|Duration||September 17 –|
December 31, 1961
|East Champions||New York Giants|
|West Champions||Green Bay Packers|
|Champions||Green Bay Packers|
The 1961 NFL season was the 42nd regular season of the National Football League (NFL). The league expanded to 14 teams with the addition of the Minnesota Vikings, after the team's owners declined to be charter members of the new American Football League. The schedule was also expanded from 12 games per team to 14 games per team where it would stay for 16 years. The Vikings were placed in the Western Conference, and the Dallas Cowboys were switched from the Western Conference to the Eastern. The addition of the Vikings returned the NFL to an even number of teams (and eliminated the bye week of 1960 until 1966 temporarily and 1990 on a permanent basis).
The new Minnesota Vikings won their first game when they upset the Chicago Bears team, 37–13, on September 17, 1961. Mike Mercer made the Vikings' first points on a 12-yard field goal, and Fran Tarkenton guided the team to five touchdowns. The Vikings finished at 3–11 after that good start. With 14 teams in two conferences, each NFL team now played a 14-game schedule: a home-and-away series with the other six teams in their division, and two interconference games.
In Week Five, the Giants and Eagles led the Eastern Conference, and the Packers and 49ers led the Western, all with records of 4–1. The following week, the 49ers lost to the Bears, 31–0, while Green Bay beat Minnesota 33–7. The Giants and Eagles, both winners, remained tied in the Eastern standings at 5–1. In Week Seven, Dallas edged the Giants 17–16, while the Eagles beat the Redskins 27–24 on Sonny Jurgensen's last-quarter touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald. In Week Nine (November 12), the Giants beat the Eagles, 38–21, to give both teams 7–2 records, while Green Bay survived a game at Chicago, 31–28, that would otherwise have tied both teams at 6–3; Green Bay led the Western race the rest of the way. In Week Ten, New York's 42–21 win over Pittsburgh put it at 8–2, while Cleveland's 45–24 win over Philadelphia put both those teams at 7–3. In Week 11 (December 3), New York lost 20–17 to Green Bay, while the Eagles won 35–24 at Pittsburgh, tying the race again.
The Giants and Eagles, both at 9–3, met the following week in Philadelphia (December 10). After New York trailed 10–7, Coach Allie Sherman replaced Y. A. Tittle with Charlie Conerly, who at 40 was the NFL's oldest player. Conerly threw for three touchdowns for the 28–24 win. The winning score came after the Eagles were penalized for roughing the kicker on the Giants' fourth down, giving the Giants first down on the 24. At season's end (December 17), the Eagles rallied to beat Detroit 27–24, and hoped for a Giants' loss to force a playoff. At that moment, New York and Cleveland were tied 7–7 with two minutes left. A long punt by the Giants' Don Chandler pinned the Browns on their own 7-yard line, and ended any threat of a loss.
|1||4 teams (Bal, Det, Min, SF)||1–0–0||3 teams (Dal, Phi, St.L)||1–0–0|
|2||Detroit Lions||2–0–0||Tie (Dal, Phi)||2–0–0|
|3||4 teams (Bal, Det, GB, SF)||2–1–0||5 teams (Cle, Dal, NYG, Phi, StL)||2–1–0|
|4||Tie (GB, SF)||3–1–0||4 teams (Cle, Dal, NYG, Phi)||3–1–0|
|5||Tie (GB, SF)||4–1–0||Tie (NYG, Phi)||4–1–0|
|6||Green Bay Packers||5–1–0||Tie (NYG, Phi)||5–1–0|
|7||Green Bay Packers||6–1–0||Philadelphia Eagles||6–1–0|
|8||Green Bay Packers||6–2–0||Philadelphia Eagles||7–1–0|
|9||Green Bay Packers||7–2–0||Tie (NYG, Phi)||7–2–0|
|10||Green Bay Packers||8–2–0||New York Giants||8–2–0|
|11||Green Bay Packers||9–2–0||New York Giants||9–2–0|
|12||Green Bay Packers||10–2–0||Tie (NYG, Phi)||9–3–0|
|13||Green Bay Packers||10–3–0||New York Giants||10–3–0|
|14||Green Bay Packers||11–3–0||New York Giants||10–3–1|
Note: Tie games were not officially counted in the standings until 1972.
NFL Championship Game
The Playoff Bowl was between the conference runners-up, for third place in the league. This was its second year and it was played a week after the title game.
Most valuable player
- Associated Press – Paul Hornung, halfback, Green Bay Packers
- Newspaper Enterprise Association – Y. A. Tittle, quarterback, New York Giants
- United Press International – Paul Hornung, halfback, Green Bay Packers
Rookie of the year
- Associated Press – Mike Ditka, tight end, Chicago Bears
- United Press International – Mike Ditka, tight end, Chicago Bears
Coach of the year
- Associated Press – Allie Sherman, New York Giants
- United Press International – Allie Sherman, New York Giants
- Minnesota Vikings: Norm Van Brocklin became the expansion team's first head coach.
- New York Giants: Jim Lee Howell was replaced by Allie Sherman.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Buck Shaw was replaced by Nick Skorich.
- Washington Redskins: Mike Nixon was replaced by Bill McPeak.
- St. Louis Cardinals: Pop Ivy resigned after 12 games. Chuck Drulis, Ray Prochaska, and Ray Willsey served as co-head coaches for the final two games of the season.
- Briggs Stadium, the home of the Detroit Lions, was renamed Tiger Stadium
- The expansion Minnesota Vikings began play at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington
- The Washington Redskins moved from Griffith Stadium to D.C. Stadium
- "'Penalties Killed Us' Moans Eagles' Coach," Delaware County Times, Dec 11, 1961, p20
- "Giants Settle for Tie, Earn Division Title,", The Independent (Long Beach), Dec 18, 1961, pD-1
- "Hornung Is 'Most Valuable'". Star Tribune. Associated Press. December 21, 1961. p. 21. Retrieved February 2, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- Olderman, Murray (December 27, 1961). "Players Name Tittle Thorpe Trophy Winner". The Telegraph. Newspaper Enterprise Association. p. 12. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
- "Paul Hornung Voted NFL Player Of Year". Pampa Daily News. United Press International. December 29, 1961. p. 8. Retrieved May 3, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Bears' Mike Ditka Rookie Of Year". Daily Independent Journal. Associated Press. December 21, 1961. p. 14. Retrieved March 23, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Bears' Mike Ditka Named NFL's Rookie Of The Year". The Times Recorder. United Press International. December 31, 1961. p. 18. Retrieved May 3, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Allie Sherman Coach of Year". The Portsmouth Herald. Associated Press. December 19, 1961. p. 10. Retrieved March 21, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.
- "New York's Allie Sherman Named NFL Coach Of Year". The Times Recorder. United Press International. December 28, 1961. p. 13. Retrieved May 3, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.