Once more unto the NFL past, our friends, in another edition of NFL Thursdays and the 1963 seasons for the American and National football leagues. In six seasons of the NFL MVP award, we’ve confirmed it half the time, and in three seasons of the AFL MVP award, we’ve disagreed every time.
Yikes. What will this season be like? Enjoy our analyses …
1963 AFL MVP: Tobin Rote (original), Art Powell (revised)
It was an odd season, as only two teams won 10 or more games: the San Diego Chargers (11-3) and the Oakland Raiders (10-4). In a messed-up scenario that would repeat itself many times in the pro-football future, the 7-6-1 Buffalo Bills and the 7-6-1 Boston Patriots made the postseason while the Raiders did not. The era of divisional imbalances had arrived on the scene!
No other team finished over .500 in the eight-team AFL, so these are our contending teams. San Diego quarterback Tobin Rote led the league with an 86.7 QB rating, but his season was relatively unspectacular (20 touchdowns, 17 interceptions). Somehow, he won the MVP award.
No running back asserted his dominance, either, although a trio of runners did fine atop the AFL: Oakland halfback Clem Daniels (1,099 yards), San Diego HB Paul Lowe (1,010 yards), and Buffalo fullback Cookie Gilchrist (979 yards, 12 TDs). Each of them had at least 7 fumbles, though, so they weren’t that valuable. Remember, we stripped Gilchrist of the 1962 MVP.
Two receivers stood out as the most valuable players in the league: Raiders end Art Powell (73 catches for 1,304 yards and 16 TDs) and Chargers flanker Lance Alworth (61 receptions for 1,205 yards and 11 TDs).
If you have read our other works this spring, you know Alworth’s name readily by now—we rated him as the best WR in NFL history, in truth. But Powell’s season was better, and he had to do it with two different QBs throwing him the ball, too—not the “top-rated” QB like Alworth had in San Diego.
Daniels led the AFL in total yards (1,784) as he was a receiving threat out of the Oakland backfield, too, but Powell was second—and that TD total stands out above all others, with no fumbles, either.
His 73 catches also were second best in the league for the 1963 season. Powell, as well as Daniels, also had to survive five games with backup QB Cotton Davidson and his 60.0 QB rating, so there’s that to consider as well. When a receiver dominates despite a bad quarterback, there’s value in that receiver’s hands and legs.
Houston Oilers safety Fred Glick had an outstanding season with 12 interceptions, but his team finished 6-8 with the defensive giving up the third-most points in the league. Powell is the clear choice here, playing for the second-best team in the league with two QBs and still posting AFL-best marks in receptions yards and overall TDs.
Editor’s note: Feel free to read up on Powell’s social activism in his 2015 obituary.
1963 NFL MVP: Y.A. Tittle (original), Jim Brown (revised)
Five teams finished within shouting distance, or actually in, the NFL playoffs. The Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Giants all won 11 games, while the Cleveland Browns won 10 times. The St. Louis Cardinals snared 9 victories, as well, and no other team was close to a playoff berth, with only the division winners crowned.
Two players delivered historical performances in 1963: Giants QB Y.A. Tittle and Browns fullback Jim Brown. The former completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 36 TDs and only 14 INTs on his way to a 104.7 QB rating, while the latter ran for 1,863 yards and 12 TDs, while totaling 2,131 yards from scrimmage and 15 scores overall.
No defensive player grabbed double-digit picks, and while Pittsburgh Steelers flanker Buddy Dial gained 1,295 yards on receptions while catching 9 TD passes, his team finished 7-4-3 and out of playoff contention.
Washington Redskins flanker Bobby Mitchell did have 1,436 yards receiving, but he fumbled 7 times—which is ridiculous for a receiver, and that probably was a significant reason his team won just 3 games in 1963.
This comes down to Brown and Tittle, and Brown’s season was more historic by far, especially in hindsight. His yardage totals were both NFL records, and the single-season rushing record would last a decade before O.J. Simpson broke it in 1973. Simpson broke the total-yards record, as well, two years after breaking the rushing record.
Tittle’s QB rating wasn’t as good as the Milt Plum effort from 1960, and the TD total merely matched what George Blanda did in 1961. So as good as Tittle was in leading the Giants to 448 points on offense, Brown’s effort was distinctly more historic and valuable to a team that finished just one game behind New York.
Brown led the NFL in yards from scrimmage by 671 yards, and he led the NFL in rushing by 745 yards. Those are insane totals from one of the best players in the sport’s history in his prime. By the way, in two games against the Giants—one loss and one win—Brown totaled 249 yards and 3 TDs. Tittle managed just an 88.9 QB rating in those two head-to-head matchups, by the way.
That’s an MVP season in anyone’s book—even if the voters at the time didn’t recognize it.