The 1968 NFL season was the 49th regular season of the National Football League. As per the agreement made during the 1967 realignment, the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants switched divisions; the Saints joined the Century Division while the Giants became part of the Capitol Division.
The season ended when the Baltimore Colts defeated the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game, only to be defeated by the American Football League's New York Jets in Super Bowl III 16–7 at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Subsequently, it was the first time in the history of professional football in which the NFL champion was not crowned as the world champion. One year later, this feat would be repeated, as the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs defeated the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
|1968 National Football League season|
|Duration||September 14 –|
December 15, 1968
|East Champions||Cleveland Browns|
|West Champions||Baltimore Colts|
The Eastern Conference was split into the Capitol and Century Divisions, and the Western Conference had the Coastal and Central Divisions. In the past, if two teams were tied for the division lead at season's end, a one-game playoff was conducted to break the tie. Starting in 1967, a tiebreaking system was implemented that started with net points in head-to-head competition, followed by the team that had less recently played in a title game. As such, only one team in a division would be the division winner, even if the won-lost record was the same.
For the second straight season, the Colts and Rams waged a tight season long battle for the Coastal Division title. In 1967, the Rams defeated the Colts in the season's final game to claim the title. They appeared headed for a similar showdown in 1968 (they were scheduled to face each other in the season finale in L.A.), as the Rams entered week 13 with a 10-1-1 record while the Colts were 11-1-0. But in the next to last game, the Rams were upset by the Chicago Bears 17-16 in what was known as "the lost down game." The biggest play on the game came when the Rams completed a second down pass to get into field goal range in the final minute, but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty. It should have remained second down due to the Bears accepting the penalty on the Rams, but the referees forgot to reset the down marker. After two incomplete passes, the Rams lined up for a fourth down attempt, but the referees waived the Bears offense onto the field on a change of possession; the Bears ran out the clock and the Colts (who had already won earlier in the day) clinched the division. Note that in the now meaningless season finale, the Colts won 28-24.
|6||Dallas||6–0–0||St. Louis*||3–3–0||Los Angeles||6–0–0||Detroit||3–2–1|
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
Note: Prior to 1972, the NFL did not include tie games when calculating a team's winning percentage in the official standings
|New York Giants||7||7||0||.500||294||325|
|St. Louis Cardinals||9||4||1||.692||325||289|
|New Orleans Saints||4||9||1||.308||246||327|
|Los Angeles Rams||10||3||1||.769||312||200|
|San Francisco 49ers||7||6||1||.538||303||310|
|Green Bay Packers||6||7||1||.462||281||227|
|Conference Championship Games||NFL Championship Game|
|December 22, 1968 – Memorial Stadium|
|December 29, 1968 – Cleveland Stadium|
|December 21, 1968 – Cleveland Stadium|
|Most Valuable Player||Earl Morrall, Quarterback, Baltimore Colts|
|Coach of the Year||Don Shula, Baltimore Colts|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||Earl McCullouch, Wide receiver, Detroit|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Claude Humphrey, Defensive end, Atlanta|
The 1968 NFL Draft was held from January 30 to 31, 1968 at New York City's Belmont Plaza Hotel. With the first pick, the Minnesota Vikings selected offensive tackle Ron Yary from the University of Southern California.
The 1968 National Football League championship game was the 36th annual championship game. The winner of the game represented the NFL in the third AFL-NFL World Championship Game also called the Super Bowl. The NFL title game was held December 29 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.1968 NFL playoffs
The NFL playoffs following the 1968 NFL season determined who would represent the league in Super Bowl III.American Football League
The American Football League (AFL) was a major professional American football league that operated for ten seasons from 1960 until 1969, when it merged with the older National Football League (NFL), and became the American Football Conference. The upstart AFL operated in direct competition with the more established NFL throughout its existence. It was more successful than earlier rivals to the NFL with the same name, the 1926, 1936 and 1940 leagues, and the later All-America Football Conference (which existed between 1944 and 1950 but only played between 1946 and 1949).
This fourth version of the AFL was the most successful, created by a number of owners who had been refused NFL expansion franchises or had minor shares of NFL franchises. The AFL's original lineup consisted of an Eastern division of the New York Titans, Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, and the Houston Oilers, and a Western division of the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, and Dallas Texans. The league first gained attention by signing 75% of the NFL's first-round draft choices in 1960, including Houston's successful signing of college star and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon.
