1970 NFL season
|Duration||September 18 – December 20, 1970|
|Start date||December 26, 1970|
|AFC Champions||Baltimore Colts|
|NFC Champions||Dallas Cowboys|
|Super Bowl V|
|Date||January 17, 1971|
|Site||Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida|
|Date||January 24, 1971|
|Site||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum|
The 1970 NFL season was the 51st regular season of the National Football League, and the first one after the AFL–NFL merger. The season concluded with Super Bowl V when the Baltimore Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys 16–13 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. The Pro Bowl took place on January 24, 1971, where the NFC beat the AFC 27–6 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Merger between NFL and AFL
The merger forced a realignment between the combined league's clubs. Because there were 16 NFL teams and 10 AFL teams, three teams were transferred to balance the two new conferences at 13 teams each. In May 1969, the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to join all ten AFL teams to form the American Football Conference (AFC). The remaining NFL teams formed the National Football Conference (NFC).
Replacing the old Eastern and Western conferences (although divisions from those conferences still existed but were renamed to suit the realignment), the new conferences, AFC and NFC, function similar to Major League Baseball's American and National leagues, and each of those two were divided into three divisions: East, Central, and West. The two Eastern divisions had five teams; the other four divisions had four teams each. The realignment discussions for the NFC were so contentious that one final plan, out of five of them was selected from an envelope in a vase by Commissioner Pete Rozelle's secretary, Thelma Elkjer on January 16, 1970.
The format agreed on was as follows:
- NFC East: Dallas, New York Giants, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington
- NFC Central: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota
- NFC West: Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco
- AFC East: Baltimore, Buffalo, Miami, Boston, New York Jets
- AFC Central: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, Pittsburgh
- AFC West: Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego
This arrangement would keep most of the pre-merger NFL teams in the NFC and the AFL teams in the AFC. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltimore were placed in the AFC in order to balance it out, while the NFC equalized the competitive strength of its East and West divisions rather than sorting out teams just geographically.
Division alignment in 1970 was largely intended to preserve the pre-merger setups, keeping traditional rivals in the same division. Plans were also made to add two expansion teams—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks—but this would not take place until 1976, seven years after the merger.
Former NFL alignment
Prior to 1966, the NFL had two seven-team conferences:
- Eastern Conference: Cleveland, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Washington
- Western Conference: Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and San Francisco.
Atlanta was added as an expansion franchise in 1966 and placed in the Eastern Conference. Every team had a bye week during the 1966 season.
When New Orleans was awarded an expansion franchise for 1967, the NFL divided its teams into two eight-team conferences, with two four-team divisions in each conference as follows:
- Eastern Conference/Capitol Division: Dallas, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington
- Eastern Conference/Century Division: Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis
- Western Conference/Central Division: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, and Minnesota
- Western Conference/Coastal Division: Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
The Giants and Saints swapped divisions in 1968, and then returned to the 1967 alignment in 1969.
Former AFL alignment
Meanwhile, the AFL for entire its 10-year existence had:
- Eastern Division: Boston, Buffalo, Houston, and New York (with Miami added in 1966)
- Western Division: Dallas/Kansas City, Denver, Los Angeles/San Diego, and Oakland (with Cincinnati added in 1968).
The 26-team league began to use an eight-team playoff format, four from each conference, that included the three division winners and a wild card team, the second-place team with the best record. The season concluded with the Colts defeating the Dallas Cowboys 16–13 in Super Bowl V, the first Super Bowl played for the NFL Championship. The game was held at the Orange Bowl in Miami, and was the first Super Bowl played on artificial turf (specifically, Poly-Turf).
Seven teams played their home games on artificial turf in 1970. This was up from 2 teams in both the NFL and AFL in 1969. The teams were: Cincinnati, Dallas, Miami, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, who joined Houston and Philadelphia, the two teams which played on turf in 1969. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh opened new stadiums: Riverfront Stadium and Three Rivers Stadium.
To televise their games, the combined league retained the services of CBS and NBC, who were previously the primary broadcasters of the NFL and the AFL, respectively. It was then decided that CBS would televise all NFC teams (including playoff games) while NBC all AFC teams. For interconference games, CBS would broadcast them if the visiting team was from the NFC and NBC would carry them when the visitors were from the AFC. At the time, all NFL games were blacked out in the home team's market, so this arrangement meant that fans in each team's home market would see all of their team's televised Sunday afternoon games on the same network (CBS for NFC teams and NBC for AFC teams). The two networks also divided up the Super Bowl on a yearly rotation.
