The 1997 NFL season was the 78th regular season of the National Football League. The Oilers relocated from Houston, Texas to Nashville, Tennessee. The newly renamed Tennessee Oilers played their home games during this season at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee while construction of a new stadium in Nashville started. Houston would rejoin the NFL with the expansion Texans in 2002.
This was the last season to date that TNT broadcast NFL games, as well as the last for NBC until 2006. When the TV contracts were renewed near the end of the season, Fox retained the National Football Conference package, CBS took over the American Football Conference package and ESPN won the right to televise all of the Sunday night games.
Due to Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, the Chicago Bears-Miami Dolphins game at Pro Player Stadium was delayed one day to Monday, October 27.
The Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both changed their uniforms, and the new uniforms for both teams were introduced during this season.
The season ended with Super Bowl XXXII when the Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-24 at Qualcomm Stadium. This broke the National Football Conference's streak of thirteen consecutive Super Bowl victories, the last American Football Conference win having been the Los Angeles Raiders defeating the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.
The 1997 NFL Draft was held from April 19 to 20, 1997 at New York City's Theater at Madison Square Garden. With the first pick, the St. Louis Rams selected offensive tackle Orlando Pace from Ohio State University.
Red Cashion and Howard Roe retired. Bill Carollo and Phil Luckett were promoted to referee.
Major rule changes
- When a team fakes a punt and throws the ball downfield, pass interference will not be called on the two outside defenders who are actually trying to block a coverage man from getting downfield and might not even know the ball has been thrown.
- In order to reduce taunting and excessive celebrations, no player may remove his helmet while on the playing field except during timeouts, between quarters, and in the case of an injury. Violating the rule results in a 15-yard penalty. This is known as the "Emmitt Smith rule" after the Dallas Cowboys' running back's habit of taking his helmet off every time he scored a touchdown.
Final regular season standings
- Miami finished ahead of NY Jets in the AFC East based on head-to-head sweep (2-0).
- Pittsburgh finished ahead of Jacksonville in the AFC Central based on better net division points (78 to Jaguars' 23).
- Oakland finished ahead of San Diego in the AFC West based on better division record (2-6 to Chargers' 1-7).
- San Francisco was the top NFC playoff seed based on better conference record than Green Bay (11-1 to Packers' 10-2).
- Detroit finished ahead of Minnesota in the NFC Central based on head-to-head sweep (2-0).
- Carolina finished ahead of Atlanta in the NFC West based on head-to-head sweep (2-0).
||Mike Hollis, Jacksonville (134 points)
||Karim Abdul-Jabbar, Miami (16 TDs)
|Most field goals made
||Richie Cunningham, Dallas (34 FGs)
||Barry Sanders, Detroit, (2,053 yards)
||Steve Young, San Francisco (104.7 rating)
||Jeff George, Oakland (3,917 yards)
||Brett Favre, Green Bay (35 TDs)
||Tim Brown, Oakland and Herman Moore, Detroit (104 catches)
||Rob Moore, Arizona (1,584)
||Cris Carter, Minnesota (13)
||Jermaine Lewis, Baltimore (15.6 average yards)
||Michael Bates, Carolina (27.3 average yards)
||Ryan McNeil, St. Louis (9)
||Mark Royals, New Orleans (45.9 average yards)
||John Randle, Minnesota (15.5)
|Most Valuable Players
||Brett Favre, Quarterback, Green Bay and Barry Sanders, Running back, Detroit
|Coach of the Year
||Jim Fassel, New York Giants
|Offensive Player of the Year
||Barry Sanders, Running back, Detroit
|Defensive Player of the Year
||Dana Stubblefield, Defensive tackle, San Francisco
|Offensive Rookie of the Year
||Warrick Dunn, Running back, Tampa Bay
|Defensive Rookie of the Year
||Peter Boulware, Linebacker, Baltimore
|NFL Comeback Player of the Year
||Robert Brooks, Wide Receiver, Green Bay
|NFL Man of the Year
||Troy Aikman, Quarterback, Dallas
|Super Bowl Most Valuable Player
||Terrell Davis, Running Back, Denver
Players of the Month
||RB - Terrell Davis, Denver
||LB - Chris Slade, New England
||K - Matt Stover, Baltimore
||RB - Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh
||DE - Bruce Smith, Buffalo
||K - Greg Davis, San Diego
||QB - John Elway, Denver
||S - Jerome Woods, Kansas City
||WR-PR - Eric Metcalf, San Diego
||WR - Keenan McCardell, Jacksonville
||LB - Derrick Thomas, Kansas City
||K - Pete Stoyanovich, Kansas City
||WR - Jake Reed, Minnesota
||DT - Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay
||K - Richie Cunningham, Dallas
||RB - Barry Sanders, Detroit
||DT - John Randle, Minnesota
||P - Matt Turk, Washington
||RB - Barry Sanders, Detroit
||DT - Dana Stubblefield, San Francisco
||K - Doug Brien, New Orleans
||RB - Barry Sanders, Detroit
||CB - Jason Sehorn, New York Giants
||RB-KR - Byron Hanspard, Atlanta
- The Atlanta Falcons added new striping on pants, and switched from black to red numbers on the white jerseys.
- The Baltimore Ravens switched to a new numbers style with shadows in the back. White pants were worn with their purple jerseys instead of black pants.
- The Cincinnati Bengals started to use a brighter shade of orange on their uniforms. A secondary logo featuring a leaping tiger was added to the jersey sleeves, and another secondary logo with Bengal's head was also introduced.
- The Denver Broncos introduced new uniforms, changing their primary color from orange to navy blue, and their royal blue helmets to navy blue. The design featured a streak running down the sides of both the jerseys and the pants: orange on the blue jerseys and blue on the white jerseys. The "D" logo with the horse coming out of it was retired in favor of a horse head with blue outlines and an orange head.
- The Green Bay Packers reduced the number of stripes on the arm sleeves from five to three.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars switched from block numbers to a new style font, and added black side panels to the jerseys.
- Miami Dolphins introduced new uniforms featuring a darker shade of aqua and new shadows in the numbers. The dolphin in the helmet logo was also darkened and resigned to give it a more serious expression.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers switched from block to rounded numbers on the jerseys, matching the number font on the back of their helmets. A Steelers logo patch was also added to the left side of all jerseys, as an alternative to "fixing" the traditional "missing" logo on the helmet's right side. To celebrate the team's 75th anniversary season, the Steelers introduced 1960s-era throwback uniforms with black jerseys, gold numbers and helmets, and white pants.
- The Philadelphia Eagles added the eagles head logo to the white jersey sleeves (they only did it to the green jerseys in 1996)
- The San Diego Chargers wore white pants instead of navy blue with their white jerseys.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers introduced new uniforms, changing their primary color from orange to red, and their white helmets and pants to pewter. Black and orange became trim colors. They also replaced the "Bucco Bruce" helmet logo with a red wind-swept flag featuring a white pirate skull and crossed sabres similar to a Jolly Roger.
- The relocated Tennessee Oilers began wearing an alternative logo on the left side of all jerseys that combined their oil rig derrick logo with elements from the flag of Tennessee.