Well, we have reached a fun point in pro football history, where we get to award MVP designations for both the American Football League and the National Football League. Won’t that be a thrill?
Thanks for coming back to NFL Thursdays … read on.
1960 AFL MVP: Abner Haynes (original), Bill Groman (revised)
Let’s start with the standings, since the AFL was a new commodity. The Houston Oilers won the East, and the Los Angeles Chargers won the West, both with 10-4 records. The Dallas Texans (8-6) were the only other team to finish above .500 in the inaugural season of the upstart league.
That’s going to limit our pool of candidates immediately, which might be a good thing.
Playing a 14-game schedule, Denver Broncos safety Goose Gonsoulin led the AFL with 11 interceptions, although he only netted 98 return yards on those picks, with no scores. That’s not very “dominant” for a team that finish 4-9-1. There are no tackling statistics recorded for the AFL in 1960, either, so he’s all we have on the defensive side.
The “best” quarterback was Oakland Raiders starter Tom Flores, who posted a measly 71.8 QB rating to top the league. He threw 12 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions to break even in a year where only two QBs managed to stay on the positive side of that ledger.
Texans halfback Abner Haynes led the AFL with 156 attempts for 875 yards and 9 rushing TDs, and he was second in yards per carry (5.6). However, he did fumble a whopping 9 times, which was third worst in the league. That isn’t a good thing in this analysis.
Finally, we have several receivers who posted excellent seasons in the pass-happy AFL: Denver end Lionel Taylor topped the league in receptions (92), while Houston end Bill Groman posted 1,473 yards receiving, and New York Titans end Art Powell grabbed 14 TD catches. Titans halfback Don Maynard also put up some serious receiving stats.
Of course, Groman is the only one who played on a contending team, and in a year with multiple valid candidates grouped together, that matters. In terms of overall scrimmage yards, Haynes added 576 receiving yards and three TDs, meaning there was little overall difference between him and Groman in the end:
- Groman: 1,473 total yards, 12 TDs, 2 fumbles
- Haynes: 1,451 total yards, 12 TDs, 9 fumbles
How much can we count the fumbles? Looking at rate, Groman only had 72 touches, while Haynes had 211 touches. Basic math shows us that Haynes still turned the ball over 50 percent more than Groman did, and that’s not a good thing.
An interesting note here is that Haynes had a backfield teammate—Johnny Robinson—who also finished with 1,069 total yards from scrimmage, so it’s not like he was carrying the load alone for the Texans offense. Groman had the better QB behind him, as George Blanda was one of those two QBs who did throw more TDs than INTs in 1960.
Neither player was at a disadvantage in being the lone workhorse for a contending offense. In the end, the nine fumbles are just too much for Haynes to really keep the MVP award. We have to go with Groman for the first AFL MVP award.
1960 NFL MVP: Norm Van Brocklin (original), Milt Plum (revised)
The West Division was very competitive, with four teams finishing with two games of each other: Green Bay won 8 of 12 games to to edge the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers by a game each, and the Baltimore Colts finished 6-6.
Meanwhile, in the East, it was the Philadelphia Eagles posting a 10-win season, with the Cleveland Browns trailing by a game and a half on the back of an 8-3-1 record. The New York Giants finished with an odd 6-4-2 mark to be in the contender conversation, barely.
Defensively, five players finished with at least 8 interceptions, although Cleveland safety Bobby Franklin stands out in the group since he managed two TD returns in his efforts on the season. But that isn’t a dominant-enough performance to be a serious MVP guy.
We have an interesting reality here when it comes to QBs, as Cleveland’s Milt Plum put up a 110.4 QB rating while leading the Browns to that 8-3-1 record in the East. That QB rating was a new NFL record, and it stood until 1989 when 49ers legend Joe Montana posted a 112.4 mark.
Plum tossed 20 TD passes and just five interceptions, while completing over 60 percent of his pass attempts. It was an incredibly historic season, much like the Elroy Hirsch 1951 campaign for the Los Angeles Rams or the Dick Lane defensive season for the Rams in 1952.
For comparison’s sake, Eagles QB Norm Van Brocklin finished second in QB rating (86.5) while throwing 24 TDs and 17 INTs. He also completed less than 54 percent of his throws, which really shows how much better Plum was in 1960. The interceptions really make a difference, folks: Turnovers are sabermetric killers in football.
Of course, we also have perennial MVP candidate Jim Brown, who ran for a league-best 1,257 yards, while fumbling nine times. Packers fullback Jim Taylor led the league in carries (230), while totaling 1,101 yards, while Green Bay halfback Paul Hornung scored 13 rushing TDs. Brown was still the best, but he had company atop the league stats.
Baltimore end Raymond Berry had another stellar season, leading the NFL in receptions (74) and receiving yards (1,298). He was the only receiver with over 1,000 yards. Interestingly, Eagles halfback Tommy McDonald caught 13 TD passes on just 39 overall receptions, which explains Van Brocklin’s bloated TD total above.
In general, the NFL was learning to diversify its offenses more, as eight players totaled more than 1,000 yards total from scrimmage. St. Louis Cardinals halfback John David Crow—the 1957 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M—led the league in total yards (1,533) while also fumbling 11 times.
Brown was second in total yards (1,461). Colts halfback Lenny Moore was third with 1,310 yards from scrimmage (just three fumbles). Berry never carried the ball, and he also didn’t fumble at all, either, finishing fourth in total yards.
Overall, there’s no one that really can match Plum’s achievements during the 1960 NFL season. He was historically great, and his team was a contender for the East Division title, for the most part. The Browns posted a plus-145 point differential (best in the NFL), which was much better than the Eagles’ plus-75 effort.
A quick look at the two schedules tells us a lot:
- The Eagles won four games by a total of 14 points;
- The Browns lost lost three games by a total of 10 points.
Throw in the Cleveland tie, and it’s clear the Browns just were unlucky in 1960. They actually were the best team in the league, thanks to Plum’s historic season. That’s an MVP definition right there, as far as we are concerned.