|Duration||September 9 – December 31, 1990|
|Start date||January 5, 1991|
|AFC Champions||Buffalo Bills|
|NFC Champions||New York Giants|
|Super Bowl XXV|
|Date||January 27, 1991|
|Site||Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida|
|Champions||New York Giants|
|Date||February 3, 1991|
The 1990 NFL season was the 71st regular season of the National Football League. To increase revenue, the league, for the first time since 1966, reinstated bye weeks, so that all NFL teams would play their 16-game schedule over a 17-week period. Furthermore, the playoff format was expanded from 10 teams to 12 teams by adding another wild card from each conference, thus adding two more contests to the postseason schedule; this format remained in use until 2019 (there were four division spots and two wild card spots available with realignment in 2002). During four out of the five previous seasons, at least one team with a 10–6 record missed the playoffs, including the 11–5 Denver Broncos in 1985; meanwhile, the 10–6 San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowl XXIII, leading for calls to expand the playoff format to ensure that 10–6 teams could compete for a Super Bowl win. Ironically, the first ever sixth-seeded playoff team would not have a 10–6 record, but instead, the New Orleans Saints, with an 8–8 record, took the new playoff spot.
On October 8, the league announced that the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award would be named the Pete Rozelle Trophy. The season ended with Super Bowl XXV when the New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills 20–19 at Tampa Stadium. This would be the first Super Bowl appearance for Buffalo, who would lose the next three Super Bowls as well.
Late in the season, with the Gulf War looming closer, the NFL announced that starting in Week 16 (and continuing until Super Bowl XXV), the league would add American flag decals to the back of the helmet. The flag would return on a permanent basis in 2001 following the September 11 attacks.
The 1990 NFL Draft was held from April 22 to 23, 1990 at New York City's Marriott Marquis. With the first pick, the Indianapolis Colts selected quarterback Jeff George from the University of Illinois.
Dick Jorgensen, who had been the referee in the previous season's Super Bowl XXIV, was diagnosed in May during the offseason with a rare blood disorder. He died five months later on October 10. For the remainder of the 1990 season, NFL officials wore a black armband on their left sleeve with the white number 60 to honor Jorgensen.
Ben Dreith (a referee in the AFL from 1966-69, and the NFL since the merger) and Fred Wyant (a referee since 1971), were demoted to line judge. Dreith later filed a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after the league fired him after the 1990 season, citing age discrimination as the reason for both his demotion to line judge and his dismissal. Dreith and the NFL would later agree in 1993 to a $165,000 settlement, plus court costs and attorney fees.
Gerald Austin, the side judge for Super Bowl XXIV, and Tom White, were promoted to referee. White became the first official to be promoted to referee after only one season of NFL experience since Jerry Markbreit in 1977 (Tommy Bell (1962) and Brad Allen (2014) were hired straight into the NFL as referees). After one season with having 16 officiating crews in 1989, it was reduced back to 15 crews in 1990 to handle the weekly workload of 14 games (if there were no teams with a bye week).
Ed Hochuli was hired as a back judge (now field judge) and assigned to Howard Roe's crew. Hochuli was promoted to referee two years later.
Major rule changes
- The rule for unnecessary roughness penalties is clarified so that any player who butts, spears, or rams an opponent risks immediate disqualification.
- The penalty for an illegal forward pass beyond the line of scrimmage is enforced from the spot where any part of the passer's body is beyond the line when the ball is released.
- The following changes are made to try to speed up the game:
- the time interval on the Play Clock (the time limit the offensive team has to snap the ball between plays) after time outs and other administrative stoppages has been reduced from 30 seconds to 25 seconds (the time interval between plays remains the same at 45 seconds);
- whenever a player goes out of bounds, other than in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half or overtime, the game clock immediately starts when the ball is spotted for the next play and the Referee signals it is ready for play; and
- other than in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half or overtime the game clock also starts following all declined penalties.
- This was the first season in which NFL teams officially had a bye week; the last time was in 1966, when the league had an odd number of teams at 15.
Final regular season standings
- Cincinnati finished ahead of Houston and Pittsburgh in the AFC Central based on best head-to-head record (3–1 to Oilers’ 2–2 to Steelers’ 1–3).
- Houston was the third AFC Wild Card based on better conference record (8–4) than Seattle (7–5) and Pittsburgh (6–6).
- Philadelphia finished ahead of Washington in the NFC East based on better division record (5–3 to Redskins’ 4–4).
- Tampa Bay was second in NFC Central based on best head-to-head record (5–1) against Detroit (2–4), Green Bay (3–3), and Minnesota (2–4).
