Pro Football Season Produces a Helmetful of Superlatives
The National Football League's 1994 regular season - its 75th - produced numerous milestones. Here's a sampling:
MOST TOUCHDOWNS SCORED, CAREER: 139, wide receiver Jerry Rice, San Francisco (1985-94). Rice surpassed the old mark in September's season opener, when his third touchdown of the game (two on pass receptions, one on a reverse) moved him ahead of fullback Jim Brown, who scored 126 touchdowns in nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Rice has benefitted from catching footballs thrown by two of game's all-time passing greats, Joe Montana and Steve Young. He's now caught more TD passes from Young, who this season recorded the highest seasonal passer rating ever (112.8, compared with Montana's 112.4 in 1989). Young also became the first quarterback in history to lead the quarterback ratings four years in a row.
MOST PASSES ATTEMPTED, SEASON: 691, Drew Bledsoe, New England. Any hope the Patriots had of bringing along their second-year quarterback slowly went by the boards. Coach Bill Parcells handed Bledsoe the keys, and he guided the team to its first playoff appearance since 1986. Bledsoe shattered the old mark for season pass attempts, 655 by Houston's Warren Moon in 1991, and established marks for most completions (45) and attempts (70) in a game. Bledsoe also was adept at distributing the ball, helping to make New England the first team in league history with five players to log 50 or more catches each. Ben Coates led the way with 96 receptions, one more than Todd Christensen used to set the previous league record for tight ends in 1986. MOST KICKOFF RETURN YARDS GAINED, GAME: 304, Tyrone Hughes, New Orleans. Hughes was sensational against the Los Angeles Rams, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns (to tie three others in the record book) and adding 43 yards on punt returns. That brought his afternoon total to 347 yards. This broke the old combined-yardage record of 294 yards, which also stood as the old kickoff mark. Hughes was no one-day wonder, either: He broke the record for kickoff return yardage for a season with 1,556. Altogether, 16 kickoffs were returned around the league for touchdowns, the most ever in a season.
MOST PASSING YARDS PER GAME: The average NFL game featured 427 passing yards, the most ever in a season. More close games: Fifty-four percent of all games were decided by seven points or less, the highest percentage since the NFL and American Football League merged in 1970. MOST PASS RECEPTIONS, SEASON: Minnesota's Cris Carter, aided by the Vikings' acquisition of quarterback Warren Moon (and perhaps by playing home games inside the windless Metrodome), caught a record 122 passes, 10 more than Green Bay's Sterling Sharpe tallied the year before. Carter averages just over 10 yards per catch, though, which isn't much. Together, he and Jake Reed caught 207 passes, making them the first teammates to account for at least 200 receptions in a season. DEFENSIVE TOUCHDOWNS STREAK: In consecutive games, cornerback Anthony Parker of the Minnesota Vikings scored touchdowns on 44-yard interception return, a 23-yard runback of a recovered fumble, and 41-yard interception return. No defender had ever before scored three games in a row. HIGHEST ATTENDANCE: For the first time, the NFL's regular-season paid attendance topped 14 million, averaging 62,656 per game.