Chronology of Football 1981-1990
1981 | 1982 | 1983
| 1984 | 1985 | 1986
| 1987 | 1988 | 1989
Oakland defeated Philadelphia 27-10 in Super Bowl XV at the Louisiana
Superdome in New Orleans, to become the first wild-card team to win
a Super Bowl, January 25.
Kaiser, Jr., purchased the Denver Broncos from Gerald and Allan
Phipps, February 26.
The owners adopted a disaster plan for re-stocking
a team should the club be involved in a fatal accident, March 20.
The owners awarded Super Bowl XVIII
to Tampa, to be played in Tampa Stadium on January 22, 1984, June
A CBS-New York Times poll showed
that 48 percent of sports fans preferred football to 31 percent
The NFL teams hosted 167 representatives from
44 predominantly black colleges during training camps for a total
of 289 days. The program was adopted for renewal during each training
NFL regular-season attendance-13.6 million
for an average of 60,745-set a record for the fourth year in a row.
It also was the first time the per-game average exceeded 60,000.
NFL games in 1981 were played before 93.8 percent of total stadium
ABC and CBS set all-time rating highs. ABC
finished with a 21.7 rating and CBS with a 17.5 rating. NBC was
down slightly to 13.9.
San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI at the
Pontiac Silverdome, in the first Super Bowl held in the North, January
24. The CBS telecast achieved the highest rating of any televised
sports event ever, 49.1 with a 73.0 share. The game was viewed by
a record 110.2 million fans. CBS Radio reported a record 14 million
listeners for the game.
The NFL signed a five-year contract with the
three television networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) to televise all NFL
regular-season and postseason games starting with the 1982 season.
The owners awarded the 1983, 1984, and 1985
AFC-NFC Pro Bowls to Honolulu's Aloha Stadium.
A jury ruled against the NFL in the antitrust
trial brought by the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission and the Oakland
Raiders, May 7. The verdict cleared the way for the Raiders to move
to Los Angeles, where they defeated Green Bay 24-3 in their first
preseason game, August 29. The 1982 season was reduced from a 16-game
schedule to nine as the result of a 57-day players' strike.
The strike was called by the NFLPA at midnight
on Monday, September 20, following the Green Bay at New York Giants
game. Play resumed November 21-22 following ratification of the
Collective Bargaining Agreement by NFL owners, November 17 in New
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement,
which was to run through the 1986 season, the NFL draft was extended
through 1992 and the veteran free-agent system was left basically
unchanged. A minimum salary schedule for years of experience was
established; training camp and postseason pay were increased; players'
medical, insurance, and retirement benefits were increased; and
a severance-pay system was introduced to aid in career transition,
a first in professional sports.
Despite the players' strike, the average paid
attendance in 1982 was 58,472, the fifth-highest in league history.
The owners awarded the sites of two Super
Bowls, December 14: Super Bowl XIX, to be played on January 20,
1985, to Stanford University Stadium in Stanford, California, with
San Francisco as host team; and Super Bowl XX, to be played on January
26, 1986, to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
Because of the shortened season, the NFL adopted a format of 16
teams competing in a Super Bowl Tournament for the 1982 playoffs.
The NFC's number-one seed, Washington, defeated the AFC's number-two
seed, Miami, 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena,
Super Bowl XVII was the second-highest rated
live television program of all time, giving the NFL a sweep of the
top 10 live programs in television history. The game was viewed
in more than 40 million homes, the largest ever for a live telecast.
George Halas, the owner of the Bears and the
last surviving member of the NFL's second organizational meeting,
died at 88, October 31.
The Los Angeles Raiders defeated Washington 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII
at Tampa Stadium, January 22. The game achieved a 46.4 rating and
An 11-man group headed by H.R. (Bum) Bright
purchased the Dallas Cowboys from Clint Murchison, Jr., March 20.
Club president Tex Schramm was designated as managing general partner.
Wellington Mara was named president of the
NFC, March 20. Patrick Bowlen purchased a majority interest in the
Denver Broncos from Edgar Kaiser, Jr., March 21.