- Detroit finished third in the NFC Central based on best net division points (minus 8) against Green Bay (minus 40).
- Green Bay finished ahead of Minnesota in the NFC Central based on better conference record (5–7 to Vikings’ 4–8).
- The L.A. Rams finished ahead of Atlanta in the NFC West based on net points in division (plus 1 to Falcons’ minus 31).
|Jan. 6 – Riverfront Stadium||Jan. 13 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
|3||Cincinnati||41||Jan. 20 – Rich Stadium|
|Jan. 5 – Joe Robbie Stadium||2||LA Raiders||3|
|Jan. 12 – Rich Stadium|
|5||Kansas City||16||AFC Championship|
|4||Miami||17||Jan. 27 – Tampa Stadium|
|Wild card playoffs|
|Jan. 6 – Soldier Field||A1||Buffalo||19|
|Jan. 13 – Giants Stadium|
|6||New Orleans||6||Super Bowl XXV|
|3||Chicago||16||Jan. 20 – Candlestick Park|
|Jan. 5 – Veterans Stadium||2||NY Giants||15|
|Jan. 12 – Candlestick Park|
- For the first time in NFL history, two teams (the 49ers and the Giants) would start the season 10–0. This would not be equalled until 2009 when the Colts and the Saints both reached 13–0, and was also equalled in 2015 by the Panthers and Patriots.
|Points scored||Buffalo Bills (428)|
|Total yards gained||Houston Oilers (6,222)|
|Yards rushing||Philadelphia Eagles (2,556)|
|Yards passing||Houston Oilers (4,805)|
|Fewest points allowed||New York Giants (211)|
|Fewest total yards allowed||Pittsburgh Steelers (4,115)|
|Fewest rushing yards allowed||Philadelphia Eagles (1,169)|
|Fewest passing yards allowed||Pittsburgh Steelers (2,500)|
- Atlanta Falcons: Jerry Glanville was named the permanent replacement, after Marion Campbell was fired after the first 12 games of 1989, and Jim Hanifan served as interim for the final four games.
- Houston Oilers: Jack Pardee replaced Jerry Glanville.
- Los Angeles Raiders: Art Shell became the permanent head coach. Shell served as interim for the last 12 games in 1989 after Mike Shanahan was fired after the first four.
- New England Patriots: Rod Rust replaced the fired Raymond Berry.
- New York Jets: Bruce Coslet replaced the fired Joe Walton.
- Phoenix Cardinals: Joe Bugel was named the permanent replacement, after Gene Stallings was fired after the first 11 games of 1989, and Hank Kuhlmann served as interim for the final five games.
- Cleveland Browns: Bud Carson was fired after nine games, and Jim Shofner served as interim for the final seven games.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ray Perkins was fired after 13 games, and Richard Williamson served as interim for the final three games.
With New England Patriots founder Billy Sullivan no longer owning the team, having it sold to Victor Kiam in 1988 and Sullivan Stadium being taken over by Robert Kraft, the venue was renamed Foxboro Stadium.
- The Atlanta Falcons unveiled new uniforms, switching both their primary jerseys and helmets from red to black. This was the first time the Falcons wore black jerseys since 1970, and the first time they had ever worn black helmets.
- The New York Jets added black trim to their logo, numbers, and stripes on their pants, and changed their face masks from white to black. They also added green pants to be worn with their white jerseys.
- The Phoenix Cardinals began wearing red pants with their white jerseys at the request of coach Joe Bugel.
- The San Diego Chargers began wearing navy pants with their white jerseys.
- "NFL History by Decade: 1981–1990". NFL.com. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved October 18, 2008.
- Services, From Times Wire (December 20, 1990). "THE SIDELINES : U.S. Flag to Grace NFL Helmets". Archived from the original on May 21, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2018 – via LA Times.
- "Illness-shortened careers". Reading Eagle. Pennsylvania. November 12, 1991. p. D12.
- "NFL referee Jorgensen dies". UPI. (archives). October 10, 1990. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
- Brulia, Tim. "NFL game officials uniforms: 1990". Gridiron Uniform Database. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
- "NFL ref says his age reason for demotion". Spokane Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. September 5, 1990. p. D2.
- "Former Referee Suing NFL" The Record (New Jersey) July 26, 1991, pp. D3
- "NFL Pays $165,000 To Ex-Ref: Age Discrimination Suit Finally Settled" Rocky Mountain News January 6, 1993, pp. 58
- Belock, Joe; ‘Sweet 16: Patriots and Panthers join ranks of NFL teams to begin season 10-0 ’; New York Daily News, November 24, 2015