1976 NFL season

The 1976 NFL season was the 57th regular season of the National Football League. 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.

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

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 became the first NFL team to finish a season 0–14. The Buccaneers lost their first 26 games as they also lost their first 12 games in 1977.

The season ended with Super Bowl XI when the Oakland Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32–14 at the Rose Bowl. The Raiders were the first original AFL team to appear and win a Super Bowl in the post-merger era.


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.

New officialsEdit

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.

Major rule changesEdit

  • 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 (this penalty was repealed in 2008). The penalty for twisting, turning, or pulling the facemask is 15 yards. A player risks immediate disqualification 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.

Division racesEdit

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 ConferenceEdit

Week East Central West 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 ConferenceEdit

Week East Central West 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 standingsEdit


  • 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).


Dec. 19 – Memorial Stadium
3 Pittsburgh 40
Dec. 26 – Oakland Coliseum
2 Baltimore 14
3 Pittsburgh 7
Dec. 18 – Oakland Coliseum
1 Oakland 24
AFC Championship
4 New England 21
Jan. 9 – Rose Bowl
1 Oakland 24
Divisional playoffs
A1 Oakland 32
Dec. 19 – Texas Stadium
N1 Minnesota 14
Super Bowl XI
3 Los Angeles 14
Dec. 26 – Metropolitan Stadium
2 Dallas 12
3 Los Angeles 13
Dec. 18 – Metropolitan Stadium
1 Minnesota 24
NFC Championship
4 Washington 20
1 Minnesota 35


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

Coaching changesEdit



Stadium changesEdit

Uniform changesEdit

  • The Dallas Cowboys replaced the blue stripe on right side of their helmets with a red stripe to honor the United States' Bicentennial.
  • The New Orleans Saints began wearing black pants with their white jerseys, and facemasks changed from grey to black.
  • The New York Giants replaced the striped uppercase "NY" helmet logo with an italicized and underlined "GIANTS".
  • The inaugural Seattle Seahawks uniforms featured silver helmets and pants; blue jerseys with white numbers, and white and green sleeve stripes; and white jerseys with blue numbers, and blue and green sleeve stripes. The new helmet logo featured an osprey's head based on Kwakwakaʼwakw art masks.
  • The inaugural Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniforms featured white helmets and pants, red trim, white jerseys with orange numbers, and orange jerseys with white numbers (which got the nickname "Creamsicle" uniforms). The nicknamed "Bucco Bruce" helmet logo featured a moustached pirate donning a plumed slouch hat and clutching a dagger in his teeth.


  • 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)