The Colts relocated to Indianapolis, March
28. Their new home became the Hoosier Dome.
The owners awarded two Super Bowl sites at
their May 23-25 meetings: Super Bowl XXI, to be played on January
25, 1987, to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; and Super Bowl XXII, to
be played on January 31, 1988, to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The New York Jets moved their home games to
Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Alex G. Spanos purchased a majority interest
in the San Diego Chargers from Eugene V. Klein, August 28.
Houston defeated Pittsburgh 23-20 to mark
the one-hundredth overtime game in regular-season play since overtime
was adopted in 1974, December 2.
On the field, many all-time records were set:
Dan Marino of Miami passed for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns; Eric
Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams rushed for 2,105 yards; Art Monk
of Washington caught 106 passes; and Walter Payton of Chicago broke
Jim Brown's career rushing mark, finishing the season with 13,309
According to a CBS Sports/New York Times survey,
53 percent of the nation's sports fans said they most enjoyed watching
football, compared to 18 percent for baseball, December 2-4.
NFL paid attendance exceeded 13 million for
the fifth consecutive complete regular season when 13,398,112, an
average of 59,813, attended games. The figure was the second-highest
in league history. Teams averaged 42.4 points per game, the second-highest
total since the 1970 merger.
San Francisco defeated Miami 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford
Stadium in Stanford, California, January 20. The game was viewed
on television by more people than any other live event in history.
President Ronald Reagan, who took his second oath of office before
tossing the coin for the game, was one of 115,936,000 viewers. The
game drew a 46.4 rating and a 63.0 share. In addition, 6 million
people watched the Super Bowl in the United Kingdom and a similar
number in Italy. Super Bowl XIX had a direct economic impact of
$113.5 million on the San Francisco Bay area.
NBC Radio and the NFL entered into a two-year
agreement granting NBC the radio rights to a 37-game package in
each of the 1985-86 seasons, March 6. The package included 27 regular-season
games and 10 postseason games.
The owners awarded two Super Bowl sites at
their annual meeting, March 10-15: Super Bowl XXIII, to be played
on January 22, 1989, to the proposed Dolphins Stadium in Miami;
and Super Bowl XXIV, to be played on January 28, 1990, to the Louisiana
Superdome in New Orleans. Norman Braman, in partnership with Edward
Leibowitz, bought the Philadelphia Eagles from Leonard Tose, April
Bruce Smith, a Virginia Tech defensive lineman
selected by Buffalo, was the first player chosen in the fiftieth
NFL draft, April 30. A group headed by Tom Benson, Jr., was approved
to purchase the New Orleans Saints from John W. Mecom, Jr., June
The NFL owners adopted a resolution calling
for a series of overseas preseason games, beginning in 1986, with
one game to be played in England/Europe and/or one game in Japan
each year. The game would be a fifth preseason game for the clubs
involved and all arrangements and selection of the clubs would be
under the control of the Commissioner, May 23.
The league-wide conversion to videotape from
movie film for coach-ing study was approved.
Commissioner Rozelle was authorized to extend
the commitment to Honolulu's Aloha Stadium for the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl
for 1988, 1989, and 1990, October 15.
The NFL set a single-weekend paid attendance
record when 902,657 tickets were sold for the weekend of October
A Louis Harris poll in December revealed that
pro football remained the sport most followed by Americans. Fifty-nine
percent of those surveyed followed pro football, compared with 54
percent who followed baseball.
The Chicago-Miami Monday game had the highest
rating, 29.6, and share, 46.0, of any prime-time game in NFL history,
December 2. The game was viewed in more than 25 million homes.
The NFL showed a ratings increase on all three
networks for the season, gaining 4 percent on NBC, 10 on CBS, and
16 on ABC.
Chicago defeated New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX at the Louisiana
Superdome, January 26. The Patriots had earned the right to play
the Bears by becoming the first wild-card team to win three consecutive
games on the road. The NBC telecast replaced the final episode of
M*A*S*H as the most-viewed television program in history, with an
audience of 127 million viewers, according to A.C. Nielsen figures.
