1976 NFL season

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.[1]

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.

The New York Giants finally opened their new Giants Stadium after spending two seasons at the Yale Bowl and one season at Shea Stadium.

The season ended with Super Bowl XI when the Oakland Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32–14 in the Rose Bowl.

1976 National Football League season
Regular season
DurationSeptember 12 – December 12, 1976
Start dateDecember 18, 1976
AFC ChampionsOakland Raiders
NFC ChampionsMinnesota Vikings
Super Bowl XI
DateJanuary 9, 1977
SiteRose Bowl, Pasadena, California
ChampionsOakland Raiders
Pro Bowl
DateJanuary 17, 1977
SiteKingdome, Seattle

Major rule changes

  • A play clock is placed at each end of the stadium, visible to both players and fans to note the official time between the ready-for-play signal and the snap of the ball.
  • If the defensive team commits a foul during a failed extra point attempt, the try is replayed and the offensive team has the option to either have the distance penalty assessed on the next try or the ensuing kickoff.
  • If the defensive team commits a foul during a successful extra point attempt, the penalty will be assessed on the ensuing kickoff.
  • Players cannot grasp the facemask of an opponent. The penalty for an incidental grasp of the facemask is 5 yards. The penalty for twisting, turning, or pulling the facemask is 15 yards. A player can be ejected from the game if the foul is judged to be vicious and/or flagrant.
  • A defender is prohibited from running or diving into, or throwing his body against or on a ballcarrier who falls or slips to the ground untouched and makes no attempt to advance, before or after the ball is dead. This is sometimes called as the “Ben Davidson Rule” after the Raiders defender who almost seriously injured quarterback Len Dawson after the Chiefs passer fell to the ground and made no attempt to advance during a 1970 game.
  • The official coin toss was moved to three minutes before kickoff. From 1947 through 1975, the official coin toss was held thirty minutes prior to kickoff, and a simulated coin toss was held at midfield three minutes prior to kickoff to inform the fans and media of the outcome of the toss.

New officials

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).

Another distinguished new official was Bob McElwee, who was promoted to referee in 1980. McElwee was the referee in Super Bowl XXII, Super Bowl XXVIII and Super Bowl XXXIV.

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.

Division races

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.

National Football Conference

Week Eastern Central Western Wild Card
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
12 Dallas 10–2–0 Minnesota 9–2–1 Los Angeles 8–3–1 Washington* 8–4–0
13 Dallas 11–2–0 Minnesota 10–2–1 Los Angeles 9–3–1 Washington* 9–4–0
14 Dallas 11–3–0 Minnesota 11–2–1 Los Angeles 10–3–1 Washington* 10–4–0

American Football Conference

Week Eastern Central Western Wild Card
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
5 Baltimore 4–1–0 Cincinnati* 4–1–0 Oakland 4–1–0 Houston 4–1–0
6 Baltimore 5–1–0 Cincinnati* 4–2–0 Oakland 5–1–0 New England* 4–2–0
7 Baltimore 6–1–0 Cincinnati 5–2–0 Oakland 6–1–0 New England 5–2–0
8 Baltimore 7–1–0 Cincinnati 6–2–0 Oakland 7–1–0 New England 5–3–0
9 Baltimore 8–1–0 Cincinnati 7–2–0 Oakland 8–1–0 New England 6–3–0
10 Baltimore 8–2–0 Cincinnati 8–2–0 Oakland 9–1–0 New England 7–3–0
11 Baltimore 9–2–0 Cincinnati 9–2–0 Oakland 10–1–0 New England 8–3–0
12 Baltimore 10–2–0 Cincinnati 9–3–0 Oakland 11–1–0 New England 9–3–0
13 Baltimore* 10–3–0 Cincinnati* 9–4–0 Oakland 12–1–0 New England* 10–3–0
14 Baltimore* 11–3–0 Pittsburgh* 10–4–0 Oakland 13–1–0 New England 11–3–0

Final standings

AFC East
Baltimore Colts(2) 11 3 0 .786 7–1 11–1 417 246 W1
New England Patriots(4) 11 3 0 .786 6–2 10–2 376 236 W6
Miami Dolphins 6 8 0 .429 5–3 6–6 263 264 L1
New York Jets 3 11 0 .214 2–6 3–9 169 383 L4
Buffalo Bills 2 12 0 .143 0–8 2–10 245 363 L10
AFC Central
Pittsburgh Steelers(3) 10 4 0 .714 5–1 9–3 342 138 W9
Cincinnati Bengals 10 4 0 .714 4–2 8–3 335 210 W1
Cleveland Browns 9 5 0 .643 3–3 6–5 267 287 L1
Houston Oilers 5 9 0 .357 0–6 3–9 222 273 L2
AFC West
Oakland Raiders(1) 13 1 0 .929 7–0 10–1 350 237 W10
Denver Broncos 9 5 0 .643 5–2 7–5 315 206 W2
San Diego Chargers 6 8 0 .429 2–5 4–8 248 285 L1
Kansas City Chiefs 5 9 0 .357 2–5 4–8 290 376 W1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0 14 0 .000 0–4 0–13 125 412 L14
NFC East
Dallas Cowboys(2) 11 3 0 .786 6–2 9–3 296 194 L1
Washington Redskins(4) 10 4 0 .714 6–2 9–3 291 217 W4
St. Louis Cardinals 10 4 0 .714 5–3 9–3 309 267 W2
Philadelphia Eagles 4 10 0 .286 2–6 4–8 165 286 W1
New York Giants 3 11 0 .214 1–7 3–9 170 250 L1
NFC Central
Minnesota Vikings(1) 11 2 1 .821 5–1 9–2 305 176 W2
Chicago Bears 7 7 0 .500 4–2 7–5 253 216 L1
Detroit Lions 6 8 0 .429 2–4 5–7 262 220 L2
Green Bay Packers 5 9 0 .357 1–5 4–8 218 299 W1
NFC West
Los Angeles Rams(3) 10 3 1 .750 5–1–0 8–2–1 351 190 W4
San Francisco 49ers 8 6 0 .571 4–2 5–5 270 190 W1
New Orleans Saints 4 10 0 .286 2–5 3–8 253 346 L3
Atlanta Falcons 4 10 0 .286 2–5 4–8 172 312 L3
Seattle Seahawks 2 12 0 .143 1–3 1–12 229 429 L5


  • Baltimore finished ahead of New England in the AFC East based on better division record (7–1 to Patriots’ 6–2).
  • Pittsburgh finished ahead of Cincinnati in the AFC Central based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
  • Washington finished ahead of St. Louis in the NFC East based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).
  • New Orleans finished ahead of Atlanta in the NFC West based on better point-differential in head-to-head competition (27 points).


Divisional PlayoffsConf. Championship GamesSuper Bowl XI
December 19 – Memorial Stadium
3) Pittsburgh40
December 26 – Oakland Coliseum
2) Baltimore14
3) Pittsburgh7
December 18 – Oakland Coliseum
1) Oakland24
4) New England21
January 9 – Rose Bowl
1) Oakland24
A1) Oakland32
December 19 – Texas Stadium
N1) Minnesota14
3) Los Angeles14
December 26 – Metropolitan Stadium
2) Dallas12
3) Los Angeles13
December 18 – Metropolitan Stadium
1) Minnesota24
4) Washington20
1) Minnesota35


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.


American Football Conference

National Football Conference


  1. ^ "Cowboys have the quirkiest uniform set in all of sports". ESPN. October 26, 2007. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  • NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
  • NFL History 1971–1980 (Last accessed December 4, 2005)
  • Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
1976 Oakland Raiders season

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
Early era
Modern era

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