|Duration||September 10 -|
December 18, 1966
|East Champions||Dallas Cowboys|
|West Champions||Green Bay Packers|
|Champions||Green Bay Packers|
The 1966 NFL season was the 47th regular season of the National Football League, and the first season in which the Super Bowl was played, though it was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The league expanded to 15 teams with the addition of the Atlanta Falcons, making a bye necessary each week for one team.
This was the last season that the NFL was divided only into two separate conferences, and only one postseason round was played between the two conference champions. The season concluded with the first Super Bowl; the NFL champion Green Bay Packers defeated the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 15, 1967.
Pat Studstill for the Detroit Lions set a record for consecutive games with more than 125 receiving yards with five, a record which was not tied until Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson several decades later. He also became the 3rd ever player to complete a 99-yard pass play.
As the competitive war between the NFL and the American Football League reached its peak, the two leagues agreed to merge on June 8, 1966. Under the agreement:
On June 3, 1965, the NFL announced its plans to add two teams in Four days later on June 7, the eight franchises of the rival American Football League (AFL) voted unanimously to add two teams in 1966, an AFL franchise was awarded to Atlanta the next day.
The NFL awarded the first of the two expansion franchises to the city of Atlanta on Commissioner Pete Rozelle granted ownership of the Atlanta Falcons to Rankin Smith, Sr. and they were awarded the first pick in the 1966 NFL Draft, as well as the final pick in each of the first five rounds. The league also provided the Falcons with an expansion draft six weeks later.
The competition with the AFL for Atlanta forced the first to be added a year early. The odd number of teams (15) in 1966 resulted in one idle team (bye) each week, with each team playing fourteen games over fifteen weeks (similar to 1960: twelve games over thirteen weeks). The second expansion team, the New Orleans Saints, joined the NFL as planned in 1967 as its sixteenth franchise. Scheduled byes in the NFL's regular season did not return until 1990.
Goal posts were standardized in the NFL. They were to be 3-4 inches (7.6-10.2 cm) in diameter, painted bright yellow, with two non-curved supports offset from the goal line, and uprights 20 feet (6.1 m) above the crossbar. In 1967, the new "slingshot" goal post was made standard, with one curved support from the ground. In 1974, the goal posts were returned to the end line, and the uprights were extended to 30 feet (9.1 m) above the crossbar, and to 35 feet (10.7 m) in 2014.
The new goal-post rule is often referred to as the "Don Chandler Rule", referring to the placekicker for the Green Bay Packers. Although widely denied, the height increase of the uprights was in reaction to the previous season's Western Conference playoff game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Chandler kicked a controversial field goal that tied the game with under two minutes remaining. The kick was high above the upright, and many spectators thought that the kick missed; however, the kick was ruled good by field judge Jim Tunney. Chandler later hit a field goal that defeated the Baltimore Colts in overtime. The following week, the Packers defeated the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game, their first of three consecutive league titles.
Another rule change born from the 1965 Western Conference playoff was two officials (the back judge and field judge) were stationed under each upright for field goal and extra point attempts.
In the Western Conference, Green Bay's first loss was in Week 5, falling 21-20 in San Francisco to tie them with the Rams. The Rams lost 35-7 to Minnesota the next week, and Green Bay stayed in front until Week 9, when Minnesota beat them 20-17. Baltimore's 19-7 win over Atlanta briefly tied it with the Packers at 7-2-0 in Week 10, but the Colts lost to Detroit the next week, 20-14. The Packers clinched the title in Week 13.
In the Eastern Conference, the St. Louis Cardinals took the early lead, winning their first five games. (The Dallas Cowboys were also unbeaten, but due to a bye in Week One, they had played one fewer game and thus were a half-game behind the Cardinals in the standings.) The unbeaten teams met in Week 6, and both were still unbeaten after they played to a 10-10 tie. However, both teams suffered their first defeat the next week, with St. Louis losing at Washington, 26-20, and the Cowboys falling in Cleveland, 30-21. In Week 9 (November 6), St. Louis beat the Giants, 20-17, while Dallas came up short in a 24-23 loss to the Eagles. The next week, Dallas won at Washington 31-30 on a field goal with 0:15 left, while the Cards fell at Pittsburgh, 30-9, cutting their safety margin to a half-game again. St. Louis had a bye in Week 11, and a 20-7 Dallas victory over Pittsburgh gave the Cards and Cowboys records of 7-2-1. Both teams won the next week, setting up the stage for their December 4 meeting in Dallas during Week 13. The Cards took a 10-7 lead in the first quarter, but Dallas won 31-17 to take over the conference lead. In Week Fourteen, Dallas hosted Washington, and lost 34-31 on a field goal at 0:08. The Cardinals were in a must-win game against what should have been an easy opponent, the new (2-10-0) Atlanta Falcons. Instead, the Falcons notched their third win and virtually ended St. Louis's hopes to go to the title game. The St. Louis Cardinals, who lost again the next week, never got that close to the Super Bowl again before moving to Phoenix in 1988.
|1||Detroit, Green Bay, Los Angeles (tie)||1-0-0||Cleveland, St. Louis (tie)||1-0-0||Dallas Cowboys|
|2||Green Bay, Los Angeles (tie)||2-0-0||St. Louis, Pittsburgh (tie)||2-0-0||San Francisco 49ers|
|3||Green Bay Packers||3-0-0||St. Louis Cardinals||3-0-0||Chicago Bears|
|4||Green Bay Packers||4-0-0||St. Louis Cardinals||4-0-0||Baltimore Colts|
|5||Green Bay, Los Angeles (tie)||4-1-0||St. Louis Cardinals||5-0-0||Minnesota Vikings|
|6||Green Bay Packers||5-1-0||St. Louis Cardinals||5-0-1||Cleveland Browns|
|7||Green Bay Packers||6-1-0||St. Louis Cardinals||5-1-1||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|8||Green Bay Packers||7-1-0||St. Louis Cardinals||6-1-1||New York Giants|
|9||Green Bay Packers||7-2-0||St. Louis Cardinals||7-1-1||Atlanta Falcons|
|10||Baltimore, Green Bay (tie)||7-2-0||St. Louis Cardinals||7-2-1||Green Bay Packers|
|11||Green Bay Packers||8-2-0||Dallas, St. Louis (tie)||7-2-1||St. Louis Cardinals|
|12||Green Bay Packers||9-2-0||Dallas, St. Louis (tie)||8-2-1||Philadelphia Eagles|
|13||Green Bay Packers||10-2-0||Dallas Cowboys||9-2-1||Washington Redskins|
|14||Green Bay Packers||11-2-0||Dallas Cowboys||9-3-1||Los Angeles Rams|
|15||Green Bay Packers||12-2-0||Dallas Cowboys||10-3-1||Detroit Lions|
Note: Tie games were not officially counted in the standings until 1972.
The Playoff Bowl was between the conference runners-up, for third place in the league. This was its seventh year and it was played a week after the title game.