NFL History Guide Circa 2004
For a number of years this was the NFL Team History website.
Content is from the site's 2004 archived pages providing a brief glimpse of the type of information this site offered its visitors.
The forerunner of American football may have been a game played by the ancient Greeks, called harpaston. In this game there was no limit to the number of players. The object was to move a ball across a goal line by kicking it, throwing it, or running with it. Classical literature contains detailed accounts of the game, including its rougher elements, such as ferocious tackling.
Most modern versions of football originated in England, where a form of the game was known in the 12th century. In subsequent centuries football became so popular that various English monarchs, including Edward II and Henry VI, forbade the game because it took interest away from the military sport of archery. By the middle of the 19th century, football had split into two distinct entities. Still popular today, these two sports were soccer and rugby. American football evolved from these two sports. The sport called soccer in the United States is still known as football throughout much of the world.
Knute Rockne As a player and team captain, Knute Rockne developed the forward pass, opening new areas of offense and helping popularize the game of football. As a coach, Rockne’s brilliant strategies and inspirational talks made him one of football’s most successful coaches ever.
Most football historians agree that the first organized football game took place on November 6, 1869, when teams from Rutgers and Princeton universities met in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In the early games, each team used 25 players at a time. By 1873 the number was reduced to 20 players, and by 1876 it was further reduced to 15 players. In 1880 Yale coach Walter Camp set the number at 11 players. He also created the quarterback position and the system of downs.
In the early 1900s college football games were popular sports spectacles, but the professional game attracted limited public support. College games were extremely rough, and many injuries and some deaths occurred. Educators considered dropping the sport despite its popularity on campuses, and United States president Theodore Roosevelt, an ardent advocate of strenuous sports, declared that the game must be made safer. As a result, football authorities revamped the game, and many of the rougher tactics were outlawed.
College coaches such as Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner, Bob Zuppke, and Knute Rockne developed many of the early offensive techniques and play formations. Following very few historical precedents, these men invented unique strategies that changed the nature of football forever.
Stagg was instrumental in developing the between-the-legs snap from center to quarterback, the player in motion in the backfield before the snap of the ball, the onsides kick, the early T-formation, and many other innovations. In 1906 Warner unbalanced his line, placing four players on one side of the center and two on the other side, while shifting the backfield into a wing formation. The quarterback functioned as a blocker, set close behind the line and a yard wide of the center. At the same depth, but outside the line, was the wingback. Deep in the backfield was the tailback, who received most of the snaps, and in front and to the side was the fullback. This formation became known as the single-wing, and it remained football’s basic formation until the 1940s.
Coach Zuppke ran single- and double-wing formations at the University of Illinois, often sending four or five receivers downfield in pass patterns. At Notre Dame in 1923 and 1924, Rockne instituted his famous Four Horsemen offense. Rockne set up the backs in a four-square, box alignment on one side. Then, in what was called the Notre Dame Shift, the backs would shift out of the box and into a single or double wing.
The first professional football game in the United States took place in 1895 in the town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, between a team representing Latrobe and a team from Jeannette, Pennsylvania. In the following years many professional teams were formed, including the Duquesnes of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Olympics of McKeesport, Pennsylvania; the Bulldogs of Canton, Ohio; and the team of Massillon, Ohio. Noted college players who took up the professional game during its early years include Willie Heston (formerly at the University of Michigan), Fritz Pollard (Brown University), and Jim Thorpe (Carlisle Indian School).
The first league of professional football teams was the American Professional Football Association, formed in 1920. The admission fee was $100 per team. The teams pledged not to use any student player who still had college eligibility left, as the goodwill of the colleges was believed to be essential to the survival of the professional league. Thorpe, a player-coach for one of the teams, became president of the league during its first year.
The American Professional Football Association gave way in 1922 to the NFL. Red Grange, the famous halfback from the University of Illinois, provided a tremendous stimulus for the league when he joined the Chicago Bears in 1925 and toured the United States that year and the next. His exciting play drew large crowds. Thereafter, professional football attracted larger numbers of first-rate college players, and the increased patronage made the league economically viable.
Strategically, the early NFL game was hardly distinguishable from college football of the time. There was no attempt to break away from college playbooks or rulebooks, and for several years the NFL followed the NCAA Rules Committee recommendations. In the league’s early years, players considered the low-paying NFL a part-time job and held other jobs during the day. Thus, while college coaches could drill their players daily for hours, professional football coaches arranged practices in the evenings, sometimes only three or four times a week.
The popularity of the professional game slowly began to equal its college rival after the NFL instituted its first player draft in 1936. As many talented college players opted to play in the NFL, the professional game also drew more fans. The Chicago Bears, the Chicago Cardinals, the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Giants were some of the league’s dominant teams during the period. Outstanding players included running back Cliff Battles, quarterback Sammy Baugh, running back Tony Canadeo, and receiver Don Hutson. The Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II (1939-1945), however, drained many of the early professional franchises of money and players.
After World War II, college teams were allowed free substitution of players—that is, a player could enter and leave the game an unlimited number of times, as long as the ball was not in play during the substitution. This feature of the game led to the modern two-platoon system, in which one group of 11 players enters the game to play offense and a second group enters to play defense. The trend toward platoons crossed over to the professional game.
In 1946 the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) was established as a rival to the NFL. The new league included the New York Yankees, the San Francisco 49ers, the Baltimore Colts (now Indianapolis Colts), and the Los Angeles Dons. The most powerful team in the new league was the Cleveland Browns, coached by football innovator Paul Brown.
