The AFL arrived in 1960, and professional football was never the same. Within a year, every team was playing a 14-game schedule. The Super Bowl began in 1967. The leagues merged in 1970. Before the AFL there were 12 professional teams. By the end of the ’60s, there were 26.
The Age of Expansion ran from 1960 through 1977, when the rules governing the modern passing game were fully implemented. Since teams from this era played a very different brand of football from today’s NFL, it looked and felt like football and is what many of us think of when we indulge in nostalgia.
10. 1961 Houston Oilers.
George Blanda led the high-scoring Oilers to a 10-3-1 record and a victory over San Diego in the second AFL championship. Houston threw for 313 yards per game. The next-best team threw for 203. This was the best offense in the AFL’s short history.
9. 1971 Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys were 11-3 and allowed only 18 points in three playoff games, easily beating the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl. Behind Roger Staubach, in his first full season (at the age of 29), Dallas led the league in scoring by a wide margin. They won every game he started. It was probably the best season of his long career.
8. 1976 Oakland Raiders.
The 13-1 Raiders didn’t blow everyone out, they just found ways to win almost every game, avenging their only loss – a September blowout at New England – in their playoff opener. They went on to win the Super Bowl, 32-21, over Minnesota. This was Ken Stabler, easily one of the top five players without a bust in Canton, at his best.
7. 1967 Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders were 13-1 and dominated the AFL, beating Houston 40-7 in the AFL championship game. They faltered in Super Bowl II against the Green Bay Packers, turnovers creating a big hole they couldn’t emerge from. But it was a far more competitive game than Super Bowl I, and helped give the AFL credibility that led to the merger. The Mad Bomber, Daryle Lamonica, served ably as quarterback.
6. 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steel Curtain reached its zenith in 1975 – the second of its four Super Bowl-winning seasons in the ’70s. They beat an excellent Dallas team 21-17 in the Super Bowl, sacking Roger Staubach seven times (four by L.C. Greenwood). Terry Bradshaw completed only nine passes in the game – four to MVP Lynn Swann for 161 of his 209 passing yards.
5. 1977 Dallas Cowboys.
This was the ’70s best offense, with Staubach and Tony Dorsett leading a squad that averaged 25.4 in a season that featured only 17.3 points per team per game – by far the lowest total since 1942. This was the season that led to the last major reform in opening up the passing game. So these Cowboys, who pounded Denver, 27-10, in the Super Bowl, were the last great team before the modern era. They were 12-2 during the regular season.
4. 1973 Miami Dolphins.
Coming off the undefeated season, the no-name defense was just as strong, holding opponents under 11 points per game. Miami was 12-2 in the regular season, and wound up beating Minnesota, 24-7, in the Super Bowl. Bob Griese attempted just seven passes, the defense did its thing, and Larry Csonka led a rushing attack that gained almost 200 yards on 53 carries.
3. 1968 Baltimore Colts.
If you don’t think the 2008 Super Bowl was the biggest upset in NFL history, there’s a good chance you’re thinking about Joe Namath’s victory over these Colts. A game that erased any question about the legitimacy of the AFL. The Colts were 13-1, then destroyed Cleveland, 34-0, in the NFL championship. Earl Morrall started for Baltimore in the Super Bowl, as he did all season. After three interceptions, he was replaced by 35-year-old Johnny Unitas, who couldn’t bring them back in a 16-7 loss. The strength of this team was in its defense, though, which couldn’t overcome five turnovers by the offense.
2. 1962 Green Bay Packers.
The 13-1 Packers had little trouble beating the New York Giants in the NFL championship, forcing three turnovers and riding Jim Taylor and Bart Starr to a 16-7 victory. The Packers allowed just 10.3 points per game with one of the best defenses of all-time.
1. 1972 Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins remain the only undefeated team (14-0) to win the Super Bowl. During the regular season, they led the league both in scoring and scoring defense. 38-year-old Earl Morrall was the quarterback most of the regular season after Griese broke his ankle in week six. Morrall won the first playoff game, but was struggling in the AFC championship. Griese came off the bench as the Dolphins stormed back to beat Pittsburgh. Griese then led the team past the Redskins, 14-7, for the title.