1990 NFL season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 9 – December 31, 1990
Start dateJanuary 5, 1991
AFC ChampionsBuffalo Bills
NFC ChampionsNew York Giants
Super Bowl XXV
DateJanuary 27, 1991
SiteTampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida
ChampionsNew York Giants
Pro Bowl
DateFebruary 3, 1991
SiteAloha Stadium
1990 NFL season is located in the United States
AFC teams: West, Central, East
1990 NFL season is located in the United States
NFC teams: West, Central, East

The 1990 NFL season was the 71st regular season of the National Football League (NFL). 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 was modified with realignment in 2002 (increasing the division spots per conference from three to four, and decreasing the wild card spots per conference from three to two) before the playoffs expanded to 14 teams in 2020.

During four out of the five previous seasons under the 10-team format, at least one team with a 10–6 record missed the playoffs, including the 11–5 Denver Broncos in 1985; meanwhile, three years later, 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 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.

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 represent the AFC in the next three Super Bowls as well.

First full season under NFL Commissioner Tagliabue

This was the first full season for Paul Tagliabue as the league's Commissioner, after taking over from Pete Rozelle midway through the previous season. On October 8, the league announced that the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award would be named the Pete Rozelle Trophy in the former commissioner's honor.[1]

Player movement





Main article: 1990 NFL Draft

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. Selecting seventeenth overall, the Dallas Cowboys would draft Emmitt Smith, who would retire as the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

Officiating changes

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.[6] He died five months later on October 10.[7] 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.[8]

Ben Dreith (a referee in the AFL from 1966 to 1969, 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.[9][10] Dreith and the NFL would later agree in 1993 to a $165,000 settlement, plus court costs and attorney fees.[11]

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

1990 deaths

Members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame


American Bowl

A series of National Football League pre-season exhibition games that were held at sites outside the United States, a total of four games were held in 1990.

Date Winning Team Score Losing Team Score Stadium City
August 5, 1990 Denver Broncos 10 Seattle Seahawks 7 Tokyo Dome Japan Tokyo
August 5, 1990 New Orleans Saints 17 Los Angeles Raiders 10 Wembley Stadium United Kingdom London
August 9, 1990 Pittsburgh Steelers 30 New England Patriots 14 Olympic Stadium Canada Montreal
August 11, 1990 Los Angeles Rams 19 Kansas City Chiefs 3 Olympiastadion West Germany West Berlin

Regular season

Scheduling formula

AFC East vs NFC East
AFC Central vs NFC West
AFC West vs NFC Central

Highlights of the 1990 season included:

Main article: 1990 Dallas Cowboys season § Porkchop Bowl

Final standings



Main article: 1990–91 NFL playoffs

Jan 6 – Riverfront Stadium Jan 13 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
6 Houston 14
3 Cincinnati 10
3 Cincinnati 41 Jan 20 – Rich Stadium
2 LA Raiders 20
Jan 5 – Joe Robbie Stadium 2 LA Raiders 3
Jan 12 – Rich Stadium
1 Buffalo 51
5 Kansas City 16 AFC Championship
4 Miami 34
4 Miami 17 Jan 27 – Tampa Stadium
1 Buffalo 44
Wild Card playoffs
Divisional playoffs
Jan 6 – Soldier Field A1 Buffalo 19
Jan 13 – Giants Stadium
N2 NY Giants 20
6 New Orleans 6 Super Bowl XXV
3 Chicago 3
3 Chicago 16 Jan 20 – Candlestick Park
2 NY Giants 31
Jan 5 – Veterans Stadium 2 NY Giants 15
Jan 12 – Candlestick Park
1 San Francisco 13
5 Washington 20 NFC Championship
5 Washington 10
4 Philadelphia 6
1 San Francisco 28

Notable events

Records, milestones, and notable statistics

Week 3
Week 6
Week 10
Week 15

Statistical leaders


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)


Most Valuable Player Joe Montana, quarterback, San Francisco
Coach of the Year Jimmy Johnson, Dallas
Offensive Player of the Year Warren Moon, quarterback, Houston Oilers
Defensive Player of the Year Bruce Smith, defensive end, Buffalo
Offensive Rookie of the Year Emmitt Smith, running back, Dallas
Defensive Rookie of the Year Mark Carrier, safety, Chicago
NFL Man of the Year Mike Singletary, linebacker, Chicago
NFL Comeback Player of the Year Barry Word, running back, Kansas City
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Ottis Anderson, running back, NY Giants

Coaching changes



Stadium changes

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.

