We have another fun edition of NFL Thursdays for the 1964 professional football leagues and their MVP awards. There’s a kicker to evaluate for the American Football League MVP and an all-time great quarterback to analyze for the National Football League award.
Isn’t this fun?! We think so … so, we hope you do, too.
1964 AFL MVP: Gino Cappelletti (original), Lance Alworth (revised)
The Buffalo Bills won the East with a 12-2 record, followed by the Boston Patriots (10-3-1), while the San Diego Chargers (8-5-1) topped the West, topping the Kansas City Chiefs (7-7). That doesn’t leave us with a lot of legitimate contenders, of course.
Boston kicker/flanker Gino Cappelletti led the league in scoring with 155 points, fueled by 7 receiving touchdowns, and he won the MVP. His 49 receptions for 846 yards weren’t stellar, so the kicking duties were the primary reason he was the scoring leader.
Chiefs QB Len Dawson, our 1962 AFL MVP pick, led the AFL with an 89.9 QB rating, but his team barely contended. San Diego used two QBs during the year, while Buffalo QB Jack Kemp threw 13 touchdowns and 26 interceptions on his way to a 50.9 QB rating. Patriots QB Babe Parilli completed just 48.2 percent of his throws.
Moving on to the rushing leaders, Bills fullback Cookie Gilchrist—who won the official AFL MVP in 1962—was the best of the bunch, running for 981 yards to top the league, and his six TDs tied for best in the AFL. But that’s hardly an MVP season.
Receiving leaders included Houston Oilers flanker Charley Hennigan (101 catches for 1,546 yards and 8 TDs), Oakland Raiders end Art Powell (76-1,361-11), and Chargers flanker Lance Alworth (61-1,235-13). Hennigan was our MVP pick in 1961, while Powell was our pick for 1963. Alworth is an all-time great, as we clarified previously.
Yet Hennigan and Powell played for non-competitive teams, while San Diego won the West with two different QBs (John Hadl and Tobin Rote) splitting starts. The latter was particularly terrible, posting a 49.5 QB rating over six starts where the Chargers went 2-3-1. That means Alworth was the glue for that team.
For what it’s worth, Alworth added two rushing TDs as well, bringing his league-leading total to 15 total touchdowns. Powell was next best with 11 scores, and Alworth finished third overall in league scoring.
Defensively, Boston safety Ron Hall did have 11 INTs, while New York Jets safety Dainard Paulson had an even dozen to lead the AFL. Hall did not score on any of his picks, making his impact as a potential MVP candidate very minor. This makes it pretty easy to hand the MVP Award to Alworth.
1964 NFL MVP: Johnny Unitas (original), Jim Brown (revised)
The Baltimore Colts (12-2) ran away with the West Division, topping two other teams by 3.5 games in the standings. The Cleveland Browns (10-3-1) won the East by one game over the St. Louis Cardinals (9-3-2).
Even though Johnny Unitas was the MVP, the Colts didn’t throw the ball much in 1964. Unitas did have a stellar QB rating (96.4), second only to Green Bay’s Bart Starr (97.1), but Johnny U only tossed 305 total passes while notching a mere 19 TDs. Four other QBs in the NFL tossed 20-plus touchdowns.
Cleveland fullback Jim Brown led the league in rushing yards (1,446) and rushing average (5.2 yards per carry). His rushing TD total (7) was middling, but Brown did add 340 yards receiving and two receiving scores to his overall scrimmage totals (league-best 1,786 yards).
Chicago Bears flanker Johnny Morris pulled off the Triple Crown for receiving, topping the NFL in receptions (93), receiving yards (1,200), and receiving TDs (10), but the Bears finished just 5-9, so there isn’t true value in those numbers.
St. Louis cornerback Pat Fischer had a great defensive season, picking off 10 passes and returning two for TDs, while Washington Redskins safety Paul Krause intercepted 12 passes as a rookie, scoring once. But neither effort is an MVP-worthy stat line, of course.
One last contender: Colts fullback Lenny Moore scored a whopping 19 TDs, while gaining just 1,056 yards total from scrimmage. The TD total is stellar, and he was clearly the Baltimore MVP for the season, not Unitas. The problem is he touched the ball just 178 times, and while Moore maximized those touches in terms of scoring, it’s hard to ignore Brown’s overall effort (316 touches) on a team without a top QB.
Cleveland QB Frank Ryan posted a 76.7 QB rating, almost 20 points below Unitas, meaning—as usual—Brown was carrying the load for the team … and doing it at a very high success rate. That gets him his fourth MVP Award in our book.