NFL History: 5 major things that happened 30 years ago in the league

Super Bowl XXIX - San Diego Chargers v San Francico 49ers
Super Bowl XXIX - San Diego Chargers v San Francico 49ers / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

Back in 1994, the NFL was still made up of 28 teams. The following season, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars raised the number of franchises in the league to 30.

It was also three decades ago that the National Football League was in the midst of some of the great quarterback performances in the game’s history. There were the likes of Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, John Elway, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre. All seven of those men now have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 1994, one of those men would enjoy one of the great campaigns by a quarterback in league annals.

Meanwhile, that season would also mark the end of the career of a legend whose football resume stacks up with the best to ever play the game.

A mere 30 years ago this season in the NFL

5. Chargers make their only Super Sunday appearance

These days, the franchise has another new head coach. In 1994, Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. Now he’s the Chargers' newest sideline leader and is hoping to help the organization rebound from a disappointing 5-12 campaign. Of course, it was a much different story three decades ago.

Back in 1994 and under the guidance of Bobby Ross, the then-San Diego Chargers won the AFC West, outlasted the Miami Dolphins in the divisional playoffs, and upset the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium in the AFC title game. The Bolts were no match for the Niners, 49-26, in Super Bowl XXIX at South Florida.

4. Dan Marino fakes out the Jets

It was his 12th year in the National Football League, and the legendary hurler was coming off a rough 1993 season in which he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 6 at Cleveland. Dan Marino missed the team’s final 10 games, and Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins missed the playoffs after a 9-2 start.

Trailing 24-6 in the third quarter against the rival Jets at East Rutherford, Marino would respond with three unanswered TD passes to Mark Ingram, who caught four on the day. Down 24-21 with less than a minute to play, Marino fooled the Jets into thinking his team was playing for overtime. Then came this!

3. Joe Cool’s final season

He was a third-round draft choice in 1979. Former Golden Domer Joe Montana started one game as a rookie, seven in his second season, then took over Bill Walsh’s offense in 1981. The Cinderella 49ers would go onto win Super Bowl XVI, and Montana would lead the team to three more Lombardi Trophies.

The Niners were looking to three-peat in 1990, but late in the NFC title game vs. the Giants, Montana was nailed from behind by Leonard Marshall. The hit cost him nearly two seasons, and he ended his career with the Chiefs—leading the team to the playoffs (AFC title game in 1993) in both years with the club.

2. The salary cap era begins

In 1993, the National Football League ushered in the era of free agency that the game is accustomed to now. That year, teams went after players with gusto. No doubt the biggest move that offseason was the Green Bay Packers prying dominant defensive lineman Reggie White away from the Philadelphia Eagles.

A year later, a salary cap was implemented. As revenues have increased over the last 30 years, there has been massive changes to the numbers (save for the decrease in 2021 due to COVID-19). The NFL’s salary cap for 2024 is $255.4 million, more than $30 million than in 2023. What could that number be in ’25?

1. Monkey off the back

George Seifert’s clubs had come up short in both the 1992 and 1993 NFC title games vs. the Dallas Cowboys. The former had to hurt a little more considering the team finished 14-2 and wound up losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions at home, no less. However, sweet revenge was on the horizon.

The 1994 49ers bolstered their roster with veteran additions, including cornerback Deion Sanders. Steve Young enjoyed his finest moment. He was the NFL’s MVP, and also earned Super Bowl XXIX Most Valuable Player honors when he threw for a game-high six scores in the team’s 49-26 win over the Chargers.