Essential Builds – NFL SuperPro

With the Superbowl this Sunday*, it’s time to carry on the tradition of The Fridge, Capt Grid-Iron, Centiback, and Laceface by bringing a football player to the world of Hasbro’s action and adventure brands.

Welcome to Essential Builds, the blog that throws popular culture icons into Essence20’s endzone. I’m Ryan Costello, one of the designers of the Essence20 system and an author on the G.I. JOE, Transformers, and My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebooks. As of this writing, I’ve written over 300 000 words for Essence20, contributing to over a dozen products and counting. 

Are you ready for some football… themed superheroics?

Long before used Marvel-based helmets and logos to get clicks, the NFL and Marvel came together in the 90s to create SuperPro, a superhero that lived in the overlap of their fandoms. 

It was not a big overlap. 

Who Is NFL SuperPro?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I think NFL SuperPro was just the title of the comic, and the name of the character was SuperPro. Yes, capitalized like that. His Marvel Database entry lists him as SuperPro, and other characters refer to him as SuperPro. However, he introduces himself a couple of times as NFL SuperPro, somehow using the NFL logo in his dialog bubble. I’m going to call him NFL SuperPro because it’s funnier and better for SEO. 

After getting injured saving children, Phil Grayfield retired from football and became a reporter for Sports Inside. While interviewing a reclusive football fan and inventor about the indestructible football uniform he designed, thieves broke in, tied Phil up in film stock of classic NFL plays, and set the building on fire. The fire and the chemicals in the film gave him enhanced athletic abilities, the old radioactive football merch giving Phil the proportionate strength of an NFL player. Using his new powers while wearing the indestructible football uniform, he fought crime with the National Football League logo on his chest and helmet as NFL SuperPro. 

Yes, NFL SuperPro is Captain America meets Iron Man almost 30 years before the introduction of The Iron Patriot. 

I may get tongue in cheek about this misguided corporate creation, but I fondly remember NFL SuperPro. When the comic came out in 1991, my older brother was a big football fan, and kinda into comics. I was a big comic fan and kinda into football. Not long after we’d both drop our kinda interests, but for a few months we had the perfect super hero to bond over. So even though I question the size of the audience for an officially licensed NFL super hero in the early 90s, my brother and I were firmly in that target.

Also, I don’t care what Stiltman says, I love SuperPro’s uniform. 

Building NFL SuperPro

One of the challenges of this build is the vagueness of NFL SuperPro’s powers. We know he has enhanced athletic abilities and an indestructible football uniform. He’s definitely not on Superman’s level, but is he on Captain America’s? Or is he closer to Batman? Because the average comic depicts even powerless superheroes as athletically gifted, it’s hard to gauge the power levels of what we see NFL SuperPro do. It doesn’t help that he rarely interacts with established Marvel characters in fight scenes. 

His powers aren’t all that’s vague. I don’t know what position Phil Grayfield played before his injury. That impacts the flavour of athletic options to consider. For anyone not familiar with the sport, football player skillsets vary wildly depending on the position. The stereotypical football player is huge, but the most famous position, the quarterback, is one of the smaller players on the field. And most plays are based around the quarterback getting the ball to another, often even smaller player better able to get the ball to the endzone. If Grayfield was a quarterback, I would choose options based around throwing and strategizing. If he was a receiver, I’d build him for speed. A punter or placekicker, the only positions allowed to kick the football, would open up fun martial arts options.

There aren’t many details about Phil’s football career. It’s not even clear if he played at a professional level, since at least once it talks about his football aspirations. All we have to go on is the blurb on the cover of issue 1, which says “he went from sacking quarterbacks to tackling crime”. This is backed up by a line a few issues later about facing the San Francisco offense. Again, for the uninformed, sacking is tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. If that tagline is to be believed, Grayfield played defense, probably a lineman or a linebacker. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave me much to draw on because most defensive positions involve running a certain distance, pushing, and tackling. If you, like me as a preteen, wonder how that’s defense, the offense/defense names refer to the endzone, not the quarterback.  