Although talented, the quarterbacks of the 1930s and early 1940s seldom completed more than 50 percent of their passes. A major cause of these low percentages was the primitive nature of pass-blocking strategies. With little protection, passers always had to throw while avoiding incoming rushers. Brown installed a blocking system that radically transformed the passing game. He changed the system by arranging the linemen in the form of a cup that pushed most pass-rushers to the outside and provided a safe area, called a pocket, from which the quarterback could pass. Using the strategy, Brown coached Cleveland to four AAFC championships from 1946 to 1949.
In 1950 the Browns, 49ers, and Colts joined the NFL in a merger of the two leagues. The move ushered in a period of popularity and prosperity. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s players such as quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin, Y. A. Tittle, and Johnny Unitas; receiver Tom Fears; running back Jim Brown; defensive back Tom Landry; linebacker Ray Nitschke; and all-around standout Frank Gifford ignited the league and attracted fans. During the period a select group of franchises won NFL championships, including Cleveland (1950, 1954, 1955), Detroit (1952, 1953, 1957), and Baltimore (1958, 1959). The advent of television helped to popularize the professional game when in 1956 the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) began to broadcast select games.
In 1960 the Packers reached the NFL championship game but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. Nevertheless, the game signaled the rise of the Green Bay franchise under head coach Vince Lombardi. An intimidating and motivating individual, Lombardi led Green Bay to the NFL title the following year and added two more NFL championships in 1962 and 1965.
Seeing that a profit could be made from professional football, Texas businessman Lamar Hunt formed the American Football League (AFL) in 1960 as a rival to the NFL. Teams in the new league included the Houston Oilers, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders, and the New York Jets. The two leagues fought bitterly for players, media attention, and profits. Standouts in the new league such as Jack Kemp, Lance Alworth, and Joe Namath helped the AFL establish itself on par with the NFL.
In 1966 the two leagues agreed on a merger plan. The first AFL-NFL World Championship Game, featuring the AFL-champion Chiefs and the NFL-champion Packers, was played in January 1967. The Packers won the contest, later renamed Super Bowl I, 35-10. In 1968 the Packers defeated the AFL’s Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, but the game validated the AFL’s talent. In 1969 the AFL’s Jets defeated the Colts in a huge upset in Super Bowl III. In 1970, the leagues merged into two 13-team conferences under the NFL name. The Browns, Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers joined the 10 AFL teams to form the AFC, and the remaining NFL teams formed the NFC.
During the early 1970s offensive play suffered as result of complex defensive strategies. Three coaches in particular, Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, Chuck Noll of the Steelers, and Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins, created defensive tactics that closed passing lanes and forced offenses to rely on running the ball. The shift resulted in defensive units with names such as the Doomsday Defense of the Cowboys, the Steelers’ Steel Curtain, the Minnesota Vikings’ Purple People Eaters, and the Los Angeles Rams’ Fearsome Foursome. In 1972 Miami’s unheralded defense teamed with a celebrated offense led by quarterbacks Bob Griese and Earl Morrall, and the Dolphins compiled a record of 14 wins and 0 losses—becoming the only team to finish a NFL regular season undefeated. Following their perfect season Miami won Super Bowl VII.
In an attempt to maintain public interest in the game during the early 1970s, NFL administrators brought the hash marks in closer to the center of the field to give offenses more room to throw wide passes. The move, which increased scoring and made the game more exciting, also helped bolster the running game. In 1972 ten NFL runners gained more than 1,000 yards in one season for the first time in history. During the next season, Buffalo Bills running back O. J. Simpson rushed for more than 2,000 yards, the first time a player had gained that many yards in a single season.
Quarterbacks such as the Cowboys’ Roger Staubach and the Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw quickly developed playing styles that took advantage of the openness of the field created by the rule change. Both quarterbacks developed aggressive passing attacks that depended on pinpoint accuracy. During the mid- to late 1970s and early 1980s, an intense rivalry between Dallas and Pittsburgh drew fans to the game. Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls (1975, 1976, 1979, 1980), while Dallas won in 1978. The Steelers’ 1979 victory over the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII is considered one of the most memorable games in the sport’s history.
Television continued to play a role in the popularization of the game, and in 1970 the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) created Monday Night Football, hosted by former quarterback Don Meredith and commentators Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell. After one season former NFL player Frank Gifford replaced Jackson. Each week during the regular season the show featured a popular match-up. It was an instant success and became one of television’s longest-running sports programs. After Meredith and Cosell retired, a number of former NFL players served as announcers on the show, including Dan Dierdorf, Fran Tarkenton, O. J. Simpson, and Lynn Swann.
The San Francisco 49ers were the dominant team of the 1980s, as quarterback Joe Montana keyed the team to four Super Bowl victories (1982, 1985, 1989, 1990). Montana, who benefited from good blocking protection, read defenses well and could pass while scrambling away from tacklers. His favorite receiver was Jerry Rice, who eventually became the NFL career leader in career touchdowns. Other powerful teams during the 1980s included the Chicago Bears, the Washington Redskins, and the Raiders, who moved from Oakland to Los Angeles after the 1981 season, and back to Oakland after the 1994 season.
In the mid-1980s a new type of defensive player emerged. While speedy defensive backs covered equally fast wide receivers, a player called the rush-linebacker emerged with one specialized duty: pressuring the quarterback. With no pass-coverage responsibilities, the fast and strong rush-linebacker focused his attention on the quarterback and the running backs. The New York Giants’ Lawrence Taylor, perhaps the best player of all time at this position, led New York to a Super Bowl victory in 1987.
