The 1976 NFL season was the 57th regular season of the National Football League. The year 1976 was also the Bicentennial of the United States although the NFL did not issue its own Bicentennial patch. The Dallas Cowboys did modify their helmet (red, white and blue stripes) to honor the year, and were the only NFL team to recognize the Bicentennial.
The league expanded to 28 teams with the addition of the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This fulfilled one of the conditions agreed to in 1966 for the 1970 AFL–NFL merger, which called for the league to expand to 28 teams by 1970 or soon thereafter.
For this season only, the Seahawks played in the NFC West while the Buccaneers played in the AFC West. The Seahawks would return to the NFC West with the realignment prior to the 2002 season. The Buccaneers would set a record of futility, becoming the first NFL team to finish a season 0–14. The Buccaneers would go on to lose their first 26 games as a franchise before finally winning against the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Cardinals to finish the 1977 season.
|1976 National Football League season|
|Duration||September 12 – December 12, 1976|
|Start date||December 18, 1976|
|AFC Champions||Oakland Raiders|
|NFC Champions||Minnesota Vikings|
|Super Bowl XI|
|Date||January 9, 1977|
|Site||Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California|
|Date||January 17, 1977|
Due to expansion, the NFL needed a new crew to help handle the weekly workload of 14 games. The most notable new official was Jerry Markbreit, hired as a line judge on the crew of referee Tommy Bell. Bell retired after working the 1976 AFC championship game, and Markbreit was promoted to referee for 1977, where he later became the first (and as of 2018, only) man to serve as the referee for four Super Bowls (XVII, XXI, XXVI and XXIX).
Norm Schachter retired after officiating Super Bowl X, his third after previously serving as crew chief for Super Bowl I and Super Bowl V. Red Cashion and Don Wedge were promoted after each had worked four seasons in the league.
The two expansion clubs, Tampa Bay and Seattle, were “swing” teams that did not participate in regular conference play. Every other NFL team played a home-and-away series against the other members in its division, two or three interconference games, and the remainder of their 14-game schedule against other conference teams. As a member of the AFC in 1976, Tampa Bay played the other 13 members of the conference, while Seattle did the same in the NFC. The 14th game, played in Week Six, was Seattle’s 13–10 win at Tampa.
Starting in 1970, and until 2002, there were three divisions (East, Central and West) in each conference. The winners of each division, and a fourth “wild card” team based on the best non-division winner, qualified for the playoffs. The tiebreaker rules were changed to start with head-to-head competition, followed by division records, records versus common opponents, and records in conference play.
|1||3 teams||1–0–0||Chicago, Minnesota||1–0–0||Los Angeles, San Francisco||1–0–0||4 teams||1–0–0|
|2||3 teams||2–0–0||Chicago||2–0–0||Los Angeles||1–0–1||2 teams||2–0–0|
|3||Dallas, Washington||3–0–0||Minnesota||2–0–1||Los Angeles||2–0–1||Dallas, Washington||3–0–0|
|4||Dallas||4–0–0||Minnesota||3–0–1||Los Angeles||3–0–1||St. Louis*||3–1–0|
|5||Dallas||5–0–0||Minnesota||4–0–1||San Francisco||4–1–0||St. Louis||4–1–0|
|6||St. Louis*||5–1–0||Minnesota||5–0–1||San Francisco||5–1–0||Dallas||5–1–0|
|7||Dallas||6–1–0||Minnesota||6–0–1||San Francisco||6–1–0||Los Angeles||5–1–1|
|8||Dallas||7–1–0||Minnesota||6–1–1||Los Angeles||6–1–1||St. Louis*||6–2–0|
|9||Dallas||8–1–0||Minnesota||7–1–1||Los Angeles||6–2–1||St. Louis||7–2–0|
|10||Dallas||9–1–0||Minnesota||8–1–1||Los Angeles||6–3–1||St. Louis||8–2–0|
|11||Dallas||9–2–0||Minnesota||9–1–1||Los Angeles||7–3–1||St. Louis||8–3–0|
|1||Baltimore, Miami||1–0–0||3 teams||1–0–0||Oakland, San Diego||1–0–0||4 teams||1–0–0|
|2||Baltimore||2–0–0||Houston||2–0–0||Denver, Oakland||2–0–0||2 teams||2–0–0|
|3||Miami*||2–1–0||Houston*||2–1–0||Oakland, San Diego||3–0–0||5 teams||2–1–0|
|4||Baltimore*||3–1–0||Cincinnati*||3–1–0||Denver, Oakland||3–1–0||3 teams*||3–1–0|
|Divisional Playoffs||Conf. Championship Games||Super Bowl XI|
|December 19 – Memorial Stadium|
|December 26 – Oakland Coliseum|
|December 18 – Oakland Coliseum|
|4) New England||21|
|January 9 – Rose Bowl|
|December 19 – Texas Stadium|
|3) Los Angeles||14|
|December 26 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|3) Los Angeles||13|
|December 18 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|Most Valuable Player||Bert Jones, Quarterback, Baltimore Colts|
|Coach of the Year||Forrest Gregg, Cleveland Browns|
|Offensive Player of the Year||Bert Jones, Quarterback, Baltimore Colts|
|Defensive Player of the Year||Jack Lambert, Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||Sammy White, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Mike Haynes, Cornerback, New England Patriots|
|Man of the Year||Franco Harris, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Comeback Player of the Year||Greg Landry, Quarterback, Detroit Lions|
|Super Bowl Most Valuable Player||Fred Biletnikoff, Wide Receiver, Oakland Raiders|
The 1976 NFL Draft was held from April 8 to 9, 1976 at New York City's Roosevelt Hotel. With the first pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected defensive end Lee Roy Selmon from the University of Oklahoma.