Uniforms changes

Individual teams

In Week 16 with the Gulf War looming closer, American flag decals were added to the back of the helmets of all players.[18]














Television changes

This was the first season under a new four-year deal with TNT to televise Sunday night football games during the first half of the season. ABC, CBS, NBC, and ESPN also each signed four-year contracts to renew their rights for Monday Night Football, the NFC package, and the AFC package, and Sunday Night Football during the second half of the season, respectively. ABC was also given the rights to televise the additional Saturday AFC and NFC wild card playoff games.[19]

TNT's initial broadcast team consisted of Skip Caray on play-by-play and Pat Haden as color commentator. Fred Hickman became the host of TNT's pregame show, The Stadium Show. ESPN continued to air NFL Primetime during those Sunday nights when TNT aired games, going head-to-head with TNT's pregame show.[20]

After CBS fired Brent Musburger on April 1, 1990, the network decided to overhaul the talent lineup on The NFL Today. Irv Cross was demoted to the position of game analyst, and Will McDonough moved on to NBC's NFL Live!. Greg Gumbel became the new host of The NFL Today , Terry Bradshaw became the new analyst, and Pat O'Brien and Lesley Visser as the new reporters/contributors.[20]


  1. ^ "NFL History by Decade: 1981–1990". NFL.com. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved October 18, 2008.
  2. ^ Baker, Chris (October 17, 1991). "He Goes From Toast to Ghost, but Patterson Still Feels Special". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  3. ^ Baker, Chris (November 25, 1991). "This Elvis Alive and Well on Special Teams : Raiders: Patterson picks up blocked punt and scores and also has key block on Brown's punt return for touchdown". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  4. ^ "Dallas deals Walsh to New Orleans". articles.latimes.com. Associated Press. September 25, 1990. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  5. ^ "Ed 'Too Tall' Jones announces retirement". UPI. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  6. ^ "Illness-shortened careers". Reading Eagle. Pennsylvania. November 12, 1991. p. D12.
  7. ^ "NFL referee Jorgensen dies". UPI. (archives). October 10, 1990. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  8. ^ Brulia, Tim. "NFL game officials uniforms: 1990". Gridiron Uniform Database. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  9. ^ "NFL ref says his age reason for demotion". Spokane Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. September 5, 1990. p. D2.
  10. ^ "Former Referee Suing NFL" The Record (New Jersey) July 26, 1991, pp. D3
  11. ^ "NFL Pays $165,000 To Ex-Ref: Age Discrimination Suit Finally Settled" Rocky Mountain News January 6, 1993, pp. 58
  12. ^ "Darryl Usher, a reserve wide receiver and..." Los Angeles Times. February 25, 1990. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
  13. ^ Bears rookie, companion killed in auto crash
  14. ^ "Class of 1984". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2014.
  15. ^ Belock, Joe; ‘Sweet 16: Patriots and Panthers join ranks of NFL teams to begin season 10-0 ’; New York Daily News, November 24, 2015
  16. ^ a b Sports Illustrated. "Most NFL Single Game Sacks". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  17. ^ "Individual Records: Passing". NFL Records. Archived from the original on May 13, 2008.
  18. ^ Services, 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.
  19. ^ Quinn, Kevin G. (2011). The Economics of the National Football League: The State of the Art. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 338. ISBN 978-1-4419-6289-8.
  20. ^ a b Brulia, Tim. "A CHRONOLOGY OF PRO FOOTBALL ON TELEVISION: Part 4" (PDF). Pro Football Researchers.