The late 1980s saw players pushing to improve their labor situation. In 1989 the threat of a lawsuit caused the NFL to change its original policy and allow college underclassmen to enter the draft. Juniors and third-year sophomores are now eligible, and many college stars turn professional before exhausting their college eligibility.
Free agency emerged in 1992 in a settlement of a lawsuit filed in 1987 by the NFL Players Association. The association was formed in 1956 when players began to demand improved conditions. The union brought the suit in 1987 on behalf of players seeking freedom of movement between teams. The NFL’s Management Council initially objected to any form of free agency, so in 1987 veteran players held a three-game strike in protest. Now in place, free agency is accompanied by a salary cap that limits teams to a maximum annual player payroll.
In the early 1990s quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances (1991–1994). However, they lost them all. Dallas returned to the Super Bowl in 1993 behind running back Emmitt Smith and quarterback Troy Aikman. The pair led the Cowboys to Super Bowl victories that year and in 1994 and 1996.
Perhaps the greatest offensive players of the 1990s were running back Barry Sanders of the Lions and quarterbacks Steve Young of the 49ers, Dan Marino of the Dolphins, and John Elway of the Denver Broncos. Sanders led the NFL in rushing several times and became the first running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in ten consecutive seasons (1989-1998). Young led the NFC in passing during five seasons (1991-1994 and 1996) and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory in 1995. Marino became the NFL’s all-time passing leader by passing for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns. Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances between 1987 and 1999, winning in 1998 and 1999. All of these players retired at the end of the decade.
The 2000 and 2001 Super Bowls ushered in a new era for the NFL, as the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Giants for each franchise’s first Super Bowl title. New stars such as quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Colts and Dante Culpepper of the Vikings, defensive players Jevon Kearse of the Titans and Ray Lewis of the Ravens, running backs Eddie George of the Titans and Edgerrin James of the Colts, and receivers Rod Smith of the Broncos and Isaac Bruce of the Rams may be the leaders of the next generation to carve an NFL legacy.
Buffalo Bills - Team History
Buffalo Bills, professional football team and one of five teams in the Eastern Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) of the National Football League (NFL). The Bills play at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, New York, and wear uniforms of royal blue, scarlet, and white. The team was named by the organization’s first president, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., after American scout, guide, and showman William Frederick Cody, who was known as Buffalo Bill for his ability to kill buffalo.
The Bills built powerful teams in both the now-defunct American Football League (AFL) and the NFL. The team won consecutive AFL titles in 1964 and 1965 with teams that starred running back Cookie Gilchrist and quarterback Jack Kemp. During the 1970s Bills running back O. J. Simpson became one of the most prolific rushers in professional football history, breaking nearly every NFL rushing record. Buffalo appeared in four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991 through 1994 with teams starring linebacker Cornelius Bennett, quarterback Jim Kelly, defensive end Bruce Smith, and running back Thurman Thomas.
Buffalo became a charter member of the AFL in 1960. After four mediocre seasons, the team won the Eastern Division in 1964 under head coach Lou Saban, who was named AFL coach of the year. Also that year, the Bills’ star kicker, Hungarian-born Pete Gogolak, became professional football’s first soccer-style kicker, using the side of his foot rather than his toe to propel the football. The Bills beat the San Diego Chargers in the 1964 AFL Championship Game. A year later they repeated the feat. Saban again won top coaching honors, and Jack Kemp was named the league’s most valuable player (MVP).
After posting the AFL’s worst record in 1968, the Bills used their number-one pick in the 1969 AFL draft to select O. J. Simpson. A year later, Buffalo joined the NFL when the AFL and NFL completed their merger. In 1972 Simpson won the first of his four AFC rushing titles, and the next season he ran for 2,003 yards, breaking the NFL record held by Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns. Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams (now St. Louis Rams) broke Simpson’s record in 1984 with 2,105 yards. The Bills had little postseason success during Simpson’s time with the club, and he left the team in 1977.
Led by veteran quarterback Joe Ferguson and rookie running back Joe Cribbs, Buffalo made the playoffs in 1980, and Chuck Knox was named AFC coach of the year. The Bills continued to improve during the 1980s, reaching the playoffs again in 1981 and acquiring key players such as quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, and wide receiver Andre Reed.
In 1988 the Bills reached the AFC Championship Game for the first time since joining the NFL. Buffalo’s Eastern Division title was the first of five that the team captured from 1988 to 1993. The team combined a potent offense with defensive standouts such as Cornelius Bennett and Bruce Smith. In 1991 the Bills lost the first of four consecutive Super Bowls. The margins of defeat ranged from a 1-point loss to the New York Giants in 1991 to a 35-point rout at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in 1993. Although Bennett left the team after the 1995 season and Kelly retired in 1996, Buffalo continued to be a dominant force in the AFC Eastern Division in the mid- and late 1990s. Before the 2000 season Buffalo retooled its roster and released popular stars Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and Thurman Thomas.
1991 Super Bowl XXV Lost to New York Giants, 20-19
1992 Super Bowl XXVI Lost to Washington Redskins, 37-24
1993 Super Bowl XXVII Lost to Dallas Cowboys, 52-17
1994 Super Bowl XXVIII Lost to Dallas Cowboys, 30-13
Baltimore Ravens - Team History
Baltimore Ravens, professional football team and one of six teams in the Central Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) of the National Football League (NFL). Under the league’s realignment plan, which will take affect in 2002, the Ravens will play in the North Division of the AFC. The Ravens play at PSINet Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, and wear uniforms of black, purple, and gold. The team is named after a poem entitled “The Raven” (1845) by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, who lived in Baltimore during the 1830s.
