Yes, I do realize I just covered 1995, but the 1996 NFL Season might be even more important, as we’re seeing a lot of change taking place here, meaning I’m also going to cover 1998 and 1999, as so much turbulence happened in the NFL during this time frame, dating back to 1995.
If you haven’t read my previous articles regarding helmet designs, histories, and in the case of the 1990s, relocations, let’s start with a timeline:
NFL expands, founding the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Los Angeles Rams move to St. Louis to become the St. Louis Rams (the Rams eventually returned to Los Angeles in 2016), the Los Angeles Raiders relocate back to Oakland to become the Oakland Raiders again. The Cleveland Browns spend their final season in Cleveland before the franchise is deactivated for three seasons.
Baltimore Ravens are founded, using a relocated staff and player personnel from the 1995 Browns.
Houston Oilers relocate to Memphis, Tennessee while they await their new stadium to be built in Nashville, becoming the Tennessee Oilers.
Cleveland Browns return to the NFL after a three-season hiatus, retaining their name, colors, and history and are considered to have suspended operations between 1996 and 1998. The Tennessee Oilers name is retired upon settling in their new Nashville Stadium and are renamed the Tennessee Titans. The Houston Texans are founded, set to begin play in 2002.
So, as you can see there’s a lot to cover here.
Further, the 1996 season also saw something unique and almost saw something no other North American sport could ever claim until 2018. You die-hards know what I’m talking about here, but I’ll wait for the others to catch up.
But, as appropriately stated via Wikipedia, the season was marked with notable controversies from beginning to end, starting with the Browns’ relocation controversy to Cowboys’ receiver Michael Irvin getting arrested in a Las Vegas Penthouse covered in cocaine after celebrating his 30th birthday.
1996 had it all.
So, as you can see, we have the debut season of the expansion Baltimore Ravens. Technically, the old Cleveland Browns are to have suspended operations from 1996-1998. While the Browns’ players and personnel technically relocated, the Ravens were officially founded in 1996.
Houston Oilers: 8-8
New, darker green helmets for the Eagles, who abandoned kelly green after the 1995 season in favor of a darker look. As stated in previous articles, this trend would continue well into the 2000s.
The 49ers darkened their shade of red, added red facemasks, and slightly tweaked their logo.
Carolina Panthers; 13
Green Bay Packers: 30
Let me start out with this question: Who would’ve thought? The Panthers, in just their second season defeated the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Dallas
Cowboys, in their first ever playoff game. Their second game came against the Packers, and they took a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
However, Green Bay stormed back, leading 17-10 at halftime, and by the middle of the third quarter, led 20-13. Carolina wouldn’t score again, and went down 30-13, but put the league on notice, stating it doesn’t matter when a team is founded, they’re always a threat to make it deep into the playoffs and in the case of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, the Championship round, which occurred in 2018.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 6
New England Patriots: 20
Yep, if the Panthers’ magical playoff run wasn’t enough, the 4-7 Jaguars were
down-and-out in Week Thirteen, but ran the table and finished 9-7, sneaking into the playoffs as the fifth seed by winning two tiebreakers versus the Colts and Chiefs, the former entering the playoffs as a sixth seed.
Toward the end of the third quarter, the Jaguars trailed 13-6, but later in the fourth, the Patriots put seven more points on the board to punch their way into Super Bowl XXXI.
Dream Super Bowl
It’s crazy to think lightning can strike once, but in the NFL it struck twice, and we nearly saw a Super Bowl between two teams who didn’t even exist prior to 1993 (both teams were technically founded in late-1993, but began play in 1995). Not just that, expansion teams just don’t win.
During the prior expansion back in 1976, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the season 0-14 while the Seattle Seahawks finished at 2-12. The Bucs made the NFC
Championship in 1979 during their fourth season of existence while the Seahawks did so in 1983, but it took the Buccaneers 24 seasons to play in and win their first Super Bowl while the Seahawks would play in their 27th season, winning their first in 2013, 36 seasons after their founding. Ironically, the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl appearance involved beating Carolina in the NFC Championship.
While the Panthers have been to two Super Bowls, the Jaguars still have yet to reach the big game, coming close in 2017 during yet another Cinderella run. Coincidentally, that game also came against the Patriots.
Who would’ve won?
I’m saying Carolina by two touchdowns, but we’ll never know.
Super Bowl XXXI
New England Patriots: 21
Green Bay Packers: 35
The underdog Patriots took a 14-10 lead in the first quarter, but the Packers stormed back and led 27-14 at the half. In the third, the Patriots managed to cut the Packers lead to six, closing the gap at 27-21.
However, the Packers would score again later in the third and tacked on a two-point conversion, taking a two-touchdown lead going into the fourth. A defensive struggle in the fourth quarter proved too much for the Patriots and the team fell to Green Bay in its second Super Bowl in team history while the Packers claimed their first championship since 1967.
The Patriots at the time were known more for their losing, being used as fodder during their first Super Bowl appearance in a 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in 1985. The Packers would return to the game in 1997, but lost to John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
Both teams would find success in the 2000s, but as we all know, the Patriots became the Kings of the Apex in the first two decades of the 2000s, winning six Super Bowls in nine overall trips, tying the Steelers for most Super Bowl wins by a single franchise.