1996 National Football League season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 1 – December 23, 1996
Start dateDecember 28, 1996
AFC ChampionsNew England Patriots
NFC ChampionsGreen Bay Packers
Super Bowl XXXI
DateJanuary 26, 1997
SiteLouisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
ChampionsGreen Bay Packers
Pro Bowl
DateFebruary 2, 1997
SiteAloha Stadium

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. The season ended with Super Bowl XXXI when the Green Bay Packers defeated the New England Patriots 35–21 at the Louisiana Superdome.

Player movement




The 1996 NFL Draft was held from April 20 to 21, 1996 at New York City's Theater at Madison Square Garden. With the first pick, the New York Jets selected wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson from the University of Southern California.

Referee changes

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.

Major rule changes


American Bowl

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 Japan Tokyo
August 5, 1996 Kansas City Chiefs 32 Dallas Cowboys 6 Estadio Universitario Mexico Monterrey

Hall of Fame Game

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 Tom Benson Hall of Fame 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.

Regular season

Scheduling formula

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

Highlights of the 1996 season included:

Final standings



Main article: 1996–97 NFL playoffs

Dec 28 – Rich Stadium Jan 4 – Mile High Stadium
5 Jacksonville 30
5 Jacksonville 30
4 Buffalo 27 Jan 12 – Foxboro Stadium
1 Denver 27
Dec 29 – Three Rivers Stadium 5 Jacksonville 6
Jan 5 – Foxboro Stadium
2 New England 20
6 Indianapolis 14 AFC Championship
3 Pittsburgh 3
3 Pittsburgh 42 Jan 26 – Louisiana Superdome
2 New England 28
Wild Card playoffs
Divisional playoffs
Dec 28 – Texas Stadium A2 New England 21
Jan 5 – Ericsson Stadium
N1 Green Bay 35
6 Minnesota 15 Super Bowl XXXI
3 Dallas 17
3 Dallas 40 Jan 12 – Lambeau Field
2 Carolina 26
Dec 29 – 3Com Park 2 Carolina 13
Jan 4 – Lambeau Field
1 Green Bay 30
5 Philadelphia 0 NFC Championship
4 San Francisco 14
4 San Francisco 14
1 Green Bay 35

Notable events

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.

1996 AFC West champion Denver hosts Tampa Bay at Mile High Stadium, September 15, 1996
1996 AFC West champion Denver hosts Tampa Bay at Mile High Stadium, September 15, 1996

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,[2] which is but a continuation of one-upmanship that has gone on for years between the heated rivals.

Statistical leaders


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

Coaching changes

Stadium changes

Uniform changes



  1. ^ "PRO FOOTBALL / DAILY REPORT : AROUND THE NFL : Rams' Slater, 41, Says He's Retiring – By Associated Press". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  2. ^ Michael Holly (2004). Patriots Reign (1st ed. HC ed.). HarperCollins. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-06-075795-3.