Baltimore was home to the Baltimore Colts (now Indianapolis Colts) from 1953 through 1983. The Ravens’ franchise was founded after the 1995 NFL season, when Arthur B. Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, moved his team from Cleveland, Ohio, to Baltimore and renamed it the Ravens. (In 1999 a new Browns franchise began play in Cleveland.) Modell brought to Baltimore a roster of veteran stars, including quarterback Vinny Testaverde and running back Earnest Byner. He also hired former Baltimore Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda to lead the new Baltimore team. Marchibroda had produced three consecutive Eastern Division titles for the Colts in the mid-1970s, but coaching the Ravens proved difficult. Despite fielding a potent offense, the franchise struggled defensively and finished at the bottom of the Central Division in 1996 and 1997. Testaverde left following the 1997 season and signed as a free agent with the New York Jets. After finishing the 1998 season with 6 wins and 10 losses, the Ravens hired Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick as head coach.
Through shrewd draft picks and free agent signings, the Ravens rebuilt their team around a standout defense. The team was led by linebacker Ray Lewis, who became one of the leading tacklers and top defenders in the NFL. The Ravens’ defense gave up a record-low 165 points during the 2000 season, then allowed just 23 points in the postseason, including a 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
2001 Super Bowl XXXV Defeated New York Giants, 34-7
Testimonial: Even now in 2021, it’s funny to think of the Ravens as being the hometown team of someone from anywhere other than Cleveland. Back in 1995 Art Modell was viewed by Clevelanders as the biggest traitor since Brutus. No one local could believe that he’d ripped the team away from a city that was so passionate about football. Jim Brown broke records and won championships in Cleveland, not B-more. It was the Dog Pound, not the Raven Roost. This came at a weird time for Cleveland sports. The Indians were . . . shockingly good in the mid-nineties, coming close to world series wins in 1995 and 1997. 1995 was 8 years before Lebron and the promise of a basketball title, and 8 years after “the fumble,” one in a long line of embarrassments for Cleveland sports. My buddy Benjamin Pred, not a Cleveland native but the NYC-born child of two Ohio transplants, grew up rooting for the Cleveland teams and was shocked and devastated when Modell stole the Browns. The knife really twisted when he built up the team’s talent and won a super bowl 3 years later.
Indianapolis Colts - Team History
Indianapolis Colts, professional football team and one of five teams in the Eastern Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) of the National Football League (NFL). Under the league’s realignment plan, which will take affect in 2002, the Colts will play in the South Division of the AFC. Formerly based in Baltimore, Maryland, the Colts now play at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana, and wear uniforms of royal blue and white.
Piloted by quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall, the Colts captured four NFL championships from 1958 to 1971. (The Super Bowl was not played until 1967, so only one of these championships was a Super Bowl victory.) Unitas was one of several future Hall of Fame members who played in the talented lineups of head coaches Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula. The Colts earned three consecutive division titles during the mid-1970s under head coach Ted Marchibroda. Defensive end John Dutton, quarterback Bert Jones, and running back Lydell Mitchell starred on these teams.
Professional football in Maryland dates to 1947, when the Miami Seahawks of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) moved to Baltimore and became the Colts. In 1948 quarterback Y. A. Title won the league’s passing championship as Baltimore tied for the Eastern Division crown. A year later the AAFC folded and the Colts joined the NFL, but after two consecutive seasons with 1-11 win-loss records, the franchise was dissolved.
The Colts were reborn in 1953 when the NFL’s Dallas Texans moved to Baltimore and took the name Colts. Owner and business executive Carroll Rosenbloom promptly engineered the biggest trade in league history—a deal that sent five Colts to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for ten players, including defensive back Don Shula.
Following four seasons of rebuilding, the Colts captured consecutive NFL titles in 1958 and 1959 under head coach Weeb Ewbank. Baltimore assembled the league’s top offense both years, with teams starring four future Hall of Fame members. The passing combination of Johnny Unitas to receiver Raymond Berry became one of the most celebrated in league history. Lenny Moore was one of the NFL’s most durable running backs, and guard-tackle Jim Parker anchored a superb offensive line. Linemen Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti, also future Hall of Fame members, led a tenacious defense that held 16 of 26 opponents—including Baltimore’s two championship game foes—to 21 or fewer points in 1958 and 1959. Baltimore’s overtime defeat of the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game is regarded as one of the greatest NFL contests ever played. A year later, the Colts again bested the Giants for the NFL crown.
During the 1960s Baltimore remained a dominant power in the NFL as Unitas continued to power the team. In 1960 he became the first NFL quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards in one season. Shula replaced Ewbank in 1963, becoming one of the youngest head coaches in NFL history at age 33. Over the next seven seasons, he steered the Colts to four first-place finishes in their division. In 1964 Baltimore recorded a club-record 12 victories, and Unitas collected the second of his three most valuable player (MVP) awards. Although they were favored in the NFL Championship Game, the Colts lost to the Cleveland Browns.
The Colts enjoyed an outstanding season in 1968, winning 13 of 14 games. Earl Morrall replaced the injured Unitas and produced an MVP season, leading the league in passing while throwing for nearly 3,000 yards. John Mackey, who was one of the first tight ends in professional football to catch passes, combined with Morrall to lead a Colt team that was heavily favored to win the Super Bowl. The NFL-champion Colts, however, were upset by the American Football League (AFL) champions, the New York Jets, who were led by quarterback Joe Namath.