Despite the lack of details, if an option relates to genetic alteration, powered armor, or sports, it’s in the realm of possibilities for an NFL SuperPro build. 


Renegade (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

NFL SuperPro charges into combat, throwing shoulders and tackling the opposition. Even though I already used the Renegade Role for The Grinch, and the Technician and Vanguard both have options related to wearing power armor, the Renegade Role delivers on NFL SuperPro’s fighting style. Reckless Abandon gives bonus Health and Strength Upshifts, both of which work for how NFL SuperPro rushes through defenses to get in his enemies’ faces. Roll with the Punches explains how, in issue 1, he backflipped out of harm’s way when shot point blank, and Fearsome Presence recreates the sniper’s reaction to seeing the NFL logo in his sights. 

Sub Rules

Tank Focus (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

I obviously considered Blitzer, the Renegade’s football-flavoured Focus, but that Focus supports a short range firearm fighting style. It also didn’t get NFL SuperPro an indestructible football uniform. The Tank Focus, conversely, gives us Medium Armor training. Honestly, I would have preferred Medium Armor qualification so we didn’t have to worry about requisition. Even the General Perks related to battledress only grant training. I could have gone the Technician (Think Tank) or Vanguard (Juggernaut) routes instead, but Technician implies an intelligence that NFL SuperPro never displays, and while Vanguard skews closer to our concept, it gives us more technology that NFL SuperPro’s uniform provides. The inventor intended for it to be used in football games, so integrated lasers and a force field would be unsporting to include. Finally, Juggernaut’s Second Skin Perk says “You may use Technology or Science instead of Athletics or Acrobatics for armor requisitions during the Equipment Assignment and Requisition phase.” That’s antithetical to our build. Compare that to Tank’s Interpose Perk, which says “you may intercept the attack and take the hit yourself”. Now that’s football language. 


Test Subject (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Cobra Codex)

After considering this Origin for both Inspector Gadget and Super Dinosaur, it finally gets its time to shine! 

Mechanically, Test Subject is a baseline Origin. Increase any Essence Score, 2 Starting Health, Ground Movement 30ft. It’s the flavour and Origin Benefit that clinched it for us. Augmented gives us the Enhanced Part or Evolving Mutation General Perk without needing to meet the prerequisites. That gives us a Limited Alteration. Now, I wrote this Origin, so if anyone wonders why I didn’t just give a Limited Alteration as the Origin Benefit instead of the extra step of giving a General Perk that gives a Limited Alteration, the answer is that Enhanced Part and Evolving Mutation are prerequisites for the Optimized Part and Outright Mutation General Perks, respectively. So not only do you get a Limited Alteration, you also unlock the ability to gain a Restricted Alteration the next time you gain a General Perk. 

We’ll take Limited Weaponization as our Limited Alteration, which gives us an integrated Limited melee weapon. The close combat heavy bludgeon lets us deal either 1 Blunt damage and 1 Stun, or 2 Blunt damage. A hefty melee attack through an Alteration perfectly translates NFL SuperPro knocking out goons left and right thanks to the chemicals (and football merch) he was exposed to. 

I did consider the Accidental Origin from A Jump Through Time since NFL SuperPro got his powers by accident rather than an experiment. Well, even though Accidental’s name and mechanics works perfectly for the classic super hero trope of gaining powers through an accident, the description of the Origin straight up says “You exist in a world where time travel is possible, and unfortunately, you got swept up in it.” I might ignore that line in the future, but one of the goals of this blog is to build characters with minimal reskinning of options. I’m still contemplating if this counts as minimal. 


1st: Athlete (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

2nd Experiment (Transformers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

3rd Powerhouse (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

My main goal with our Influences was to play up Phil Grayfield’s celebrity. First, I looked up the Celebrity Influence. Ends up, there is none! Putting that fact in my back pocket. Once I decided to focus on Influences that exist, I shortlisted the following options: Athlete from G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, Buck Baller from My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, Cube Player from Transformers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, and Local Legend from Power Rangers A Jump Through Time. Buck Baller and Cube Player reference specific sports, and while that’s easy enough to ignore, I had other options. Athlete and Local Legend provide similar benefits: a bonus on certain Skills in social situations involving what we’re known for. While I like Local Legend as a way to represent the tribalism of sports fans, I don’t know what team Phil Grayfield played for. In fact, I suspect the NFL and Marvel chose not to establish that specifically to avoid tribalism alienating a fanbase. So I went with the most straightforward of the options I considered. 