While the first years of the AFL saw uneven competition and low attendance, the league was buttressed by a generous television contract with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) (followed by a contract with the competing National Broadcasting Company (NBC) for games starting with the 1965 season) that broadcast the more offense-oriented football league nationwide. Continuing to attract top talent from colleges and the NFL by the mid-1960s, as well as successful franchise shifts of the Chargers from L.A. south to San Diego and the Texans north to Kansas City (becoming the Kansas City Chiefs), the AFL established a dedicated following. The transformation of the struggling Titans into the New York Jets under new ownership further solidified the league's reputation among the major media.
As fierce competition made player salaries skyrocket in both leagues, especially after a series of "raids", the leagues agreed to a merger in 1966. Among the conditions were a common draft and a championship game played between the two league champions first played in early 1967, which would eventually become known as the Super Bowl.
The AFL and NFL operated as separate leagues until 1970, with separate regular season and playoff schedules except for the championship game. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle also became chief executive of the AFL from July 26, 1966, through the completion of the merger. During this time the AFL expanded, adding the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals. After losses by Kansas City and Oakland in the first two AFL-NFL World Championship Game to the Green Bay Packers (1967/1968), the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowls III and IV (1969/1970) respectively, cementing the league's claim to being an equal to the NFL.
In 1970, the AFL was absorbed into the NFL and the league reorganized with the ten AFL franchises along with the previous NFL teams Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers becoming part of the newly-formed American Football Conference.Bruce McLenna
Bruce Oliver McLenna (December 23, 1941 – June 18, 1968) was an American football player. He played college football for the University of Michigan in 1961 and for Hillsdale College in 1964 and 1965. He played professional football for the Detroit Lions in 1966 and was later signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. In June 1968, he was killed in an automobile accident at age 26 while riding in a military vehicle as part of his service in the Missouri National Guard.Chris Hanburger
Christian G. Hanburger, Jr. (born August 13, 1941) is a former American football linebacker in the National Football League (NFL) who played his entire fourteen-year career with the Washington Redskins from 1965 to 1978. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.Dave Dunaway
Dave Dunaway was a wide receiver in the National Football League.Don Bandy
Donald Stewart Bandy (born July 1, 1945) is a former American football offensive lineman in the National Football League. He played professionally for the Washington Redskins.History of Atlanta Falcons head coaches
In the History of Atlanta Falcons head coaches Vince Lombardi was initially pursued as the first Atlanta coach, but after deciding to stay with Green Bay, was asked for recommendations for Atlanta's first coach. At the time, Lombardi did not recommend Hecker and the Atlanta owner, Rankin Smith Jr., thinking Lombardi was trying to pull one over on him, decided to hire Hecker. The next three years would be an exercise in frustration for Hecker who managed just four wins in his 31 games at the helm. One bad omen of this misery came in the team's first-ever exhibition game when Falcons' kicker Wade Traynham completely missed the ball on the kickoff. Following the inaugural 3-11 season, the Falcons were plagued by injuries in 1967 and declined to a 1-12-1 mark, the lone win coming in a one-point midseason contest against the Minnesota Vikings.
When Atlanta began the 1968 NFL season by dropping their first three games, Hecker was fired on October 1 and replaced by former Viking head coach Norm Van Brocklin. After reaching a settlement on the remaining two years of his contract, Hecker accepted the defensive coordinator position with the New York Giants on February 12, 1969. He had also been under consideration for a post with the Redskins, who had just hired the previously-retired Lombardi.Ken Hebert
Kenneth Daniel Hebert (born c. 1947) is a former American football player. He played for the Houston Cougars football team from 1965 to 1967. In 1966, he caught 38 passes for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also kicked 41 points after touchdown and two field goals to lead the NCAA major colleges in scoring with 113 points. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 1968 NFL Draft and appeared in three games for the Steelers during the 1968 NFL season. He was inducted into the University of Houston Hall of Honor in 1977.Leon Crenshaw
Leon Crenshaw (born July 14, 1943) is a former defensive tackle in the National Football League.List of Atlanta Falcons head coaches
The Atlanta Falcons are an American football team based in Atlanta, Georgia. They are members of the South division of the National Football Conference (NFC) in the National Football League (NFL). The Falcons joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1966 and have compiled an all-time record of 337 wins, 436 loses, and 6 ties. The team has won the NFC West championship twice in 1980 and 1998 and the NFC South championship 4 times in 2004, 2010, 2012 and 2016. The Falcons have appeared in two Super Bowls, losing both times; their first appearance was in Super Bowl XXXIII, with the Falcons falling to the Denver Broncos 19–34, and the second was in Super Bowl LI, where the Falcons fell to the New England Patriots 28–34 in overtime. There have been 16 head coaches for the Falcons franchise, 12 serving full-time. Current head coach Dan Quinn holds the best winning percentage at .604 in the regular season, while Mike Smith has won the most games and was the longest tenured head coach, with a 66–46 regular season record. Under Smith's leadership, the team attained consecutive winning seasons (11–5 in 2008 and 9–7 in 2009), consecutive playoff appearances (2010 and 2011), and consecutive seasons with 10 wins or more (also in 2010 and 2011) for the first time in franchise history. Also, Smith is the only Falcons coach to win 2 divisional titles (NFC South, 2010 and 2012).Mike Bass
Michael Thomas Bass (born March 31, 1945) is a former American football player.
