Johnny Grier became the first African-American in NFL history to be promoted to referee. Grier replaced long time referee Bob Frederic, who retired in the offseason. Grier was the field judge in the previous season's Super Bowl XXII, which was the same game that Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins became the first African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl.
A standard system of two time intervals between plays are established (and would be timed using the play clock): For normal plays, the offensive team has 45 seconds to snap the ball after the previous play is signaled dead. After time outs and other administrative stoppages, the time limit is 30 seconds beginning after the Referee signals that the ball is ready to resume play.
If a fumble occurs during an extra point attempt, only the fumbling player can recover and/or advance the ball. This change closes a loophole in the "Stabler Fumble Rule" that was enacted during the 1979 NFL season in reaction to the Holy Roller Game.
The penalty for running into the kicker was changed from five yards and an automatic first down to just five yards.
Note: The Cincinnati Bengals (the AFC 1 seed) did not play the Houston Oilers (the 5 seed), nor did the Chicago Bears (the NFC 1 seed) play the Minnesota Vikings (the 4 seed), in the Divisional playoff round because those teams were in the same division.
Referees were outfitted with white hats while all other officials wore black hats, matching the standard practice in college and high school football. From 1979 through 1987, the reverse convention was used, with referees wearing black hats with all other officials wearing white hats.
The Green Bay Packers removed the elliptical green circles with the player's number from the hip area of the pants, one of the additions made in 1984 by former coach Forrest Gregg.
The New England Patriots dropped the red road pants they had worn since 1984. The red pants returned in 1990.
The San Diego Chargers switched to a darker shade of blue on their jerseys, from gold to blue face masks, and from gold to white lightning bolts. The helmets remained unchanged until a complete redesign in 2007.