Shula left Baltimore in 1970 to take over the Miami Dolphins. His replacement, Dan McCafferty, put together the league’s most powerful offense, and the team won the Eastern Division title. The Colts then advanced to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the Dallas Cowboys on a last-second field goal by rookie Jim O’Brien. Three years later, Unitas was traded for the rights to select quarterback Bert Jones in the 1973 NFL draft. After Unitas’s departure, the Colts suffered two losing seasons before returning to prominence in 1975 under head coach Ted Marchibroda. A potent offense starring Jones, wide receiver Roger Carr, and running back Lydell Mitchell powered Baltimore to three consecutive Eastern Division crowns from 1975 to 1977. The Colts lost in the first round of the playoffs each season.
After having endured seven straight losing seasons from 1978 to 1984, and faced with dwindling fan support, the Colts moved to Indianapolis. Led by running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Jim Harbaugh, the Colts reached the AFC Championship Game in 1995, but they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 1999 wide receiver Marvin Harrison, running back Edgerrin James, and quarterback Peyton Manning led the team to the Eastern Division championship, but the Colts lost to the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs.
1969 Super Bowl III Lost to New York Jets, 16-7
1971 Super Bowl V Defeated Dallas Cowboys, 16-13
Denver Broncos - Team History
Denver Broncos, professional football team and one of five teams in the Western Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) of the National Football League (NFL). The Broncos play at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado, and wear uniforms of blue, orange, and white.
Denver has been one of the AFC’s most consistent teams since the mid-1970s. From 1977 to 1999 the team reached the playoffs 13 times and the Super Bowl six times. Longtime Broncos quarterback John Elway reached the NFL’s all-time top five in career passing yards, quarterback rushing yards, and completions. Former head coach Dan Reeves compiled one of the highest winning percentages (.581) in NFL history during his 12 seasons with the club.
Under head coach Mike Shanahan, the Broncos captured the first Super Bowl championship in the franchise’s history by defeating the Green Bay Packers in 1998. The team returned to the Super Bowl in 1999 and defeated the Atlanta Falcons.
The Broncos became charter members of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960. Despite strong defensive units that included cornerback Goose Gonsoulin and tackles Dave Costa and Bud McFadin, Denver’s best AFL win-loss record was 7-7 in 1962.
The Broncos joined the NFL when the NFL and AFL completed their merger in 1970. In 1973 the Broncos posted a 7-5 win-loss record behind head coach John Ralston, who won the coach of the year award. Running back Floyd Little and wide receiver Riley Odoms powered the AFC’s top-rated offense that year.
The Broncos steadily improved through the 1970s and surprised the league in 1977 when they won a franchise-record 12 games behind head coach Red Miller. The team captured its first-ever Western Division title with the AFC’s top defense, which was anchored by end Lyle Alzado, linebacker Randy Gradishar, and cornerback Louis Wright. Quarterback Craig Morton piloted a steady offense, and the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Dallas Cowboys. Denver made the playoffs the following two seasons but fell in the first round each time.
During the 11 years following the strike-shortened season of 1982, Denver made 7 postseason appearances. As a rookie, John Elway led the team to a playoff berth in 1983 and to 13 victories in 1984. In the latter year, wide receiver Steve Watson and running back Sammy Winder each enjoyed 1,000-yard seasons. The club once again fielded the AFC’s top defense, this time anchored by linebacker Karl Mecklenburg and safety Dennis Smith.
Reeves guided Denver to three Super Bowls in four years during the late 1980s, but despite offensive units that featured Elway, running back Bobby Humphrey, and receiver Vance Johnson, as well as consistently strong defenses, the Broncos failed to earn an NFL championship.
During the mid-1990s Denver remained a division power as the team’s offense added wide receivers Shannon Sharpe and Anthony Miller and running back Terrell Davis. The Broncos hired former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan as head coach before the 1995 season. A year later he guided Denver to 13 regular-season wins and an AFC Western Division title. In the playoffs, however, the Broncos were upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Denver finished the 1997 season with a 12-4 win-loss record, earning a wild card berth in the AFC playoffs. They bested the Jaguars, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Pittsburgh Steelers to advance to the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXXII Denver defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-24. The team was led by Davis, who rushed for 157 yards. In 1998 the Broncos posted a 14-2 win-loss record during the regular season. Denver defeated the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets to gain its fifth Super Bowl appearance. In Super Bowl XXXIII, the Broncos bested the Atlanta Falcons, 34-19. After the season, Elway retired.
1978 XII Lost to Dallas Cowboys, 27-10
1987 XXI Lost to New York Giants, 39-20
1988 XXII Lost to Washington Redskins, 42-10
1990 XXIV Lost to San Francisco 49ers, 55-10
1998 XXXII Defeated Green Bay Packers, 31-24
1999 XXXIII Defeated Atlanta Falcons, 34-19
New York Giants- Team History
New York Giants, professional football team and one of five teams in the Eastern Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football League (NFL). The team plays at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and wears uniforms of blue, red, and white. The club was named after the New York Giants baseball team, which moved to San Francisco, California, in 1958.
The Giants appeared in 15 NFL Championship Games from 1927 to 1963, winning four league titles. (The Super Bowl was not played until 1967.) For 23 seasons of this time, head coach Steve Owen led the team. His clubs captured eight division crowns and two league titles. Starring on the dominant New York squads of the 1950s and early 1960s was Frank Gifford, one of football’s most versatile players.