Meanwhile, with the debut of Monday Night Football on ABC September 21, 1970, the league became the first professional sports league in the United States to have a regular series of nationally televised games in prime-time, and the only league ever to have its games televised on all of the then-three major broadcast networks at the same time. Both teams that advanced to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys, had suffered humiliating defeats at home on Monday Night Football during the season.
Before the season, the league had demanded that the Chicago Bears find a new home field: Wrigley Field was too small, as it did not meet the new stadium requirement to seat at least 50,000, and it did not have lights installed (and would not install them until 1988), meaning it was unavailable for late afternoon and night games. The Chicago Cubs baseball team, which shared the stadium with the Bears, did not want to convert it to a football configuration while the Cubs were still in playoff contention.
As a result, the Chicago Bears' first home game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles was played at Northwestern University's Dyche Stadium; the Bears also treated this game as a trial run for possibly moving their home games to Evanston.
Dyche Stadium (since renamed Ryan Field), which did not have lights at the time (nor does it have permanent standards today), was planned to make the Bears' new home, but a deal fell through due to strong opposition from several athletic directors in the Big Ten Conference and residents of Evanston. After negotiations with the Cubs' ownership for continued use of Wrigley Field collapsed, the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971 where they remain to the present day, save for a temporary relocation in 2002 to the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium while Soldier Field was completely renovated.
The Boston Patriots played in their fourth different facility in 11 seasons, leaving Alumni Stadium at Boston College for Harvard Stadium, the only facility in Massachusetts at that time which met the NFL's 50,000-seat minimum. The struggles to find a home led the Patriots to hastily construct Schaeffer Stadium in Foxborough, which opened in 1971. The Patriots, who were renamed from "Boston" to "New England" when they moved, continue to play in Foxborough in Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002.
On November 8, New Orleans Saints placekicker Tom Dempsey kicked a record 63-yard field goal. The record stood for 43 years (tied in 1998, 2011 and 2012) until it was broken in 2013 by Denver Broncos' Matt Prater.
Major rule changes
The NFL rules became the standardized rules for the merged league, with two exceptions that were both carried over from the AFL:
- The stadium's scoreboard clock became the official game clock.
- The practice of having the players' last names added to the backs of their jerseys became universal. The old NFL teams did not have names on the back prior to this season, whereas the AFL teams did.
After experimenting with compromise rules regarding the two-point conversion (then exclusive to the AFL) during the late 1960s preseasons, the NFL decided not to use that feature and use its previous rule only allowing one point for any conversion. The two-point conversion would not be added to the NFL rules until 1994.
Starting in 1970, there were three divisions (Eastern, Central and Western) 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, common opponents records, and conference play.
The New York Giants lost their last regular-season game. Had they won that game, they would have tied for first place in the NFC East division and taken the division championship on a tie-breaker; then, the tie-breakers would have simply led to a coin toss between Dallas and Detroit for the NFC wild card. Because of this close call regarding possible use of coin toss, future tie-breakers would be expanded to have more competitive aspects.
National Football Conference
|1||Dallas||1–0–0||3 teams||1–0–0||3 teams||1–0–0||4 teams||1–0–0|
|2||Dallas||2–0–0||3 teams||2–0–0||2 teams||2–0–0||3 teams||2–0–0|
|3||St. Louis*||2–1–0||Detroit||3–0–0||Los Angeles||3–0–0||6 teams||2–1–0|
|4||St. Louis*||3–1–0||Detroit*||3–1–0||San Francisco*||3–1–0||4 teams||3–1–0|
|5||St. Louis||4–1–0||Detroit*||4–1–0||Los Angeles||4–1–0||Minnesota||4–1–0|
|6||St. Louis*||4–2–0||Detroit*||5–1–0||San Francisco||4–1–1||Minnesota||5–1–0|
