Almost two months now into our sports-history focus with another edition of NFL Thursdays, and we are now moving closer to the modern era with the 1956 football season. We laid out our process in March, so away we go!
1956 NFL MVP: The prototype do-it-all halfback gets his due
We start with quarterbacks worth considering for the award this time out. What does it say that the QB rating leader threw more interceptions than touchdowns? Yes, it happened in 1956 with Chicago Bears QB Ed Brown. His 83.1 QB rating led the NFL by 8.1 points, but he tossed 12 INTs and just 11 TDs. Incredible!
Three other QBs actually had a positive correlation in those categories, but collectively, that trio completed just 48.6 percent of their passes. One note, though: A 23-year old QB named Johnny Unitas finished third in QB rating, posting a 74.0 mark for the Baltimore Colts. He went 3-4 in his seven starts in 1956.
On to the running backs: Ever heard of Rick Casares? He led the league in rushing attempts (234), rushing yards (1,126), and rushing TDs (12) for a Chicago Bears team that finished 9-2-1 to win the West Division and played in the championship game. His 4.8 yards-per-carry average was fifth best overall, too. That is an impressive season.
When it comes to receivers in 1956, a few of them put up good seasons for good teams in the playoff hunt. The New York Giants won the East Division with an 8-3-1 record, thanks to the effort of Frank Gifford: He caught 51 passes for 603 yards and four TD receptions, while also running for 819 yards and five TDs. Those combined numbers put him in the MVP conversation.
Harlon Hill also had a great season for Chicago, despite having the limited QB at the helm of the offense. Our 1954 MVP pick caught 47 passes for 1,128 yards and 11 TD without a fumble. He added only 24 yards rushing, though, which seems to be a mistake by the Bears coaching staff of the time period.
Defensively, one player did stand out: Chicago Cardinals defensive back Lindon Crow had 11 interceptions, three more than the next guy. And the Cards finished second in the East Division behind the Giants, so the team was competitive. However, his season was not historic enough to really warrant consideration here.
This comes down to Casares and Gifford, really, two outstanding performers for division-winning teams. With 203 receiving yards and two TDs on 23 receptions added in for Casares, he led the league in offensive touches (257) and total TDs (14). Gifford led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,422). Both guys fumbled five times.
We could compromise and give it a tie, but let’s look at supporting cast: The primary Giants QB, Charlie Conerly, posted a 75.0 QB rating with 10 TD passes and just 7 INTs. We’d call that a wash with Brown’s numbers above for the Bears, really. Hill made Casares’ job a lot easier, while Gifford was the only guy in the Giants offense, really, as no other receiver for New York had more than 28 catches or 405 receiving yards.
In the end, that makes us lean toward Gifford as being more valuable, since he was carrying the load alone for the Giants offense on the ground and in the air.