1977 NFL season

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1977 National Football League season
1986 Jeno's Pizza - 02 - Butch Johnson.jpg
The Cowboys playing against the Broncos in Super Bowl XII
Regular season
Duration September 18, 1977 – December 18, 1977
Start date December 24, 1977
AFC Champions Denver Broncos
NFC Champions Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl XII
Date January 15, 1978
Site Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Champions Dallas Cowboys
Pro Bowl
Date January 23, 1978
Site Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida

The 1977 NFL season was the 58th regular season of the National Football League. The Seattle Seahawks were placed in the AFC West while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were slotted into the NFC Central.

Instead of a traditional Thanksgiving Day game hosted by the Dallas Cowboys, the league scheduled a Miami Dolphins at St. Louis Cardinals contest. This would be only the second season since 1966 that the Cowboys did not play on that holiday. It marked the last time that the Cowboys did not play on Thanksgiving.

This was the last NFL regular season with 14 games. The regular season was expanded to 16 games in 1978, with the preseason reduced from six games to four. It was also the final season of the eight-team playoff field in the NFL, before going to ten the following season.

The 1977 season is considered the last season of the “Dead Ball Era” of professional football (1970 to 1977). The 17.2 average points scored per team per game was the lowest since 1942. For 1978, the league made significant changes to allow greater offensive production.[1]

The season ended with Super Bowl XII when the Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos.

Major rule changes

  • The head slap is outlawed.[2] This change is referred to as the "Deacon Jones Rule"; the Los Angeles Rams' defensive end frequently used this technique.
  • Any shoe worn by a player with an artificial limb must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe.[2] Informally referred to as the "Tom Dempsey Rule." Dempsey is a record-breaking placekicker whose modified shoe (having a flattened and enlarged toe area) on his deformed kicking foot generated controversy during his career.
  • Defenders are only permitted to make contact with receivers once.
  • Defenders are not allowed to make contact with an opponent above the shoulders with the palms of their hands, except to ward him off the line.
  • Offensive linemen are not allowed to thrust their hands to a defender’s neck, face, or head.
  • Wide receivers are not allowed to clip defenders.
  • This was the first season when the statistic for time of possession began to be recorded.

New Referees

Tommy Bell retired after the 1976 season. His line judge, Jerry Markbreit, was named his successor. Bell worked two Super Bowls, III and VII. Markbreit would work four Super Bowls, and is (as of 2019) the only referee to achieve this.

Division races

Tampa Bay and Seattle continued as "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. Tampa Bay switched to the NFC and played the other 13 members of the conference, while Seattle did the same in the AFC. The teams met in Week Five, with Seattle winning 30–23.

Starting in 1970, and through 2001, except for the strike-shortened 1982 season, 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.

National Football Conference

Week Eastern Central Western Wild Card
1 3 teams 1–0 (Chicago, Green Bay) 1–0 Atlanta 1–0 3 teams 1–0
2 Dallas 2–0 4 teams 1–1 Atlanta* 1–1 8 teams 1–1
3 Dallas 3–0 Minnesota 2–1* Atlanta 2–1 3 teams 2–1
4 Dallas 4–0 Minnesota 3–1 Atlanta 3–1 Washington 3–1
5 Dallas 5–0 Minnesota 4–1 Atlanta* 3–2 3 teams 3–2
6 Dallas 6–0 Minnesota 4–2 Atlanta* 4–2 Los Angeles 4–2
7 Dallas 7–0 Minnesota 5–2 Atlanta* 4–3 St. Louis* 4–3
8 Dallas 8–0 Minnesota 5–3 Los Angeles 5–3 St. Louis* 5–3
9 Dallas 8–1 Minnesota 6–3 Los Angeles 6–3 St. Louis* 6–3
10 Dallas 8–2 Minnesota 6–4 Los Angeles 7–3 St. Louis 7–3
11 Dallas 9–2 Minnesota 7–4 Los Angeles 8–3 St. Louis 7–4
12 Dallas 10–2 Minnesota 8–4 Los Angeles 8–4 St. Louis* 7–5
13 Dallas 11–2 Chicago* 8–5 Los Angeles 10–3 Washington* 8–5
14 Dallas 12–2 Minnesota* 9–5 Los Angeles 10–4 Chicago* 9–5