In addition to drawing a 48.3 rating and a 70 percent share in the
United States, Super Bowl XX was televised to 59 foreign countries
and beamed via satellite to the QE II. An estimated 300 million
Chinese viewed a tape delay of the game in March. NBC Radio figures
indicated an audience of 10 million for the game.
The owners adopted limited use of instant
replay as an officiating aid, prohibited players from wearing or
otherwise displaying equipment, apparel, or other items that carry
commercial names, names of organizations, or personal messages of
any type, March 11. After an 11-week trial, a jury in U.S. District
Court in New York awarded the United States Football League one
dollar in its $1.7 billion antitrust suit against the NFL. The jury
rejected all of the USFL's television-related claims, which were
the self-proclaimed heart of the USFL's case. The jury deliberated
five days, July 29. Chicago defeated Dallas 17-6 at Wembley Stadium
in London in the first American Bowl. The game drew a sellout crowd
of 82,699 and the NBC national telecast in this country produced
a 12.4 rating and 36 percent share, making it the highest daytime
preseason television audience ever with 10.65-million viewers, August
ABC'S Monday Night Football, in its seventeenth
season, became the longest-running prime-time series in the history
of the network.
The New York Giants defeated Denver 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI and
captured their first NFL title since 1956. The game, played in Pasadena's
Rose Bowl, drew a sellout crowd of 101,063. According to A.C. Nielsen
figures, the CBS broadcast of the game was viewed in the U.S. on
television by 122.64-million people, making the telecast the second
most-watched television show of all-time behind Super Bowl XX. The
game was watched live or on tape in 55 foreign countries and NBC
Radio's broadcast of the game was heard by a record 10.1 million
New three-year TV contracts with ABC, CBS,
and NBC were announced for 1987-89 at the NFL annual meeting in
Maui, Hawaii, March 15. Commissioner Rozelle and Broadcast Committee
Chairman Art Modell also announced a three-year contract with ESPN
to televise 13 prime-time games each season. The ESPN contract was
the first with a cable network. However, NFL games on ESPN also
were scheduled for regular television in the city of the visiting
team and in the home city if the game was sold out 72 hours in advance.
A special payment program was adopted to benefit
nearly 1,000 former NFL players who participated in the League before
the current Bert Bell NFL Pension Plan was created and made retroactive
to the 1959 season. Players covered by the new program spent at
least five years in the League and played all or part of their career
prior to 1959. Each vested player would receive $60 per month for
each year of service in the League for life.
NFL and CBS Radio jointly announced agreement
granting CBS the radio rights to a 40-game package in each of the
next three NFL seasons, 1987-89, April 7.
NFL owners awarded Super Bowl XXV, to be played
on January 27, 1991, to Tampa Stadium, May 20.
Over 400 former NFL players from the pre-1959
era received first payments from NFL owners, July 1.
The NFL's debut on ESPN produced the two highest-rated
and most-watched sports programs in basic cable history. The Chicago
at Miami game on August 16 drew an 8.9 rating in 3.81 million homes.
Those records fell two weeks later when the Los Angeles Raiders
at Dallas game achieved a 10.2 cable rating in 4.36 million homes.
The 1987 season was reduced from a 16-game season to 15 as the result
of a 24-day players' strike. The strike was called by the NFLPA
on Tuesday, September 22, following the New England at New York
Jets game. Games scheduled for the third weekend were canceled but
the games of weeks four, five, and six were played with replacement
teams. Striking players returned for the seventh week of the season,
In a three-team deal involving 10 players
and/or draft choices, the Los Angeles Rams traded running back Eric
Dickerson to the Indianapolis Colts for six draft choices and two
players. Buffalo obtained the rights to linebacker Cornelius Bennett
from Indianapolis, sending Greg Bell and three draft choices to
the Rams. The Colts added Owen Gill and three draft choices of their
own to complete the deal with the Rams, October 31.
The Chicago at Minnesota game became the highest-rated
and most-watched sports program in basic cable history when it drew
a 14.4 cable rating in 6.5 million homes, December 6.
