|Duration||September 1 – December 23, 1996|
|Start date||December 28, 1996|
|AFC Champions||New England Patriots|
|NFC Champions||Green Bay Packers|
|Super Bowl XXXI|
|Date||January 26, 1997|
|Site||Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Date||February 2, 1997|
The 1996 NFL season was the 77th regular season of the National Football League and the season was marked by notable controversies from beginning to end. Most significantly, the Cleveland Browns relocation controversy resulted in a then-unique legal settlement where the Cleveland Browns franchise, history, records, and intellectual property remained in Cleveland (with the Browns officially deactivated), while its players and personnel transferred to Baltimore, technically to a new league franchise that was named the Baltimore Ravens.
The season ended with Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots 35–21 at the Louisiana Superdome.
The 1996 NFL Draft was held from April 20 to 21, 1996 at New York City's Paramount Theater. With the first pick, the New York Jets selected wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson from the University of Southern California.
Gordon McCarter retired during the 1996 off-season. He joined the NFL in 1967, serving as a line judge and back judge, before being promoted to referee in 1974. Dale Hamer, who had to sit out the 1995 season to recover from open heart surgery, took over McCarter's officiating crew.
Future Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira was hired as a side judge. He left the field after two seasons to join the league office and succeeded Jerry Seeman in 2001.
A series of National Football League pre-season exhibition games that were held at sites outside the United States. Two games were contested in 1996.
|Date||Winning Team||Score||Losing Team||Score||Stadium||City|
|July 28, 1996||San Diego Chargers||20||Pittsburgh Steelers||10||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 5, 1996||Kansas City Chiefs||32||Dallas Cowboys||6||Estadio Universitario||Monterrey|
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, in which the Indianapolis Colts defeated the New Orleans Saints 10–3, was played on July 27, and held at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio, the same city where the league was founded. The 1996 Hall of Fame Class included Lou Creekmur, Dan Dierdorf, a former offensive lineman with the St. Louis Cardinals and a member of the Monday Night Football broadcast team, Joe Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl winning coach with Washington, Charlie Joiner and Mel Renfro.
Highlights of the 1996 season included:
Main article: 1996–97 NFL playoffs
|Dec 28 – Rich Stadium||Jan 4 – Mile High Stadium|
|4||Buffalo||27||Jan 12 – Foxboro Stadium|
|Dec 29 – Three Rivers Stadium||5||Jacksonville||6|
|Jan 5 – Foxboro Stadium|
|3||Pittsburgh||42||Jan 26 – Louisiana Superdome|
|Wild Card playoffs|
|Dec 28 – Texas Stadium||A2||New England||21|
|Jan 5 – Ericsson Stadium|
|6||Minnesota||15||Super Bowl XXXI|
|3||Dallas||40||Jan 12 – Lambeau Field|
|Dec 29 – 3Com Park||2||Carolina||13|
|Jan 4 – Lambeau Field|
See also: Cleveland Browns relocation controversy
When Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, wanted to relocate his team to Baltimore in a surprise move first reported by The Boston Globe on November 4, 1995, the ensuing press furor and public relations mess forced the league to intercede and make an agreement with him and the cities of Cleveland and Baltimore before the new season began. In the agreement, the name, colors and history of the Browns were to remain in Cleveland, while the relocated club would technically be a new league franchise; the Browns would return to play in Cleveland at a new stadium no later than 1999 by way of an expansion or another franchise relocation. Either way, the Cleveland Browns would continue, officially suspended for the 1996 through 1998 seasons, while the Baltimore Ravens' history begins with the 1996 season.
The season was also the final season for the Houston Oilers before leaving Texas for Memphis for the following season, and then to Nashville in 1998. This move left Houston with no professional football team until the 2002 debut of the Texans.