The 1976 Oakland Raiders season was the team's 17th season, and 7th in the National Football League.
After having appeared in the three previous AFC Championship Games – and having lost all three—the 1976 Raiders finally won the conference championship, and went on to win their first Super Bowl.
After posting a 13–1 regular season record and winning their sixth AFC West championship in seven seasons, the Raiders won against both the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers to achieve the team's second Super Bowl berth. Then, on January 9, 1977, at the Rose Bowl, the Raiders won Super Bowl XI by rolling over the Minnesota Vikings 32–14. With this victory, the Raiders achieved a 16–1 overall record.
In 2012, the 1976 Oakland Raiders were named the greatest team of all time by NFL.com's "Bracketology"; a 15-day, six-round fan vote tournament that featured the 64 greatest teams from the Super Bowl era. Oakland beat the 2000 Baltimore Ravens in the final round by a .8% margin.1976 Seattle Seahawks season
The 1976 Seattle Seahawks season was the team's first season with the National Football League. The 1976 season was the team's only one in the NFC until the league realigned divisions before the 2002 season, at which point the Seahawks were once again placed in the NFC West. The Seahawks obtained a future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee from the Houston Oilers, who had drafted receiver Steve Largent in the 4th round in 1976. Largent would go on to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame wide receiver, making it to seven Pro Bowls and recording over 13,000 receiving yards in a 13-year career with the Seahawks.
However, before the Seahawks even played their first game, tragedy struck, as the team's owner Lloyd W. Nordstrom, died from a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico. Nordstrom had been instrumental in landing an NFL team in the Pacific Northwest, and hiring the front office, but he never had a chance to see his team take the field. The Seahawks, coached by Jack Patera, played their first game on September 12 in a sold-out Kingdome. The Seahawks played a solid game, but had their desperation final pass intercepted in the endzone in a 30-24 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Seahawks would go on to lose their first five games, before beating the Buccaneers, their brothers in expansion, 13-10 in Tampa on October 17. Three weeks later, the Seahawks would earn their first home victory by beating the Atlanta Falcons 30-13 behind the 124-yard effort of running back Sherman Smith. These two wins would be the only ones in the season, as the first-year team compiled a record of 2-12.Bill Arnsparger
William Stephen Arnsparger (December 16, 1926 – July 17, 2015) was an American college and professional football coach. He was born and raised in Paris, Kentucky, served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, and graduated from Miami University (Ohio) in 1950. Immediately upon graduation, Arnsparger was hired as an assistant coach with the Miami football program, beginning a long career in the profession.
Arnsparger is best known for serving as a defensive coordinator in the National Football League (NFL) for Miami Dolphins teams that won consecutive Super Bowls (1972 and 1973) and reached another (1982), all under head coach Don Shula. Arnsparger's defenses were an important part of the Dolphins' success, and earned two nicknames over his tenure - the "No-Name-Defense" in the 1970s and the "Killer B's" in the 1980s. Later in his career, he served as the defensive coordinator for another Super Bowl runner-up, the 1994 San Diego Chargers.
Before coaching in the NFL, Arnsparger served as a defensive assistant for several college football teams. He was also the head coach of the New York Giants (1974-1976) and the Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers (1983–1986), and served as the athletic director at the University of Florida (1986–1992).Cliff Taylor (American football)
Cliff Taylor is a former running back in the National Football League. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the third round of the 1974 NFL Draft and played that season with the team. After a year away from the NFL, he played with the Green Bay Packers during the 1976 NFL season.Don Coleman (linebacker)
Donald Alvin Coleman (born January 11, 1952) is an American entrepreneur, advertising executive and a pioneer in the growing field of multicultural advertising. Coleman is the founder, chairman and CEO of GlobalHue, the largest multicultural advertising agency in the United States, working with blue chip brands and organizations to communicate with African-American, Asian and Hispanic consumers. He is also a former American football player, having played college football at the University of Michigan from 1971 to 1973 and professional football for the New Orleans Saints and New York Jets from 1974 to 1978.Fred Steinfort
Friedrich W. "Fred" Steinfort (born November 3, 1952) is a former American football placekicker in the National Football League who played for five different teams from (1976–1983). He played college football at Boston College.
