1990 NFL season

1990 National Football League 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: Yellow ffff00 pog.svg West, DeepPink pog.svg Central, Green pog.svg East
1990 NFL season is located in the United States
NFC teams: Yellow ffff00 pog.svg West, DeepPink pog.svg Central, Green pog.svg East

The 1990 NFL season was the 71st regular season of the National Football League. 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 remained in use until 2019 (there were four division spots and two wild card spots available with realignment in 2002). During four out of the five previous seasons, 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.

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.

Player movement




  • Dallas Cowboys competitor Ed "Too Tall" Jones announced his retirement on June 5, 1990.


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. 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.

Major rule changes

  • The rule for unnecessary roughness penalties is clarified so that any player who butts, spears, or rams an opponent risks immediate disqualification.
  • The penalty for an illegal forward pass beyond the line of scrimmage is enforced from the spot where any part of the passer's body is beyond the line when the ball is released.
  • The following changes are made to try to speed up the game:
    • the time interval on the Play Clock (the time limit the offensive team has to snap the ball between plays) after time outs and other administrative stoppages has been reduced from 30 seconds to 25 seconds (the time interval between plays remains the same at 45 seconds);
    • whenever a player goes out of bounds, other than in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half or overtime, the game clock immediately starts when the ball is spotted for the next play and the Referee signals it is ready for play; and
    • other than in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half or overtime the game clock also starts following all declined penalties.
  • This was the first season in which NFL teams officially had a bye week; the last time was in 1966, when the league had an odd number of teams at 15.

1990 deaths

  • Chet Adams, a three-time AAFC champion with the Cleveland Browns died on October 28, 1990
  • Fritz Barzilauskas, a first round selection in the 1947 NFL Draft died on November 30, 1990
  • Former tackle Frank Cope died on October 8, 1990
  • Halfback Tom Harmon died on March 15, 1990
  • Offensive lineman Rufus Mayes died on January 9
  • Darryl Usher, a member of the Phoenix Cardinals in the 1989 NFL season was shot and killed on February 24, 1990, in Phoenix, Arizona at age 25.
  • On December 21, 1990, Chicago Bears rookie Fred Washington was killed in a car accident. He was a member of the 1984 Texas 4A State Football Champion Denison YellowJackets and was voted defensive player of the year.

Members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

  • Football coach George Allen died on December 31.
  • Bronko Nagurski, also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, died on January 7, 1990


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:

  • Porkchop Bowl: A third game in the heated rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, following the Bounty Bowl of 1989, took place in 1990. Known as the "Porkchop Bowl". The game got its name because Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan choked on a pork chop in the week leading up to the game, Philadelphia won this game as well, 21–20.
  • Thanksgiving: Two games were played on Thursday, November 22, featuring Denver at Detroit and Washington at Dallas, with Detroit and Dallas winning.

Final standings


  • Cincinnati finished ahead of Houston and Pittsburgh in the AFC Central based on best head-to-head record (3–1 to Oilers’ 2–2 to Steelers’ 1–3).
  • Houston was the third AFC Wild Card based on better conference record (8–4) than Seattle (7–5) and Pittsburgh (6–6).
  • Philadelphia finished ahead of Washington in the NFC East based on better division record (5–3 to Redskins’ 4–4).
  • Tampa Bay was second in NFC Central based on best head-to-head record (5–1) against Detroit (2–4), Green Bay (3–3), and Minnesota (2–4).
  • Detroit finished third in the NFC Central based on best net division points (minus 8) against Green Bay (minus 40).
  • Green Bay finished ahead of Minnesota in the NFC Central based on better conference record (5–7 to Vikings’ 4–8).
  • The L.A. Rams finished ahead of Atlanta in the NFC West based on net points in division (plus 1 to Falcons’ minus 31).


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

  • For the first time in NFL history, two teams (the 49ers and the Giants) would start the season 10–0. This would not be equalled until 2009 when the Colts and the Saints both reached 13–0, and was also equalled in 2015 by the Panthers and Patriots.

Records, milestones, and notable statistics

Week 3
  • September 24, 1990 – Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills rushed for 214 yards versus the New York Jets. It was the second highest total in the history of Monday Night Football.
Week 6
  • October 14, 1990 – Joe Montana set a 49ers record by throwing for 476 yards in one game and throwing six touchdown passes. Jerry Rice set a 49ers record with 5 touchdown receptions and 30 points in one game.
  • October 14, 1990 - Barry Word of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes for a team-record 200 yards against the Detroit Lions at Arrowhead. Kansas City won 43–24.
Week 10
  • November 11, 1990: Derrick Thomas set the NFL single game record of seven quarterback sacks, a feat which occurred against Seattle's Dave Krieg on 1990 Veterans Day. Despite this feat, Krieg eluded a blitzing Thomas on the game's last play and threw a touchdown pass to Paul Skansi, which gave the Seahawks a 17–16 win, their first at Arrowhead Stadium since 1980. The record came close to being matched with three occasions of players reaching six sacks, once by Thomas himself in 1998.
Week 15
  • December 16, 1990: Warren Moon threw for 527 yards against Kansas City on December 16, 1990, the second-most passing yards ever in a single game.

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

  • The Atlanta Falcons unveiled new uniforms, switching both their primary jerseys and helmets from red to black. This was the first time the Falcons wore black jerseys since 1970, and the first time they had ever worn black helmets.
  • The New York Jets added black trim to their logo, numbers, and stripes on their pants, and changed their face masks from white to black. They also added green pants to be worn with their white jerseys.
  • The Phoenix Cardinals began wearing red pants with their white jerseys at the request of coach Joe Bugel.
  • The San Diego Chargers began wearing navy pants with their white jerseys.

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

Media 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 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 TV rights to televise the two additional playoff games.

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