One of the most memorable aspects of the 1996 season was that the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, each in just their second year of existence, both advanced to their respective conference championship games. 1996 marked the third year the NFL salary cap was in force and also marked the end of multiple “dynasties” in the NFL as it was the first season since 1991 (and only the second since 1987) in which neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the San Francisco 49ers played in the NFC Championship Game. It was also the first NFC Championship Game ever that did not feature either the Cowboys, 49ers, Washington Redskins, or Los Angeles Rams.
The season ended with Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots in a game ultimately decided when a third-quarter kick-off was returned 99 yards for a touchdown by Packers’ kick returner, Desmond Howard. For that, and his excellent performance on kick-off and punt returns throughout the game, Howard was named Super Bowl MVP, the first and only time that a special teams player has earned that award.
All that was nearly overshadowed by the press feeding frenzy reporting and commenting on the rumor, between the AFC championship game up to and into the broadcast coverage of Super Bowl XXXI itself, that iconic coach Bill Parcells was planning on breaking his contract with the New England Patriots because he did not get along well with owner Robert Kraft, who had helped turn around New England's image after years of ownership that was either dismal or absent. In the event, Parcells did not even return with the players, and telephone records showed he was talking to the Jets in the days before and the day of the Super Bowl itself. This documentary evidence led to the league awarding the Patriots multiple draft picks in compensation for the "tampering" by the Jets, which is but a continuation of one-upmanship that has gone on for years between the heated rivals.
|Points scored||Green Bay Packers (456)|
|Total yards gained||Denver Broncos (5,791)|
|Yards rushing||Denver Broncos (2,362)|
|Yards passing||Jacksonville Jaguars (4,110)|
|Fewest points allowed||Green Bay Packers (210)|
|Fewest total yards allowed||Green Bay Packers (4,156)|
|Fewest rushing yards allowed||Denver Broncos (1,331)|
|Fewest passing yards allowed||Green Bay Packers (2,740)|
|Scoring||John Kasay, Carolina (145 points)|
|Touchdowns||Terry Allen, Washington (21 TDs)|
|Most field goals made||John Kasay, Carolina (37 FGs)|
|Rushing||Barry Sanders, Detroit (1,553 yards)|
|Passing||Steve Young, San Francisco (97.2 rating)|
|Passing touchdowns||Brett Favre, Green Bay (39 TDs)|
|Pass receiving||Jerry Rice, San Francisco (108 catches)|
|Pass receiving yards||Isaac Bruce, St. Louis (1,338)|
|Punt returns||Desmond Howard, Green Bay (15.1 average yards)|
|Kickoff returns||Michael Bates, Carolina (30.2 average yards)|
|Interceptions||Tyrone Braxton, Denver and Keith Lyle, St. Louis (9)|
|Punting||John Kidd, Miami (46.3 average yards)|
|Sacks||Kevin Greene, Carolina (14.5)|
|Most Valuable Player||Brett Favre, quarterback, Green Bay|
|Coach of the Year||Dom Capers, Carolina|
|Offensive Player of the Year||Terrell Davis, running back, Denver|
|Defensive Player of the Year||Bruce Smith, defensive end, Buffalo|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||Eddie George, running back, Houston|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Simeon Rice, defensive end, Arizona|
|Comeback Player of the Year||Jerome Bettis, running back, Pittsburgh|
|NFL Man of the Year Award||Darrell Green, cornerback, Washington|
|Super Bowl Most Valuable Player||Desmond Howard, return specialist, Green Bay|
This was the third year under the league's four-year broadcast contracts with ABC, Fox, NBC, TNT, and ESPN. ABC, Fox, and NBC continued to televise Monday Night Football, the NFC package, the AFC package, respectively. Sunday night games aired on TNT during the first half of the season, and ESPN during the second half of the season.
With Jimmy Johnson leaving Fox NFL Sunday to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Ronnie Lott was brought in to replace him.
Cris Collinsworth replaced Joe Montana as one of the analysts on The NFL on NBC pregame show, alongside Greg Gumbel, Mike Ditka, and Joe Gibbs.