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1990 NFL Season
71st season in the history of the National Football League
The 1990 NFL season was the 71st regular season of the National Football League. To increase revenue, the league, for the first time since 1966, reinstated bye weeks, so that all NFL teams would play their 16-game schedule over a 17-week period. Furthermore, the playoff format was expanded from 10 teams to 12 teams by adding another wild card from each conference, thus adding two more contests to the postseason schedule; this format remained in use until 2019 (there were four division spots and two wild card spots available with realignment in 2002). During four out of the five previous seasons, at least one team with a 10-6 record missed the playoffs, including the 11-5 Denver Broncos in 1985; meanwhile, the 10-6 San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowl XXIII, leading for calls to expand the playoff format to ensure that 10-6 teams could compete for a Super Bowl win. Ironically, the first sixth-seeded playoff team would not have a 10-6 record, but instead, the New Orleans Saints, with an 8-8 record, took the new playoff spot.
Dick Jorgensen, who had been the referee in the previous season's Super Bowl XXIV, was diagnosed in May during the offseason with a rare blood disorder. He died five months later on October 10. For the remainder of the 1990 season, NFL officials wore a black armband on their left sleeve with the white number 60 to honor Jorgensen.
Ben Dreith (a referee in the AFL from 1966-69, and the NFL since the merger) and Fred Wyant (a referee since 1971), were demoted to line judge. Dreith later filed a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after the league fired him after the 1990 season, citing age discrimination as the reason for both his demotion to line judge and his dismissal. Dreith and the NFL would later agree in 1993 to a $165,000 settlement, plus court costs and attorney fees.
Gerald Austin, the side judge for Super Bowl XXIV, and Tom White, were promoted to referee. White became the first official to be promoted to referee after only one season of NFL experience since Jerry Markbreit in 1977 (Tommy Bell (1962) and Brad Allen (2014) were hired straight into the NFL as referees). After one season with having 16 officiating crews in 1989, it was reduced back to 15 crews in 1990 to handle the weekly workload of 14 games (if there were no teams with a bye week).
Ed Hochuli was hired as a back judge (now field judge) and assigned to Howard Roe's crew. Hochuli was promoted to referee two years later.
Major rule changes
The rule for unnecessary roughness penalties is clarified so that any player who butts, spears, or rams an opponent risks immediate disqualification.
The penalty for an illegal forward pass beyond the line of scrimmage is enforced from the spot where any part of the passer's body is beyond the line when the ball is released.
The following changes are made to try to speed up the game:
the time interval on the Play Clock (the time limit the offensive team has to snap the ball between plays) after time outs and other administrative stoppages has been reduced from 30 seconds to 25 seconds (the time interval between plays remains the same at 45 seconds);
whenever a player goes out of bounds, other than in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half or overtime, the game clock immediately starts when the ball is spotted for the next play and the Referee signals it is ready for play; and
other than in the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half or overtime the game clock also starts following all declined penalties.
This was the first season in which NFL teams officially had a bye week; the last time was in 1966, when the league had an odd number of teams at 15.
Chet Adams, a three-time AAFC champion with the Cleveland Browns died on October 28, 1990
On December 21, 1990, Chicago Bears rookie Fred Washington was killed in a car accident. He was a member of the 1984 Texas 4A State Football Champion Denison YellowJackets and was voted defensive player of the year.
Porkchop Bowl: A third game in the heated rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, following the Bounty Bowl of 1989, took place in 1990. Known as the "Porkchop Bowl". The game got its name because Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan choked on a pork chop in the week leading up to the game, Philadelphia won this game as well, 21-20.
Thanksgiving: Two games were played on Thursday, November 22, featuring Denver at Detroit and Washington at Dallas, with Detroit and Dallas winning.
For the first time in NFL history, two teams (the 49ers and the Giants) would start the season 10-0. This would not be equalled until 2009 when the Colts and the Saints both reached 13-0, and was also equalled in 2015 by the Panthers and Patriots.
Records, milestones, and notable statistics
September 24, 1990 - Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills rushed for 214 yards versus the New York Jets. It was the second highest total in the history of Monday Night Football.
October 14, 1990 - Joe Montana set a 49ers record by throwing for 476 yards in one game and throwing six touchdown passes. Jerry Rice set a 49ers record with 5 touchdown receptions and 30 points in one game.
October 14, 1990 - Barry Word of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes for a team-record 200 yards against the Detroit Lions at Arrowhead. Kansas City won 43-24.
November 11, 1990: Derrick Thomas set the NFL single game record of seven quarterback sacks, a feat which occurred against Seattle's Dave Krieg on 1990 Veterans Day. Despite this feat, Krieg eluded a blitzing Thomas on the game's last play and threw a touchdown pass to Paul Skansi, which gave the Seahawks a 17-16 win. The record came close to being matched with three occasions of players reaching six sacks, once by Thomas himself in 1998.
December 16, 1990: Warren Moon threw for 527 yards against Kansas City on December 16, 1990, the second-most passing yards ever in a single game.
The Atlanta Falcons unveiled new uniforms, switching both their primary jerseys and helmets from red to black. This was the first time the Falcons wore black jerseys since 1970, and the first time they had ever worn black helmets.
The New York Jets added black trim to their logo, numbers, and stripes on their pants, and changed their face masks from white to black. They also added green pants to be worn with their white jerseys.