When the New York Giants saw starting quarterback Phil Simms knocked out in December, it looked like an excellent season was doomed to playoff failure. Especially when the San Francisco 49ers, behind an MVP year from the great Joe Montana, looked unstoppable in their bid for a historic third straight Super Bowl title. And that the Buffalo Bills, an emerging superpower with names like Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith, were coming out of the AFC.
But in a most improbable January, the Giants pulled shocking upsets of the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game and the Bills in the Super Bowl. In the former, New York made a last-play field goal when they were down by a point. In the latter, a last-play field goal was missed allowing the Giants one-point lead to stand.
The journeys of the Giants, 49ers and Bills are the heart of the 1990 NFL season, but it was a year that had so much more, including…
*The Los Angeles Raiders were energized by the arrival of Bo Jackson, who played football even better than he was playing major league baseball. The Raiders outlasted the Kansas City Chiefs in a really good AFC West race and then went on to the AFC Championship Game. As for the Chiefs, they lost a heartbreaking playoff game to Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins, who enjoyed an outstanding 12-win season in their own right.
*The Chicago Bears of Mike Ditka and the Washington Redskins of Joe Gibbs returned to the postseason after short absences and each won a playoff game. The Redskins’ road win over the Philadelphia Eagles spelled the end of Buddy Ryan’s tenure in the City of Brotherly Love.
*The AFC Central had a crazy three-way race that came down to the last week of the season. The Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Oilers and Pittsburgh Steelers all finished 9-7. An Oilers-Steelers game in prime time settled the final playoff spot and it was Houston, behind a backup quarterback, that brought it home. The Bengals won the division title, then ousted the Oilers from the playoffs.
*Jimmy Johnson’s second year in Dallas looked like it might end in the playoffs. With the race for the 6-seed a mass of mediocrity, the Cowboys were in control at 7-7. But an injury to Troy Aikman resulted in two losses and opened the door to the New Orleans Saints, who stole that final postseason spot with a thrilling win in the Monday Night finale.
You can read more about all 14 of these teams—from their key players to game-by-game narratives of their seasons—at the links below. The articles are a great way to experience the 1990 NFL season all over again, through the eyes of its best teams.