What’s funny about the remaining Influence choices is that they feel like lesser versions of earlier options. Experiment is like Test Subject, thematically. Even though I didn’t need to cover that element of NFL SuperPro’s background, one of the optional Perks that can be gained from Experiment is an Upshift when shoving and escaping grapples. It’s so on point for our mutated football player, I couldn’t avoid it. 

This is my second Influence, which means I need a Hang-Up. As a reminder, Transformers Hang-Ups are disconnected from their Influences, although the Influences list suggested Hang-Ups. I’m glad they’re just suggestions, because the Hang-Up I want isn’t on the list. Vainglorious. We must spend our first Standard action giving a speech. NFL SuperPro, notoriously, spouts the weakest football puns as superhero banter. I love the idea that he’s just wasting everyone’s time as he rambles on. 

Powerhouse covers a lot of the same ground as Renegade (Tank), but the Perk, Muscle Over Panache, gives us something special. We can use Brawn in place of a Speed-based Skill on a Skill Test. As we’re about to discuss, NFL SuperPro might have the lowest Speed seen yet in Essential Builds. Not only does this pull us out of the gutter a few times a day, but it incentivizes us to invest in Brawn, a Skill NFL SuperPro should have but one that doesn’t get a lot of love. 

Essence Scores and Skills

Strength 8

Far too often, Strength gets dumped on this blog. I usually invest in one or two Strength-based Skills. This time, I’m spreading it out across almost all of them. +d6 Might is our primary fighting Skill. +d4 Athletics and Brawn are utility Skills. +d2 Intimidation is our socializing Skill. All of these Skills are effectively 2 Ranks higher in combat, thanks to the Reckless Abandon Role Perk. And since Strength is our diamond Essence Score, these numbers will continue to increase as we level up. 

Speed 3

Speed is such a useful Skill, I consider a low Speed build a minor victory. We don’t want less than 3, of course, since we need at least one Free action to activate Reckless Abandon. I gave him +d4 Infiltration, since we do see NFL SuperPro sneaking around sometimes, and +d2 Initiative because it’s handy. If the rest of the Speed-based Skills come up, we can swap to our Brawn safety net a few times a day. 

Smarts 3

I didn’t expect Smarts to be tied for NFL SuperPro’s second highest Essence Score, but he is a journalist by day, so a certain amount of Alertness and Culture is important. Not too much, though, since he got the job for his football experience, not any journalism degrees. 

Social 2

I did expect Social to be NFL SuperPro’s lowest Essence Score. Between his cringe banter and lack of any notable display of wit, it was hard justifying even 2 Social. I gave him +d4 Deception, because keeping a secret identity takes lying. 


This was fun. I didn’t need to do as much research as I did, like reading NFL SuperPro’s Wikipedia, or watching ComicTrope’s review of the first issue. But the deeper I dug, the more I appreciated the legacy of NFL SuperPro. The comic was called “Quite possibly the most embarrassing NFL product ever”. Though I acknowledge its faults and even enjoy how others have dissected its flaws, I still have positive feelings overall about NFL SuperPro. A framed copy of his official NFL Card hangs on my wall of Marvel collectibles, and I would buy NFL SuperPro merch if it ever became available. I know we’ll never see an NFL SuperPro Marvel Legends action figure, but at least now I know I can play a solid version of him in an Essence20 game if the opportunity arises. 

*and the recent passing of NFL SuperPro (and Transformers) artist Jose Delbo. Here as a footnote because I didn’t want to start a light post on a sad note.


G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Power Rangers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Power Rangers Roleplaying Game: A Jump Through Time

Transformers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting:

Warrenguard book cover with a dragon rider atop a red dragon in flight