New York also built powerful teams during the 1980s and early 1990s, winning two Super Bowls and making seven playoff appearances from 1981 to 1993. Lawrence Taylor, the dominant defensive player of these Giants, became one of the most feared linebackers in NFL history.
In 1925 New York City sports enthusiast Tim Mara paid $500 for an NFL franchise, which he named the Giants. The team played its home games at the Polo Grounds, which was also the home of the baseball Giants. Legendary halfback Jim Thorpe was recruited to join the team, which earned its first league title in 1927 under head coach Earl Potteiger. The Giants shut out 9 of 12 opponents and surrendered only 20 points during the entire season.
Steve Owen was an innovative offensive coach who also designed the platoon system, in which separate players fill offensive and defensive positions. He guided the Giants to the NFL Championship Game eight times from 1933 to 1946. The team came away with victories in 1934 over the Chicago Bears and in 1938 over the Green Bay Packers. New York fielded the league’s toughest defense five times during that period. Owen had many offensive stars as well, including end Red Badgro, center Mel Hein, and halfback Tuffy Leemans—all future Hall of Fame members. Hein, who was also a defensive lineman, earned player of the year honors in 1938. Owen left the Giants in 1953, having posted just six losing records in 23 seasons.
In 1952 the Giants chose Frank Gifford in the first round of the NFL draft. Gifford, who played as a halfback and a defensive back, was one of the NFL’s last stars to play both offense and defense. With Gifford and a new home in New York’s Yankee Stadium, another Giants dynasty was born. The team appeared in six NFL Championship Games from 1956 to 1963, collecting the league crown in 1956 before losing five title contests over the next seven years. Gifford led the team in both rushing and receiving from 1956 to 1959, earning player of the year honors in 1956. In addition to Gifford, New York produced four other future Hall of Fame members during that era: offensive tackle Rosey Grier, linebacker Sam Huff, defensive end Andy Robustelli, and defensive back Emlen Tunnell.
The passing combination of quarterback Y. A. Tittle to receiver Del Shofner keyed New York’s offense in the early 1960s. Shofner broke the 1000-yard mark in receiving yardage in 1961, 1962, and 1963, and Tittle’s 36 touchdown passes in 1963 stood as an NFL record for 21 years. (It was broken by Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins in 1984 when he threw 48 touchdown passes.)
New York failed to reach the playoffs from 1964 to 1980. During this time the Giants played in the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut, and Shea Stadium in New York City before moving to Giants Stadium in 1976.
After several losing seasons in the 1970s, the Giants rebounded during the 1980s. The club reached the second round of the playoffs in 1981, 1984, and 1985. In 1987 the Giants defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl to capture their first league title in 31 years. Lawrence Taylor was named player of the year, Bill Parcells earned top coaching honors, running back Joe Morris set a team rushing record, and quarterback Phil Simms compiled his third consecutive 3000-yard passing season. New York and Parcells won their second Super Bowl four years later, defeating the Buffalo Bills. Simms won the NFC passing title, and the Giants defense held 15 of 16 regular-season opponents to 21 or fewer points. The Giants played inconsistently during the 1990s after Simms and Taylor retired and Parcells left the team. The Giants returned to prominence in 2000, posting a 12-4 regular-season record and reaching the 2001 Super Bowl, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens.
1987 Super Bowl XXI Defeated Denver Broncos, 39-20
1991 Super Bowl XXV Defeated Buffalo Bills, 20-19
2001 Super Bowl XXXV Lost to Baltimore Ravens, 34-7
Green Bay Packers - Team History
Green Bay Packers, professional football team and one of five teams in the Central Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football League (NFL). Under the league’s realignment plan, which will take affect in 2002, the Packers will move into the North Division of the NFC. The Packers play at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and wear uniforms of dark green, gold, and white. The team, the NFL’s only publicly owned franchise, takes its name from a local packing plant that provided the club with uniforms in 1919.
From 1929 to 1944 the Packers earned six NFL crowns under head coach and team cofounder Earl “Curly” Lambeau. A skilled halfback during his playing career, Lambeau became one of only five NFL coaches with more than 200 career victories.
After Lambeau left the team in 1949, the franchise declined. During the 1960s, however, head coach Vince Lombardi transformed the team into one of the most powerful dynasties in professional football history. Star-studded lineups featuring quarterback Bart Starr, halfback-kicker Paul Hornung, offensive lineman Forrest Gregg, linebacker Ray Nitschke, and running back Jim Taylor captured five league championships in seven seasons—a record unmatched in NFL history.
In 1996 the Packers put together a 13-3 win-loss record behind quarterback Brett Favre and defensive tackle Reggie White en route to a Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. A season later the Packers again reached the Super Bowl but lost to the Denver Broncos.
The Packers predate the NFL. The team was founded in Green Bay on August 11, 1919, by two young players, George Calhoun and Curly Lambeau. The Indian Packing Plant, Lambeau’s employer, donated uniforms and the use of an athletic field. During the team’s first season in 1920, players earned their salaries by passing hats among spectators.
In 1921 Lambeau’s Packers joined the new American Professional Football Association, which soon became the NFL. Lambeau played until 1927, becoming an early master of the forward pass. Green Bay won three consecutive league titles from 1929 through 1931, and three more crowns in 1936, 1939, and 1944. Many of the club’s players would later be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including quarterback Arnie Herber, fullback Clarke Hinkle, tackle Cal Hubbard, end Don Hutson, guard Mike Michalske, and halfbacks Tony Canadeo and Johnny “Blood” McNally.
