sanchez's Butt Fumble live in person.

In the least surprising news since RG3 returned to the disabled list, NFL SuperPro has failed to make another appearance since his series' cancellation. Robert Kirkman wanted to bring him back in an issue of Marvel Team-Up, only for copyright concerns to ensure Phil Grayfield remained even further from the action than Tim Tebow.

Will SuperPro join Ryan Leaf in forever contemplating the career that could've been? Or does a surprise return loom on the horizon? Stranger things have happened. Heck, the Dallas Cowboys actually won a playoff game last year...!

In the words of Tom Brady, “Nothing in the NFL surprises me anymore.”

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