Washington defeated Denver 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII to earn its
second victory this decade in the NFL Championship Game. The game,
played for the first time in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, drew
a sellout crowd of 73,302. According to A.C. Nielsen figures, the
ABC broadcast of the game was viewed in the U.S. on television by
115,000,000 people. The game was seen live or on tape in 60 foreign
countries, including the People's Republic of China, and CBS's radio
broadcast of the game was heard by 13.7 million people.
In a unanimous 3-0 decision, the 2nd Circuit
Court of Appeals in New York upheld the verdict of the jury that
in July, 1986, had awarded the United States Football League one
dollar in its $1.7 billion antitrust suit against the NFL. In a
91-page opinion, Judge Ralph K. Winter said the USFL sought through
court decree the success it failed to gain among football fans,
By a 23-5 margin, owners voted to continue
the instant replay system for the third consecutive season with
the Instant Replay Official to be assigned to a regular seven-man,
on-the-field crew. At the NFL annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona,
a 45-second clock was also approved to replace the 30-second clock.
For a normal sequence of plays, the interval between plays was changed
to 45 seconds from the time the ball is signaled dead until it is
snapped on the succeeding play.
NFL owners approved the transfer of the Cardinals'
franchise from St. Louis to Phoenix; approved two sup-plemental
drafts each year-one prior to training camp and one prior to the
regular season; and voted to initiate an annual series of games
in Japan/Asia as early as the 1989 preseason, March 14-18.
The NFL Annual Selection Meeting returned
to a separate two-day format and for the first time originated on
a Sunday. ESPN drew a 3.6 rating during their seven-hour coverage
of the draft, which was viewed in 1.6 million homes, April 24-25.
Art Rooney, founder and owner of the Steelers,
died at 87, August 25. Johnny Grier became the first African-American
referee in NFL history, September 4.
Commissioner Rozelle announced that two teams
would play a preseason game as part of the American Bowl series
on August 6, 1989, in the Korakuen Tokyo Dome in Japan, December
San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 20-16 in Super Bowl XXIII. The
game, played for the first time at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami,
was attended by a sellout crowd of 75,129. NBC's telecast of the
game was watched by an estimated 110,780,000 viewers, according
to A.C. Nielsen, making it the sixth most-watched program in television
history. The game was seen live or on tape in 60 foreign countries,
including an estimated 300 million in China. The CBS Radio broadcast
of the game was heard by 11.2 million people.
Commissioner Rozelle announced his retirement,
pending the naming of a successor, March 22 at the NFL annual meeting
in Palm Desert, California. Following the announcement, AFC president
Lamar Hunt and NFC president Wellington Mara announced the formation
of a six-man search committee composed of Art Modell, Robert Parins,
Dan Rooney, and Ralph Wilson. Hunt and Mara served as co-chairmen.
By a 24-4 margin, owners voted to continue
the instant replay system for the fourth straight season. A strengthened
policy regarding anabolic steroids and masking agents was announced
by Commissioner Rozelle. NFL clubs called for strong disciplinary
measures in cases of feigned injuries and adopted a joint proposal
by the Long-Range Planning and Finance committees regarding player
personnel rules, March 19-23. Two hundred twenty-nine unconditional
free agents signed with new teams under management's Plan B system,
Jerry Jones purchased a majority interest
in the Dallas Cowboys from H.R. (Bum) Bright, April 18.
Tex Schramm was named president of the new
World League of American Football to work with a six-man committee
of Dan Rooney, chairman; Norman Braman, Lamar Hunt, Victor Kiam,
Mike Lynn, and Bill Walsh, April 18.
NFL and CBS Radio jointly announced agreement
extending CBS's radio rights to an annual 40-game package through
the 1994 season, April 18. NFL owners awarded Super Bowl XXVI, to
be played on January 26, 1992, to Minneapolis, May 24.
As of opening day, September 10, of the 229
Plan B free agents, 111 were active and 23 others were on teams'
reserve lists. Ninety-two others were waived and three retired.
