For the eighth week of our NFL Thursdays series, we finally get to the point where the Associated Press voted for a league MVP. Yay! Now we have the chance to critique and correct the mistakes of the past—if they were made.
1957 NFL MVP: Jim Brown (original winner, confirmed)
Three different defensive players tied for the league lead in interceptions this season, with 10 picks each: Pittsburgh Steelers safety Jack Butler, Detroit Lions safety Jack Christiansen, and Baltimore Colts defensive back Milt Davis. The latter added two TD returns to his stat line, making it an impressive season overall for defenders, as two other players each had 9 INTs each.
That’s a lot of interceptions! Who was throwing them all? Bad quarterbacks, of course. Only three QBs had more TD tosses than interceptions, and one of them (Lions QB Tobin Rote) was so bad, his completion rate was 42.9 percent, and his QB rating was fourth worst in the league (60.2).
Get this, too: Detroit tied the San Francisco 49ers for the West Division lead with an 8-4 record, on their way to winning the team’s last NFL title over the Cleveland Browns, and the two Lions QBs—Bobby Layne and Rote—combined for a 45.8 completion percentage, 17 TDs, 22 INTs, and an overall 56.6 QB rating. Yes, this was a different NFL, people.
The best QB was … drumroll, please … Baltimore’s Johnny Unitas and his 88.0 QB rating, as the Colts finished just one game behind the Lions and the 49ers in the West. He completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 24 TDs and just 17 picks. Unitas also led the league with 2,550 yards passing.
Meanwhile, the Browns won the East with a 9-2-1 record, thanks to rookie fullback Jim Brown. You may have heard of him. He ran for an NFL-best 942 yards and 9 rushing TDs, while adding 16 pass receptions, too, and one receiving score. He did fumble 7 times, though, which is problematic in a 12-game season.
San Francisco receiver Billy Wilson was first in pass receptions (52), second in receiving yardage (757), and third in receiving TDs (6) to top an average group, statistically speaking, during the 1957 season. He was basically matched at the top by Baltimore’s Raymond Berry, who was second in catches (47), first in yards (800), and third in TDs (6). But neither player was MVP worthy, in truth, because none of those numbers pop.
So, this boils down to Unitas versus Brown, really, in terms of an MVP vote, with the two receivers above trailing. The key here is the fact the Colts were a talented offensive team, with Berry and two different running backs—Alan Ameche and Lenny Moore—combining for 981 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, no Cleveland QB was good enough to even qualify for the NFL passing title. The two main passers for the Browns—Tommy O’Connell and Milt Plum—combined for just 11 passing TDs and 13 INTs, while throwing for just 1,819 yards. The Cleveland offense was heavily reliant on Brown, whereas Unitas & Co. had a lot of options to complement each other and keep a defense honest.
For that reason, we confirm the AP’s choice of Jim Brown for the 1957 NFL MVP, despite so many fumbles. After all, he carried his team on his young, broad shoulders to a division title with next to no help.