Hutson, credited with inventing detailed pass patterns, led the league in receptions eight times and in yardage seven times. In 1942 he became the NFL’s first receiver to amass more than 1000 yards in a single season. With Hutson as his primary target, Herber became the league’s first great long passer; the two helped build one of professional football’s first sophisticated offensive attacks. Lambeau left the Packers in 1949 having posted 26 winning records in 29 seasons, including 14 straight during one stretch. The team’s stadium, built in 1957, is named for him.
Green Bay experienced relative instability from 1950 to 1958, changing coaches three times and failing to produce a winning record in any season. In 1959 former New York Giants assistant coach Vince Lombardi took over the Packers club, which had just suffered its worst season in franchise history. In his first season Lombardi delivered the team’s first winning record since 1947 and was named the NFL coach of the year. In Lombardi’s second season the Packers won the Western Division, and a year later the Packers won the 1961 NFL crown.
Lombardi built strong lineups on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and under his guidance the Packers won five league crowns from 1961 to 1967. They also won the first two Super Bowls, humbling two American Football League (AFL) champion teams: Following the 1966 season the Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the 1967 Super Bowl, and a year later they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14.
On the field, Bart Starr led the team. He collected three passing titles and two Super Bowl most valuable player (MVP) awards. Starr was among ten future Hall of Fame members who played for Lombardi—five each from offense and defense. Others included Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor. Hornung ranks among the greatest all-around talents ever to play the game. His 176 points scored during the 1960 season remain an NFL record for the most points scored in a single season. Taylor rushed for 1000 yards five times in his career.
During his nine seasons in Green Bay, Lombardi’s teams won more than 75 percent of their games, including nine of ten playoff contests. Lombardi’s .740 career winning percentage is the highest among coaches with at least 100 victories.
From 1968 to 1992 the Packers appeared in the playoffs only twice, in 1972 and 1982. Former players Starr and Gregg each served stints as head coach. Notable individual achievements during this period included running back John Brockington’s three 1000-yard seasons from 1971 to 1973, quarterback Lynn Dickey’s NFC yardage title in 1983, and wide receiver James Lofton’s five 1000-yard efforts during the early 1980s.
In January 1992 the Packers hired Mike Holmgren, a former offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, as the team’s head coach. Sparked by wide receiver Sterling Sharpe’s 1000-yard seasons in 1993 and 1994, Green Bay earned wild-card berths to the playoffs. In 1995 the club won the division crown and advanced to the NFC Championship Game, losing to the eventual Super Bowl—champion Dallas Cowboys. Wide receiver Robert Brooks broke the club record for yardage that season; quarterback Brett Favre led the league in passing yards (4413) and touchdown passes (38), and was named player of the year.
Green Bay’s success continued as Favre threw 39 touchdown passes to lead Green Bay to 13 victories and its second consecutive division title in 1996. In the playoffs the Packers captured the NFC championship and defeated the New England Patriots 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI. The following season the Packers continued to dominate the NFC, with another 13 wins and the Central Division title. After defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, however, Green Bay faltered in the Super Bowl and lost to the Denver Broncos.
1967 Super Bowl I Defeated Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10
1968 Super Bowl II Defeated Oakland Raiders, 33-14
1997 Super Bowl XXXI Defeated New England Patriots, 35-21
1998 Super Bowl XXXII Lost to Denver Broncos, 31-24
Atlanta Falcons - Team History
Atlanta Falcons, professional football team and one of five teams in the Western Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football League (NFL). Under the league’s realignment plan, which will take affect in 2002, the Falcons will play in the South Division of the NFC. The Falcons play in the Georgia Dome and wear uniforms of black, red, silver, and white. The team’s name was inspired by a letter from schoolteacher Julia Elliott of Griffin, Georgia, who won a contest in 1965 to name the new franchise, writing: “The falcon is proud and dignified, with courage and fight. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
Under the direction of head coach Dan Reeves, the Falcons franchise captured its first NFC championship following the 1998 regular season. A group of seasoned veterans led the team, including quarterback Chris Chandler, linebacker Cornelius Bennett, and kicker Morten Andersen. Atlanta advanced to Super Bowl XXXIII, where they lost to the Denver Broncos.
Altanta was awarded an NFL franchise for the 1966 season. The team’s first head coach was Norb Hecker, a former assistant to the legendary Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. Linebacker Tommy Nobis was the team’s first draft pick; in 1966 he captured the NFL rookie of the year award.
During the 1960s and early 1970s the Falcons produced several top players, including Nobis, defensive end Claude Humphrey, and offensive tackle George Kunz. The club struggled, but bright spots included the play of running back Dave Hampton and quarterback Steve Bartkowski. Atlanta posted consecutive 4-10 win-loss records in 1975 and 1976 before improving during the late 1970s. Rookie head coach Leeman Bennett guided the Falcons to a 7-7 record in 1977. Atlanta boasted a strong defense that was anchored by Humphrey and cornerback Rolland Lawrence. In 1978 the Falcons made their playoff debut after posting a 9-7 record. Entering the playoffs as a wild card team, Atlanta beat out the Philadelphia Eagles before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Dallas Cowboys.
