Time flies in the National Football League. One moment, a $103.0 million dollar franchise quarterback scrambles out of a collapsing pocket, the next a sixth-round backup leads the team to its first Super Bowl victory. The scenario, of course, happened in 2001, when a Drew Bledsoe injury paved the way to the Tom Brady era.
Yesterday, the New England Patriots’ future Hall of Famer and consensus greatest quarterback to ever grace the gridiron, celebrated his 40th birthday. And in those 40 years, the world and the NFL have changed quite a bit. Let’s take a look back at the year Brady was born – the 1977 NFL season.
Overall, the league consisted of 28 teams playing in three divisions per conference: One eastern, one western and one central division. Two teams changed divisions when compared to the 1976 season: The Seattle Seahawks moved to the AFC West while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved to the NFC Central. Each team played 14 games with four per conference qualifying for the playoffs – the format was changed to 16 and 10 the following year.
The AFC’s top seeded Denver Broncos (12-2) were able to advance to the Super Bowl, where they faced the NFC’s number one seeded Dallas Cowboys (12-2). The Cowboys defense dominated Super Bowl XXII and forced eight takeaways while virtually shutting down Denver’s aerial attack. Consequently, Dallas won the game 27-10 to capture its second world championship.
Super Bowl XXII was also the only title game that saw two players named MVP: Cowboys defenders Randy White and Harvey Martin shared the honors. Speaking of MVP, Chicago Bears running back Walter Peyton, who led the league with 1,852 rushing yards, was named the regular season’s most valuable player.
Who were the most productive teams?
As noted above, the Cowboys and Broncos shared the best records in the league at 12-2. The Oakland Raiders, meanwhile, owned the most productive offense in the NFL and scored an average of 25.1 points per contest. The best defense belonged to the Atlanta Falcons: The team’s opponents scored only 9.2 points per game when going against the Falcons.
Who were the most productive players?
Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese led the NFL in passing touchdowns with 22. Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota Vikings) had the highest completion percentage (60.1%), Joe Ferguson (Buffalo Bills) threw for the most yards (2,803) and simultaneously also led the league in interceptions (24). In the meantime, Walter Peyton rushed for the above-mentioned 1,852 yards and also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (14).
Baltimore Colts running back Lydell Mitchell caught the most passes in the league (71) while the Cowboys’ Drew Pearson led all pass catchers with 870 yards. Miami’s Nat Moore was the top touchdown scorer among receivers with 12. Defensively, Lyle Blackwood, also of the Colts, was the league-leader in interceptions with 10.
How did the Patriots look?
Led by head coach Chuck Fairbanks, the late 1970s were one of the most productive eras in early franchise history. The 1977 team finished with a 9-5 record and finished as the third-best team in the AFC East. However, the record was not enough to make the playoffs for a second straight year.
Who was drafted?
Overall, one Hall of Fame players entered the league in 1977: Cowboys running back and offensive rookie of the year Tony Dorsett. The Patriots’ first round selection would ultimately wind up in another Hall of Fame, the franchise’s: cornerback Raymond Clayborn.
The first overall selection was made by the 0-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team picked USC running back Ricky Bell, who lasted five years with the team.
What else happened?
1977 was the last season of the so-called "Dead Ball era“, a time dominated by defense with little offensive appeal particularly in the passing game. On average, each team scored a mere 17.2 points per game – the lowest output of the Super Bowl era.
1977 also was the last year the Dallas Cowboys did not appear on national television on Thanksgiving. Instead, the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Cardinals were the team to entertain America during the Thanksgiving classic.
1977 also saw one of the worst teams in league history break its 26-game losing streak: After going winless during their first ever season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally won a game in week 13 of the 1977 season by beating Archie Manning and the New Orleans Saints 33-14. Tampa Bay also won its next game.