As I was preparing to attend my 20-year high school class reunion last weekend, I thought about how much the NFL has changed in that time.
The league has expanded from 28 to 32 teams, four franchises moved to different cities, one team switched conferences and the NFL realigned from six uneven—and geographically challenged—divisions to eight four-team divisions. There are various rules changes to protect offensive players and for player safety and the overtime rules have been altered.
The Cleveland Browns were still the original Cleveland Browns; the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t exist. Neither did the Tennessee Titans, because the Houston Oilers hadn’t yet bolted from the Lone Star State.
Only two teams in the NFC West in 1992 are still in the NFC West today—the Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The difference is that the Rams were in Los Angeles then and St. Louis didn’t have football. The Cardinals moved to the Arizona desert in 1989 and the Rams didn’t move to St. Louis until 1995. Los Angeles actually had two teams in 1992 because the Raiders were at the tail-end of their 12-year stay in Southern California before moving back to Oakland in 1995.
The Seattle Seahawks were in the AFC West and had scored an NFL-record low 140 points in a 2-14 season. The Cardinals, who were known as the Phoenix Cardinals because the team had not yet changed its name in an attempt to broaden its fan base statewide, were playing in the NFC East.
Just as it is today, the NFC West had four teams in 1992. The NFC West and AFC Central—with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Houston—were the only divisions with four teams. The other four divisions had five teams apiece. When the NFL realigned in 2002, it created South divisions in each conference and the Central divisions became the North divisions.
The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons—yes Atlanta was in the West and Phoenix was in the East (See “geographically challenged statement above)—left the NFC West for the newly formed NFC South. The Saints weren’t the offensive juggernaut they are today. New Orleans went 12-4 in 1992 and actually won games with the league’s best defense
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Seahawks were embroiled in a three-player quarterback competition after Dave Krieg left for Kansas City; the 49ers were at the top of the division and the Rams were at the bottom; and the Niners lost the NFC championship game to an NFC East team (Dallas) that went on to win the Super Bowl.