When Steinfort won the Oakland Raiders' kicking job just before the start of the 1976 NFL season, he sent the NFL’s current all-time leading scorer, George Blanda with 2,002 points, into retirement. In 1979, when he assumed the same role with the Denver Broncos, it was Jim Turner, at that time the NFL’s third-leading scorer with 1,439 points that he displaced.Godwin Turk
Godwin Lee Turk (born October 15, 1950) is a former American football linebacker in the National Football League (NFL). He played for the New York Jets (1974–1975) and the Denver Broncos (1976–1978).Greenville, Texas
Greenville is a city in Hunt County, Texas, United States, approximately 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Dallas. It is the county seat and largest city of Hunt County. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 25,557, and in 2017 the estimated population was 27,443.Greenville was named for Thomas J. Green, a significant contributor to the founding of the Texas Republic.Larry Mialik
Larry Mialik is an American athlete, who played tight end in the National Football League from 1972 through 1976. He also sailed as a member of the crew aboard America³, winner of the America's Cup in 1992.Leon Gray
Leon Gray (November 15, 1951 – November 11, 2001) was an American football tackle in the National Football League for the New England Patriots, Houston Oilers, and the New Orleans Saints. Gray played college football at Jackson State University.Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, originally named Memphis Memorial Stadium, is a football stadium located at the former Mid-South Fairgrounds in the Midtown area of Memphis, Tennessee, United States. The stadium is the site of the annual Liberty Bowl, and is the home field of the University of Memphis Tigers football team of the American Athletic Conference. It has also been the host of several attempts at professional sports in the city, as well as other local football games and other gatherings.List of Monday Night Football results (1970–89)
Beginning in the 1970 NFL season, the National Football League began scheduling a weekly regular season game on Monday night before a national television audience. From 1970 to 2005, the ABC television network carried these games, with the ESPN cable television network taking over beginning in September 2006. Listed below are games played from 1970 to 1989.Manfred Moore
Manfred Moore (born December 22, 1950) is a former professional American football running back and, briefly, rugby league footballer of the 1970s.Monte Clark
Monte Dale Clark (January 24, 1937 – September 16, 2009) was an American football player who served as head coach for two National Football League teams: the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions. He played college football at the University of Southern California.Pat Peppler
Albert Patterson Peppler (April 16, 1922 – June 23, 2015) was an American football coach and executive who worked for teams that won five National Football League (NFL) titles. He may be best remembered for serving as head coach of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons during the final nine games of the 1976 NFL season.Soldier Field
Soldier Field is an American football stadium located in the Near South Side of Chicago, Illinois. It opened in 1924 and is the home field of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL), who moved there in 1971. With a football capacity of 61,500, it is the third-smallest stadium in the NFL. In 2016, Soldier Field became the second-oldest stadium in the league when the Los Angeles Rams began playing temporarily at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which opened a year earlier than Soldier Field.
The stadium's interior was mostly demolished and rebuilt as part of a major renovation project in 2002, which modernized the facility but lowered seating capacity, while also causing it to be delisted as a National Historic Landmark. Soldier Field has served as the home venue for a number of other sports teams in its history, including the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL, University of Notre Dame football, and the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer, as well as games from the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, and multiple CONCACAF Gold Cup championships. In 1968, it hosted the first Games of the Special Olympics.Tommy Hudspeth
Tommy Joe Hudspeth (September 14, 1931 – June 23, 2015) was an American and Canadian football coach and executive at both the collegiate and professional levels. He was the head coach at Brigham Young University (BYU) from 1964 to 1971, and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) from 1972 through 1973, compiling an overall college football record of 40–56–1. Hudspeth served in the same capacity for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League (NFL) from 1976 until 1977, and Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL) in 1981, posting a mark of 13–17.Walter Payton
Walter Jerry Payton (July 25, 1954 – November 1, 1999) was an American football running back who played for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) for thirteen seasons. Payton was known around the NFL as "Sweetness". A nine-time Pro Bowl selectee, Payton is remembered as a prolific rusher, once holding records for career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, yards from scrimmage, all-purpose yards, and many other categories. He was also versatile, and retired with the most receptions by a non-receiver, and had eight career touchdown passes. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996. Hall of Fame NFL player and coach Mike Ditka described Payton as the greatest football player he had ever seen—but even greater as a human being.Payton began his football career in Mississippi, and went on to have an outstanding collegiate football career at Jackson State University where he was an All-American. He started his professional career with the Chicago Bears in 1975, who selected him with the 1975 Draft's fourth overall pick. Payton proceeded to win the 1977 AP NFL Most Valuable Player Award and won Super Bowl XX with the 1985 Chicago Bears. He retired from football at the end of the 1987 season having rushed for at least 1,200 yards in 10 of his 13 seasons in the NFL.
After struggling with the rare liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis for several months, Payton died on November 1, 1999, aged 45, from cholangiocarcinoma. His legacy includes the Walter Payton Award, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, and a heightened awareness of the need for organ donations.
1976 NFL season