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|Duration||September 10 –|
December 18, 1966
|East Champions||Dallas Cowboys|
|West Champions||Green Bay Packers|
|Champions||Green Bay Packers|
The 1966 NFL season was the 47th regular season of the National Football League, and the first season in which the Super Bowl was played, though it was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The league expanded to 15 teams with the addition of the Atlanta Falcons, making a bye necessary each week for one team.
This was the last season that the NFL was divided only into two separate conferences, and only one postseason round was played between the two conference champions. The season concluded with the first Super Bowl; the NFL champion Green Bay Packers defeated the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs 35–10 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 15, 1967.
The punter/WR for the Detroit Lions set a record for consecutive games with more than 125 receiving yards with five, a record which was not tied until Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson several decades later. He also became the 3rd ever player to complete a 99-yard pass play.
The AFL-NFL merger agreement
As the competitive war between the NFL and the American Football League reached its peak, the two leagues agreed to merge on June 8, 1966. Under the agreement:
- The two leagues would combine to form an expanded league with 24 teams, which would be increased to 26 teams by 1969, and to 28 teams by 1970 or soon thereafter.
- All existing teams would be retained, and none of them would be moved outside of their metropolitan areas.
- While maintaining separate schedules through 1969, the leagues agreed to play an annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game beginning in January 1967.
- The two leagues would officially merge in 1970 to form one league with two conferences.
On June 3, 1965, the NFL announced its plans to add two teams in 1967. Four days later on June 7, the eight franchises of the rival American Football League (AFL) voted unanimously to add two teams in 1966, an AFL franchise was awarded to Atlanta the next day.
The NFL awarded the first of the two expansion franchises to the city of Atlanta on June 30, 1965. Commissioner Pete Rozelle granted ownership of the Atlanta Falcons to Rankin Smith, Sr. and they were awarded the first pick in the 1966 NFL Draft, as well as the final pick in each of the first five rounds. The league also provided the Falcons with an expansion draft six weeks later.
The competition with the AFL for Atlanta forced the first to be added a year early. The odd number of teams (15) in 1966 resulted in one idle team (bye) each week, with each team playing fourteen games over fifteen weeks (similar to 1960: twelve games over thirteen weeks). The second expansion team, the New Orleans Saints, joined the NFL as planned in 1967 as its sixteenth franchise. Scheduled byes in the NFL's regular season did not return until 1990.
Major rule changes
Goal posts were standardized in the NFL. They were to be 3–4 inches (7.6–10.2 cm) in diameter, painted bright yellow, with two non-curved supports offset from the goal line, and uprights 20 feet (6.1 m) above the crossbar. In 1967, the new "slingshot" goal post was made standard, with one curved support from the ground. In 1974, the goal posts were returned to the end line, and the uprights were extended to 30 feet (9.1 m) above the crossbar, and to 35 feet (10.7 m) in 2014.
The new goal-post rule is often referred to as the "Don Chandler Rule", referring to the placekicker for the Green Bay Packers. Although widely denied, the height increase of the uprights was in reaction to the previous season's Western Conference playoff game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Chandler kicked a controversial field goal that tied the game with under two minutes remaining. The kick was high above the upright, and many spectators thought that the kick missed; however, the kick was ruled good by field judge Jim Tunney. Chandler later hit a field goal that defeated the Baltimore Colts in overtime. The following week, the Packers defeated the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game, their first of three consecutive league titles.
Another rule change born from the 1965 Western Conference playoff was two officials (the back judge and field judge) were stationed under each upright for field goal and extra point attempts.
In the Western Conference, Green Bay's first loss was in Week 5, falling 21–20 in San Francisco to tie them with the Rams. The Rams lost 35–7 to Minnesota the next week, and Green Bay stayed in front until Week 9, when Minnesota beat them 20–17. Baltimore's 19–7 win over Atlanta briefly tied it with the Packers at 7–2–0 in Week 10, but the Colts lost to Detroit the next week, 20–14. The Packers clinched the title in Week 13.
In the Eastern Conference, the St. Louis Cardinals took the early lead, winning their first five games. (The Dallas Cowboys were also unbeaten, but due to a bye in Week One, they had played one fewer game and thus were a half-game behind the Cardinals in the standings.) The unbeaten teams met in Week 6, and both were still unbeaten after they played to a 10–10 tie. However, both teams suffered their first defeat the next week, with St. Louis losing at Washington, 26–20, and the Cowboys falling in Cleveland, 30–21. In Week 9 (November 6), St. Louis beat the Giants, 20–17, while Dallas came up short in a 24–23 loss to the Eagles. The next week, Dallas won at Washington 31–30 on a field goal with 0:15 left, while the Cards fell at Pittsburgh, 30–9, cutting their safety margin to a half-game again. St. Louis had a bye in Week 11, and a 20–7 Dallas victory over Pittsburgh gave the Cards and Cowboys records of 7–2–1. Both teams won the next week, setting up the stage for their December 4 meeting in Dallas during Week 13. The Cards took a 10–7 lead in the first quarter, but Dallas won 31–17 to take over the conference lead. In Week Fourteen, Dallas hosted Washington, and lost 34–31 on a field goal at 0:08. The Cardinals were in a must-win game against what should have been an easy opponent, the new (2–10–0) Atlanta Falcons. Instead, the Falcons notched their third win and virtually ended St. Louis's hopes to go to the title game. The St. Louis Cardinals, who lost again the next week, never got that close to the Super Bowl again before moving to Phoenix in 1988.