Art Shell was named head coach of the Los
Angeles Raiders making him the NFL's first black head coach since
Fritz Pollard coached the Akron Pros in 1921, October 3.
The site of the New England Patriots at San
Francisco 49ers game scheduled for Candlestick Park on October 22
was switched to Stanford Stadium in the aftermath of the Bay Area
Earthquake of October 17. The change was announced on October 19.
Paul Tagliabue became the seventh chief executive
of the NFL on October 26 when he was chosen to succeed Commissioner
Pete Rozelle on the sixth ballot of a three-day meeting in Cleveland,
In all, 12 ballots were required to select
Tagliabue. Two were conducted at a meeting in Chicago on July 6,
and four at a meeting in Dallas on October 10-11. On the twelfth
ballot, with Seattle absent, Tagliabue received more than the 19
affirmative votes required for election from among the 27 clubs
The transfer from Commissioner Rozelle to
Commissioner Tagliabue took place at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, November
NFL Charities donated $1 million through United
Way to benefit Bay Area earthquake victims, November 6.
NFL paid attendance of 17,399,538 was the
highest total in league history. This included a total of 13,625,662
for an average of 60,829-both NFL records-for the 224-game regular
San Francisco defeated Denver 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV at the Louisiana
Superdome, January 28. San Francisco joined Pittsburgh as the NFL's
only teams to win four Super Bowls.
The NFL announced revisions in its 1990 draft
eligibility rules. College juniors became eligible but must renounce
their collegiate football eligibility before applying for the NFL
Draft, February 16.
Commissioner Tagliabue announced NFL teams
will play their 16-game schedule over 17 weeks in 1990 and 1991
and 16 games over 18 weeks in 1992 and 1993, February 27.
The NFL revised its playoff format to include
two additional wild-card teams (one per conference), which raised
the total to six wild-card teams.
Commissioner Tagliabue and Broadcast Committee
Chairman Art Modell announced a four-year contract with Turner Broadcasting
to televise nine Sunday-night games.
New four-year TV agreements were ratified
for 1990-93 for ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and TNT at the NFL annual meeting
in Orlando, Florida, March 12. The contracts totaled $3.6 billion,
the largest in TV history.
The NFL announced plans to expand its American
Bowl series of preseason games. In addition to games in London and
Tokyo, American Bowl games were scheduled for Berlin, Germany, and
Montreal, Canada, in 1990.
For the fifth straight year, NFL owners voted
to continue a limited system of Instant Replay. Beginning in 1990,
the replay official will have a two-minute time limit to make a
decision. The vote was 21-7, March 12.
Commissioner Tagliabue announced the formation
of a Committee on Expansion and Realignment, March 13. He also named
a Player Advisory Council, comprised of 12 former NFL players, March
Commissioner Tagliabue appointed Dr. John
Lombardo as the League's Drug Advisor for Anabolic Steroids, April
25 and named Dr. Lawrence Brown as the League's Advisor for Drugs
of Abuse, May 17.
NFL owners awarded Super Bowl XXVIII, to be
played in 1994, to the proposed Georgia Dome, May 23.
Commissioner Tagliabue named NFL referee Jerry
Seeman as NFL Director of Officiating, replacing Art McNally, who
announced his retirement after 31 years on the field and at the
league office, July 12.
NFL International Week was celebrated with
four preseason games in seven days in Tokyo, London, Berlin, and
Montreal. More than 200,000 fans on three continents attended the
four games, August 4-11.
Commissioner Tagliabue announced the NFL Teacher
of the Month program in which the League furnishes grants and scholarships
in recognition of teachers who provided a positive influence upon
NFL players in elementary and secondary schools, September 20.
For the first time since 1957, every NFL club
won at least one of its first four games, October 1.
The Super Bowl Most Valuable Player trophy
was renamed the Pete Rozelle trophy, October 8.
NFL total paid attendance of 17,665,671 was
the highest total in League history. The regular-season total paid
attendance of 13,959,896 and average of 62,321 for 224 games were
the highest ever, surpassing the previous records set in the 1989