Bass played professional football in the National Football League (NFL) as a cornerback for the Washington Redskins from 1969 to 1975. He appeared in 104 consecutive games for the Redskins between 1969 and 1975, recorded 30 interceptions, and scored the Redskins' only touchdown in Super Bowl VII on a 49-yard fumble return. In 2002, Bass was selected as one of the 70 greatest Redskins players of all time.
A native of Ypsilanti, Michigan, Bass played college football as a halfback for the University of Michigan from 1964 to 1966. He also appeared in two games as a special teams player for the Detroit Lions in 1967.Norb Hecker
Norbert Earl Hecker (May 26, 1927 – March 14, 2004) was an American football player and coach who was part of eight National Football League championship teams, but may be best remembered as the first head coach of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.Rick Volk
Richard Robert Volk (born March 15, 1945) is a former American football player who played for the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants, and Miami Dolphins. He retired with 38 career interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries, and totaled 574 yards on interception returns and 548 yards on punt returns.
Volk played college football for the University of Michigan from 1964 to 1966 and was a member of the 1964 team that won the Big Ten Conference championship and defeated Oregon State in the 1965 Rose Bowl. He played as a defensive back for Michigan's defensive unit and as a halfback and quarterback for the offensive unit. Volk was also selected by the Sporting News as a first-team All-American in 1967. In 1989, he was inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor; Volk and Ron Johnson were the first two football players from the 1960s to be so honored.
Volk went on to a successful 12-year career as a safety in the National Football League. He played nine years with the Baltimore Colts from 1967 to 1975. He was a member of the Colts' teams that lost Super Bowl III to the New York Jets and won Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys. Volk was selected as an NFL All-Pro four times (1968–1971) and played in three Pro Bowls (1967, 1969, 1971). After being released by the Colts in April 1976, Volk concluded his playing career with the New York Giants in 1976 and the Miami Dolphins from 1977 to 1978. In 1977, Volk was selected by Baltimore fans as a starter for the Colts' 25th anniversary team.Super Bowl III
Super Bowl III was the third AFL–NFL Championship Game in professional American football, and the first to officially bear the trademark name "Super Bowl". The game, played on January 12, 1969, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, is regarded as one of the greatest upsets in both American football history and in the recorded history of sports. The 18-point underdog American Football League (AFL) champion New York Jets defeated the National Football League (NFL) champion Baltimore Colts by a score of 16–7.
This was the first Super Bowl victory for the AFL. Before the game, most sports writers and fans believed that AFL teams were less talented than NFL clubs, and expected the Colts to defeat the Jets by a wide margin. Baltimore posted a 13–1 record during the 1968 NFL season before defeating the Cleveland Browns, 34–0, in the 1968 NFL Championship Game. The Jets finished the 1968 AFL season at 11–3, and defeated the Oakland Raiders, 27–23, in the 1968 AFL Championship Game.
Jets quarterback Joe Namath famously made an appearance three days before the Super Bowl at the Miami Touchdown Club and personally guaranteed his team's victory. His team backed up his words by controlling most of the game, building a 16–0 lead by the fourth quarter off of a touchdown run by Matt Snell and three field goals by Jim Turner. Colts quarterback Earl Morrall threw three interceptions before being replaced by Johnny Unitas, who then led Baltimore to its only touchdown, during the last few minutes of the game. With the victory, the Jets were the only winning team to score only one touchdown (either offensive, defensive, or special teams) until the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. Namath, who completed 17 out of 28 passes for 206 yards, was named as the Super Bowl's most valuable player, making him the first player in Super Bowl history to be declared MVP without personally achieving a touchdown.Vilnis Ezerins
Vilnis Ezerins (Latvian: Vilnis Ezeriņš) is a former running back in the National Football League. He was drafted in the eighth round of the 1966 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams and later played with the team during the 1968 NFL season.
1968 NFL season