|1||Detroit, Green Bay, Los Angeles (tie)||1–0–0||Cleveland, St. Louis (tie)||1–0–0||Dallas Cowboys|
|2||Green Bay, Los Angeles (tie)||2–0–0||St. Louis, Pittsburgh (tie)||2–0–0||San Francisco 49ers|
|3||Green Bay Packers||3–0–0||St. Louis Cardinals||3–0–0||Chicago Bears|
|4||Green Bay Packers||4–0–0||St. Louis Cardinals||4–0–0||Baltimore Colts|
|5||Green Bay, Los Angeles (tie)||4–1–0||St. Louis Cardinals||5–0–0||Minnesota Vikings|
|6||Green Bay Packers||5–1–0||St. Louis Cardinals||5–0–1||Cleveland Browns|
|7||Green Bay Packers||6–1–0||St. Louis Cardinals||5–1–1||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|8||Green Bay Packers||7–1–0||St. Louis Cardinals||6–1–1||New York Giants|
|9||Green Bay Packers||7–2–0||St. Louis Cardinals||7–1–1||Atlanta Falcons|
|10||Baltimore, Green Bay (tie)||7–2–0||St. Louis Cardinals||7–2–1||Green Bay Packers|
|11||Green Bay Packers||8–2–0||Dallas, St. Louis (tie)||7–2–1||St. Louis Cardinals|
|12||Green Bay Packers||9–2–0||Dallas, St. Louis (tie)||8–2–1||Philadelphia Eagles|
|13||Green Bay Packers||10–2–0||Dallas Cowboys||9–2–1||Washington Redskins|
|14||Green Bay Packers||11–2–0||Dallas Cowboys||9–3–1||Los Angeles Rams|
|15||Green Bay Packers||12–2–0||Dallas Cowboys||10–3–1||Detroit Lions|
- A bye week was necessary in 1966, as the league had an odd-number (15) of teams; one team was idle each week. The sixteenth team (New Orleans) joined the league in 1967.
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
Note: Prior to 1972, the NFL did not include tie games when calculating a team's winning percentage in the official standings
|St. Louis Cardinals||8||5||1||.615||264||265|
|New York Giants||1||12||1||.077||263||501|
|Green Bay Packers||12||2||0||.857||335||163|
|Los Angeles Rams||8||6||0||.571||289||212|
|San Francisco 49ers||6||6||2||.500||320||325|
NFL Championship Game
The Playoff Bowl was between the conference runners-up, for third place in the league. This was its seventh year and it was played a week after the title game.
AFL–NFL World Championship Game
|Most Valuable Player||Bart Starr, Quarterback, Green Bay|
|Coach of the Year||Tom Landry, Dallas|
- Atlanta Falcons: Norb Hecker became the expansion team's first head coach.
- Los Angeles Rams: Harland Svare was replaced by George Allen.
- St. Louis Cardinals: Wally Lemm was replaced by Charley Winner.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Nixon was replaced by Bill Austin.
- Washington Redskins: Bill McPeak was replaced by Otto Graham.
- The expansion Atlanta Falcons began play at Atlanta Stadium
- The St. Louis Cardinals opened the new Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium, replacing the older Busch Stadium (Sportsman's Park)
- "NFL ready to expand – AFL, too". Milwaukee Sentinel. Associated Press. June 4, 1965. p. 2, part 2.
- "AFL to add 2 teams in '66". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. June 8, 1965. p. 3, part 2.
- "American Football League will expand in 1966". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. June 8, 1965. p. 16.
- "Atlanta gets AFL berth". Milwaukee Sentinel. Associated Press. June 9, 1965. p. 3, part 2.
- "No-holds-barred war set by grid leagues". Rome News-Tribune. (Georgia). Associated Press. June 9, 1965. p. 11.
- Hackleman, Jim (June 20, 1965). "Pro football leagues duel over juicy Atlanta plum". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. p. 4, sports.
- Minter, Jim (July 12, 1965). "The mayor surrenders Atlanta". Sports Illustrated: 14.
- "NFL wins 'war' for Atlanta stadium". Milwaukee Sentinel. Associated Press. July 1, 1965. p. 2, part 2.
- "1966 NFL Draft". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 27, 2008.
- 1966 NFL Standings & Team Stats – Pro Football Reference. Retrieved July 18, 2020
- NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
- NFL History 1961–1970 (Last accessed December 4, 2005)
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- When Pride Still Mattered, A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss, 1999, p. 381, (ISBN 0-684-84418-4)