|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 (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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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||Tokyo|
|August 5, 1990||New Orleans Saints||17||Los Angeles Raiders||10||Wembley Stadium||London|
|August 9, 1990||Pittsburgh Steelers||30||New England Patriots||14||Olympic Stadium||Montreal|
|August 11, 1990||Los Angeles Rams||19||Kansas City Chiefs||3||Olympiastadion||West Berlin|
Highlights of the 1990 season included:
Main article: 1990 Dallas Cowboys season § Porkchop Bowl
Main article: 1990–91 NFL playoffs
|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|
|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|
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.
In Week 16 with the Gulf War looming closer, American flag decals were added to the back of the helmets of all players.
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.
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.
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.