It’s the 16th week of NFL Thursdays as we reach the final season (1965) of a legendary player’s career. If you don’t know who we mean, you should read the archives. This was also the last professional football season without a Super Bowl, so eras coming to a close in more ways than one.
That being said, in eight years of analyzing NFL MVP choices, we’ve confirmed them three times, and in five years of reviewing AFL MVP winners, we’ve confirmed none of them. What will we do this time around?
Never a dull moment, so read on for more exciting revisionist sports history …
1965 AFL MVP: Jack Kemp (original), Lance Alworth (revised)
There were five ties in the AFL this year, which affected the standings and our list of contending teams: The San Diego Chargers alone played in three tie games, while the Boston Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs each participated in two tie games.
Buffalo won the East with a 10-3-1 record, and no other team in that division finished above .500 for the season. In the West, the Chargers (9-2-3), the Oakland Raiders (8-5-1), and the Chiefs (7-5-2) were the only teams to post winning records.
Bills quarterback Jack Kemp somehow won the MVP award despite posting a 54.8 QB rating and throwing just 10 touchdown passes (against 18 interceptions). Needless to say, we won’t be confirming that choice. Chiefs QB Len Dawson was the only decent AFL QB, posting an 81.3 rating while tossing 21 TDs and 14 INTs. Those aren’t MVP numbers, though, especially for a third-place team.
San Diego halfback Paul Lowe led the AFL in rushing yards (1,121), average yards per carry (5.0), and rushing TDs (6, tied)—and he did for the division champions who received mediocre quarterbacking from John Hadl (71.3 QB rating). Lowe also fumbled just twice. That’s value.
However, his teammate—flanker Lance Alworth, our choice for the 1964 AFL MVP—turned in another stellar season, despite playing with the mediocre Hadl for the whole season. The best WR in NFL history (seriously) caught 69 passes for a league-best 1,602 yards and 14 TD catches. No one else in the league averaged more than 87 yards per game, and Alworth posted a 114.4 yards per game.
No defensive player posted double digits in INTs, and while Lowe had a great season, clearly Alworth was the one opening up opportunities for the San Diego offense, because he just made things happen despite playing with a garbage quarterback (again).
1965 NFL MVP: Jim Brown (original, confirmed)
Only four teams really contended for the NFL postseason: Cleveland (11-3), Green Bay (10-3-1), Baltimore (10-3-1), and Chicago (9-5). Only one other team finished above .500, and the San Francisco 49ers barely did so (7-6-1).
Three QBs finished with QB ratings in the 90s, though: Colts star Johnny Unitas (97.4), 49ers stud John Brodie (95.3), and Bears signal caller Rudy Bukich (93.7). All three had good TD-to-INT ratios, and all three put their teams in postseason contention (somewhat, in Brodie’s case). Unitas only played in 11 games, though, somewhat diminishing his rating overall. In the end, none of these QBs really stood out from the crowd enough to be the MVP.
In the rushing category, it was all Browns fullback Jim Brown again. He topped the NFL in the Triple Crown categories of carries (289), yards (1,544), and rushing TDs (17), while finishing second in average yards per carry (5.3). The next-best rushing total, by Bears halfback Gale Sayers, was 867 yards. Brown came close to doubling up Sayers; let that sink in.
The best receiver in the NFL was clearly San Francisco end Dave Parks, who pulled off the receiving Triple Crown by finishing first in receptions (80), receiving yards (1,344), and receiving TDs (12, tied). In almost any other season, this would merit serious MVP consideration—and it still does in this one, despite Brown’s brilliance.
Just like in the AFL, no defensive player registered double digits for picks, and when you consider Brown added 328 yards receiving and four more TDs, you can see his all-around season was brilliant.
Cleveland QB Frank Ryan completed just 49 percent of his passes, meaning Brown—again—was carrying the undue load for the Browns and doing it exceptionally well. Parks had Brodie throwing him the ball, and that made his receiving stats “easier” to accrue, and on a 7-6-1 team, the pressure that Brown had to carry just wasn’t a factor in Parks’ season.
We also would like to note that Brown’s 21 total TDs did not lead the league, as Sayers totaled 22 TDs: 14 rushing, 6 receiving, 1 punt returning, and 1 kick returning. That’s an incredible season for Sayers, but he trailed Brown by 498 yards from scrimmage, and he also fumbled three more times despite touching the ball 128 fewer times.
Sayers was amazing, but Brown was much more reliable—and that means value. Brown’s entire career was valuable, of course, as this is the fifth MVP award we’ve given him retroactively, and he only played nine seasons. That’s unreal, really.