* other teams with same W-L record

American Football Conference

Week Eastern Central Western Wild Card
1 (Baltimore, Miami) 1–0 3 teams 1–0 (Denver, Oakland) 1–0 5 teams 1–0
2 (Baltimore, Miami) 2–0 (Cleveland, Houston) 2–0 (Denver, Oakland) 2–0 3 teams 2–0–0
3 (Baltimore, Miami) 3–0 Cleveland* 2–1 (Denver, Oakland) 3–0 2 teams 3–0
4 Baltimore 4–0 Houston 3–1 (Denver, Oakland) 4–0 2 teams 4–0
5 Baltimore 5–0 Pittsburgh* 3–2 Denver 5–0 Oakland* 4–1
6 Baltimore* 5–1 Pittsburgh* 3–2 Denver 6–0 Oakland* 5–1
7 Baltimore 6–1 Cleveland 5–2 Oakland* 6–1 Denver 6–1
8 Baltimore 7–1 Cleveland 5–3 Oakland* 7–1 Denver 7–1
9 Baltimore 8–1 Pittsburgh* 5–4 Oakland* 8–1 Denver 8–1
10 Baltimore 9–1 Pittsburgh* 6–4 Denver 9–1 Oakland 8–2
11 Baltimore* 9–2 Pittsburgh 7–4 Denver 10–1 Oakland 9–2
12 Baltimore* 9–3 Pittsburgh 8–4 Denver 11–1 Oakland 9–3
13 Baltimore* 9–4 Pittsburgh* 8–5 Denver 12–1 Oakland 10–3
14 Baltimore* 10–4 Pittsburgh 9–5 Denver 12–2 Oakland 11–3

* other teams with same W-L record

Final standings


  • Baltimore finished ahead of Miami in the AFC East based on better conference record (9–3 to Dolphins’ 8–4).
  • N.Y. Jets finished ahead of Buffalo in the AFC East based on better point-differential in head-to-head competition (1 point).
  • Houston finished ahead of Cincinnati in the AFC Central based on better point-differential in head-to-head competition (2 points).
  • Minnesota finished ahead of Chicago in the NFC Central based on better point-differential in head-to-head competition (3 points).
  • Chicago won the NFC Wild Card over Washington based on better net points in conference games (48 to Redskins’ 4).
  • Philadelphia finished ahead of N.Y. Giants in the NFC East based on head-to-head sweep (2–0).


Divisional Playoffs Conf. Championship Games Super Bowl XII
* December 26 – Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
3) Minnesota 14
January 1 – Texas Stadium
2) Los Angeles 7
3) Minnesota 6
December 26 – Texas Stadium
1) Dallas 23
4) Chicago 7
January 15 – Louisiana Superdome
1) Dallas 37
N1) Dallas 27
December 24 – Memorial Stadium
A1) Denver 10
4) Oakland (2OT) 37
January 1 – Mile High Stadium
2)* Baltimore 31
4) Oakland 17
December 24 – Mile High Stadium
1) Denver 20
3) Pittsburgh 21
1)* Denver 34

*The Denver Broncos (the AFC 1 seed) did not play the Oakland Raiders (the 4 seed) in the Divisional playoff round because both teams were in the same division.


Most Valuable Player Walter Payton, Running Back, Chicago
Coach of the Year Red Miller, Denver
Offensive Player of the Year Walter Payton, Running Back, Chicago
Defensive Player of the Year Harvey Martin, Defensive End, Dallas
Offensive Rookie of the Year Tony Dorsett, Running Back, Dallas
Defensive Rookie of the Year A. J. Duhe, Defensive End, Miami
Man of the Year Walter Payton, Running Back, Chicago
Comeback Player of the Year Craig Morton, Quarterback, Denver
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Randy White, Defensive Tackle, Dallas and Harvey Martin, Defensive End, Dallas


The 1977 NFL Draft was held from May 3 to 4, 1977 at New York City’s Roosevelt Hotel. With the first pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected running back Ricky Bell from the University of Southern California.

Coaching changes




  • 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)
  1. ^ Pro-Football-Reference.com: NFL Season By Season Scoring Summary
  2. ^ a b "NFL restricts line blocks, outlaws defensive head slap". Chicago Tribune. wire services. June 16, 1977. p. 3, sec. 4.
  • 1977 Regular season Standings (Last accessed April 24, 2014)
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