|7||St. Louis*||5–2–0||Minnesota||6–1–0||San Francisco||5–1–1||3 teams||5–2–0|
|8||St. Louis||6–2–0||Minnesota||7–1–0||San Francisco||6–1–1||Los Angeles||5–2–1|
|9||St. Louis||7–2–0||Minnesota||8–1–0||San Francisco||7–1–1||N.Y. Giants||6–3–0|
|10||St. Louis||7–2–1||Minnesota||9–1–0||San Francisco||7–2–1||Los Angeles||6–3–1|
|11||St. Louis||8–2–1||Minnesota||9–2–0||Los Angeles*||7–3–1||San Francisco||7–3–1|
|12||St. Louis||8–3–1||Minnesota||10–2–0||Los Angeles*||8–3–1||San Francisco||8–3–1|
|13||N.Y. Giants*||9–4–0||Minnesota||11–2–0||San Francisco||9–3–1||Dallas*||9–4–0|
American Football Conference
|1||2 teams||1–0–0||3 teams||1–0–0||Denver||1–0–0||3 teams||1–0–0|
|2||4 teams||1–1–0||3 teams||1–1–0||Denver||2–0–0||6 teams||1–1–0|
|3||Baltimore*||2–1–0||2 teams||2–1–0||Denver||3–0–0||2 teams||2–1–0|
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against
wild card berth, – clinched division title– clinched
Note: Prior to 1972, the NFL did not include tie games when calculating a team's winning percentage in the official standings
|New York Jets||4||10||0||.286||255||286|
|Kansas City Chiefs||7||5||2||.583||272||244|
|San Diego Chargers||5||6||3||.455||282||278|
|New York Giants||9||5||0||.643||301||270|
|St. Louis Cardinals||8||5||1||.615||325||228|
|Green Bay Packers||6||8||0||.429||196||293|
|y-San Francisco 49ers||10||3||1||.769||352||267|
|Los Angeles Rams||9||4||1||.692||325||202|
|New Orleans Saints||2||11||1||.154||172||347|
- Green Bay finished ahead of Chicago in the NFC Central based on better division record (2–4 to Bears' 1–5).
- Note: Although the home teams in these playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation, the home club coincidentally happened to be the one with the better record in every game. Had the playoffs been seeded, the only difference would have been that the #4 wild card Lions, ineligible to play the Vikings, would have played at the #2 49ers and the #3 Cowboys would have played at the #1 Vikings in the NFC divisional playoffs.
|Divisional Playoffs||Conf. Championship Games||Super Bowl V|
|December 27 – Oakland Coliseum|
|January 3 – Memorial Stadium|
|December 26 – Memorial Stadium|
|January 17 – Miami Orange Bowl|
|December 26 – Cotton Bowl|
|January 3 – Kezar Stadium|
|December 27 – Metropolitan Stadium|
The 1970 NFL Draft was held from January 27 to 28, 1970 at New York City's Belmont Plaza Hotel. With the first pick, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected quarterback Terry Bradshaw from Louisiana Tech University.
- Baltimore Colts: Don McCafferty replaced Don Shula, who left the team to coach the Miami Dolphins.
- Miami Dolphins: Don Shula left the Baltimore Colts to replace the fired George Wilson as Miami's head coach.
- San Diego Chargers: Charlie Waller began his first full season as head coach. He replaced Sid Gillman to serve for five games in 1969 due to Gillman's poor health.
- Washington Redskins: Vince Lombardi was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late June and died on September 3. Offensive line coach Bill Austin served as Washington's head coach for the 1970 season.
|Baltimore: Don McCafferty||Cincinnati: Paul Brown||Denver: Lou Saban||Dallas: Tom Landry||Chicago: Jim Dooley||Atlanta: Norm Van Brocklin|
|Boston: Clive Rush||Cleveland: Blanton Collier||Kansas City: Hank Stram||NY Giants: Alex Webster||Detroit: Joe Schmidt||Los Angeles: George Allen|
|Buffalo: John Rauch||Houston: Wally Lemm||Oakland: John Madden||Philadelphia: Jerry Williams||Green Bay: Phil Bengtson||New Orleans: Tom Fears|
|Miami: Don Shula||Pittsburgh: Chuck Noll||San Diego: Charlie Waller||St. Louis: Charley Winner||Minnesota: Bud Grant||San Francisco: Dick Nolan|
|NY Jets: Weeb Ewbank||Washington: Bill Austin|
- Boston Patriots: Clive Rush resigned after seven games into the season due to medical reasons. John Mazur served as interim for the rest of the season.
- New Orleans Saints: Tom Fears was fired after a 1-5-1 start. J. D. Roberts was named as his replacement.
- NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
- NFL History 1961–1970[permanent dead link] (Last accessed December 4, 2005)
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- Anderson, Dave (February 27, 2000). "Sports of The Times; The Woman Who Aligned the N.F.C. Teams". New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
- Brinson, Wil. "LOOK: Matt Prater makes NFL record 64-yard field goal". CBSSports.com. CBS. Retrieved December 25, 2013.