1968 NFL season
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|Duration||September 14 –|
December 15, 1968
|East Champions||Cleveland Browns|
|West Champions||Baltimore Colts|
The 1968 NFL season was the 49th regular season of the National Football League. Per the agreement made during the 1967 realignment, the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants switched divisions; the Saints joined the Century Division while the Giants became part of the Capitol Division.
The season ended when the Baltimore Colts defeated the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game, only to be defeated by the American Football League's New York Jets in Super Bowl III 16–7 at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Subsequently, it was the first time in the history of professional football in which the NFL champion was not crowned as the world champion. One year later, this feat would be repeated, as the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs defeated the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
The 1968 NFL/AFL Draft, the first time that both leagues conducted a combined common draft, was held January 30–31, 1968, at New York City's Belmont Plaza Hotel. With the first pick, the Minnesota Vikings selected offensive tackle Ron Yary from the University of Southern California.
The Eastern Conference was split into the Capitol and Century Divisions, and the Western Conference had the Coastal and Central Divisions. In the past, if two teams were tied for the division lead at season's end, a one-game playoff was conducted to break the tie. Starting in 1967, a tiebreaking system was implemented that started with net points in head-to-head competition, followed by the team that had less recently played in a title game. As such, only one team in a division would be the division winner, even if the won-lost record was the same.
Colts and Rams
For the second straight season, the Colts and Rams waged a tight season long battle for the Coastal Division title. In 1967, the Rams defeated the Colts in the season's final game to claim the title. They appeared headed for a similar showdown in 1968 (they were scheduled to face each other in the season finale in L.A.), as the Rams entered week 13 with a 10-1-1 record while the Colts were 11-1-0. But in the next to last game, the Rams were upset by the Chicago Bears 17-16 in what was known as "the lost down game." The biggest play in the game came when the Rams completed a second down pass to get into field goal range in the final minute, but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty. It should have remained second down due to the Bears accepting the penalty on the Rams, but the referees forgot to reset the down marker. After two incomplete passes, the Rams lined up for a fourth down attempt, but referee Norm Schachter and his crew waived the Bears offense onto the field on a change of possession; the Bears ran out the clock and the Colts (who won the day before) clinched the division. In the now-meaningless season finale, the Colts won 28-24.
The Bears' aforementioned win over the Rams put them in position to clinch the Central Division title with a win in the season finale vs. the Packers at Wrigley Field. When Chicago lost 28-27 and the Vikings defeated the Eagles 24-17 at Franklin Field, Minnesota was in the playoffs for the first time with the first of its ten Central division championships between 1968-78. (Had Chicago and Minnesota finished tied, the Bears would have advanced due to their head-to-head sweep.)
|6||Dallas||6–0–0||St. Louis*||3–3–0||Los Angeles||6–0–0||Detroit||3–2–1|
- indicates more than one team with record
Note: Tie games were not officially counted in the standings until 1972.
|Conference championship games||NFL Championship Game|
|December 22 – Memorial Stadium|
|Minnesota Vikings (8–6)||14|
|December 29 – Cleveland Stadium|
|Baltimore Colts (13–1)||24|
|December 21 – Cleveland Stadium|
|Dallas Cowboys (12–2)||20|
|Cleveland Browns (10–4)||31|
|Most Valuable Player||Earl Morrall, quarterback, Baltimore Colts|
|Coach of the Year||Don Shula, Baltimore Colts|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||Earl McCullouch, wide receiver, Detroit|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Claude Humphrey, defensive end, Atlanta|
- Chicago Bears: George Halas stepped down as head coach and was replaced by Jim Dooley.
- San Francisco 49ers: Jack Christiansen was replaced by Dick Nolan.
- Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi stepped down as head coach less than one month after winning Super Bowl II and was replaced by his long time assistant, Phil Bengston.
- 100 Things Dolphins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Armando Salguero, Triumph Books, Chicago, 2020, ISBN 978-1-62937-722-3, p.46