Atlanta returned to top form in 1980, winning the Western Division. Once again, however, the Falcons lost to the Cowboys in the second round of the playoffs. Bartkowski, running back Gerald Riggs, and center Jeff Van Note led the team as it returned to the playoffs in 1982. The playoff appearance was followed by three consecutive last-place finishes, despite Riggs’s 1,719 yards in 1985, which led all NFL rushers that year. The club endured eight straight losing seasons and four coaching changes from 1983 through 1990. In 1991 former Houston Oilers head coach Jerry Glanville ended the playoff drought by guiding the team to a 10-6 record and a wild card berth. A rejuvenated offense featured quarterback Chris Miller and wide receivers Michael Haynes and Andre Rison. Haynes’s average of 22.4 yards per catch led the NFL and was the league’s best since 1983. Another strong player on the team was cornerback Deion Sanders, who also played in the outfield for the Atlanta Braves of major league baseball.
June Jones, a former Falcons backup quarterback from the team’s 1978 playoff season, returned to Atlanta as head coach in 1994. A strict believer in a powerful, high-scoring offense, Jones stressed an aggressive game that allowed quarterback Jeff George to pass for 3,734 yards in 1994. A year later George passed for an NFL-best 4,143 yards as the team posted a 9-7 win-loss record. Atlanta went to the playoffs that year but lost in the first round to the Green Bay Packers. In 1996 the team dropped to a 3-13 record. After the 1996 season, Jones was replaced by former Denver Broncos head coach Dan Reeves.
In 1998 Atlanta posted a 14-2 win-loss record and captured the NFC Western Division title. Led by Bennett, Chandler, running back Jamal Anderson, and receiver Terance Mathis, the Falcons defeated the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs, and won the NFC championship. Atlanta met Reeves’s former team, the Broncos, in the Super Bowl, which the Broncos won, 34-19.
1999 Super Bowl XXXIII Lost to Denver Broncos, 34-19.
San Francisco 49ers - Team History
San Francisco 49ers, professional football team and one of five teams in the Western Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football League (NFL). The 49ers play in 3Com Park (formerly Candlestick Park), renamed in 1995 for its corporate sponsor. The team, which takes its name from the gold rushers who flooded California in the late 1840s, wears jerseys of scarlet and gold.
Few NFL teams can boast the individual stars and strong teams that made the 49ers a dominant power in the 1980s and 1990s. While on their way to capturing five Super Bowl titles, the 49ers fielded such players as running back Roger Craig, wide receiver Jerry Rice, defensive end Fred Dean, and quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young. Earlier stars include Hall of Fame members quarterback Y. A. Tittle, and running backs Joe “The Jet” Perry and Hugh McElhenny.
Founded in 1946, the 49ers began as part of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), reaching the AAFC championship game in 1949. After the AAFC folded in 1949, the 49ers joined the NFL. San Francisco returned to the postseason in 1957 under head coach Frankie Albert. That year quarterback Tittle captured the player of the year award and Billy Wilson won his third receiving championship in four seasons.
The arrival of head coach Dick Nolan in 1968, the development of a sophisticated defense, and the experience of quarterback John Brodie helped San Francisco reach the playoffs for three straight seasons beginning in 1970. That year league passing champion Brodie was named NFL player of the year; cornerback Bruce Taylor, rookie of the year; and Nolan, coach of the year.
In 1979 new head coach Bill Walsh and a brash rookie quarterback from Notre Dame named Joe Montana ushered in an era of unprecedented stability and success for the 49ers. Two years after the team posted a league-worst 2-14 record, Walsh won coach of the year honors for steering San Francisco to 13 regular season wins and a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI. Carrying San Francisco into the Super Bowl was a last-minute touchdown pass from Montana to Dwight Clark that resulted in an NFC championship; it became known in football history as “The Catch.”
San Francisco returned to the playoffs in 1983, something they would do in 11 of the following 12 seasons. Montana finished the year with a 93.1 quarterback rating—the highest in league history (the rating, which tracks passing efficiency, is based on completions, yards gained, touchdowns, and interceptions). A season later the 49ers dominated the league with an 18-1 overall win-loss record (including the playoffs) and a victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
The 1985 season saw the arrival of Jerry Rice, who would go on to become the most prolific pass receiver in NFL history. Rice was named NFC rookie of the year, while workhorse running back Roger Craig became the first NFL player to amass 1000 rushing and 1000 receiving yards in the same season. First-round playoff defeats in the 1985, 1986, and 1987 seasons were followed by a last-minute victory over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII in 1989. Walsh, who had led the 49ers to three Super Bowl victories, retired at the season’s end.
George Seifert, the 49ers defensive coordinator since 1983, became head coach in 1989 and the second rookie head coach in NFL history to lead a team to the Super Bowl. (Don McCafferty of the Baltimore Colts was the first, in 1970.) Under Seifert’s leadership, Montana had his best season ever, winning an NFL most valuable player (MVP) award, his second of two league passing championships, and his league-record third Super Bowl MVP award. The 49ers set or matched 40 records in their defeat of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV.
Steve Young took over for Montana as San Francisco’s starting quarterback in 1991, capturing the NFL passing title for the first of a league-record four consecutive times. Young’s streak culminated in a Super Bowl XXIX victory over the San Diego Chargers, and his 112.8 rating in 1994 broke Montana’s league mark. A year later, Rice broke the NFL’s career receptions record by catching his 941st pass and the career yardage record with 14,004 yards. After the 1996 season coach Seifert retired. He was replaced by former Green Bay Packers assistant coach Steve Mariucci.
1982 XVI Defeated Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21
1985 XIX Defeated Miami Dolphins, 38-16
1989 XXIII Defeated Cincinnati Bengals, 20-16
1990 XXIV Defeated Denver Broncos, 55-10
1995 XXIX Defeated San Diego Chargers, 49-26