We have reached a new era on NFL Thursdays, and it’s the Super Bowl era. After the 1966 season, the respective AFL and NFL champions met in an “ultimate” game—and the sports world would never be the same.
This doesn’t change our analyses of awards, but it does mean we’re getting closer to the current year … one week at a time.
1966 AFL MVP: Jim Nance (original, confirmed)
The Kansas City Chiefs ran away with the West Division, posting an 11-2-1 record and finishing three games ahead of the closest competitor. Meanwhile, in the East, the Buffalo Bills (9-4-1) eked out a half-game edge over the Boston Patriots (8-4-2). No other teams could be defined a true competitors in the 1966 season.
Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson, our pick for the 1962 AFL MVP, led all passers with a 101.7 QB rating. That was more than 15 points higher than the next-best QB, Oakland’s Tom Flores. Kansas City’s star tossed 26 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions while completing a league-best 56 percent of his passes. That’s an MVP-worthy season, for sure.
Patriots fullback Jim Nance dominated the rushing stat sheet, carrying the ball 299 times for 1,458 yards, and 11 TDs. All three totals led the AFL, and he finished 657 yards ahead of the next rusher—although Nance also fumbled 7 times, third most in the league.
San Diego Chargers flanker Lance Alworth achieved the same trifecta as Nance did, albeit among receivers, topping everyone in receptions (73), receiving yards (1,383), and receiving TDs (13). However, his team finished just 7-6-1, so he can’t win a third straight MVP award from us, even though it’s clear he was a dominant player in his prime.
Two Chiefs defenders, safeties Bobby Hunt and Johnny Robinson, each picked off 10 passes to lead the AFL. Alone, those are not historic performances, but together, it’s clear Kansas City had a top-notch defense in 1966.
This comes down to Dawson and Nance, and while the Chiefs had the second-leading rusher in the league (halfback Mike Garrett ran for 801 yards), the Patriots had a mediocre QB—Babe Parilli and his 66.9 QB rating as well as a 47.4-percent completion percentage.
We see Nance’s performance as more dominating, and he didn’t have the same help Dawson did in terms of overall team quality as reflected by the above information: From defensive help to offensive help, the Chiefs QB had advantages the Patriots FB did not. Thus, this the first time we have confirmed an original AFL MVP winner.
1966 NFL MVP: Bart Starr (original, confirmed)
The Green Bay Packers (12-2) won the West by three games over the Baltimore Colts, while the Dallas Cowboys (10-3-1) outlasted the Philadelphia Eagles (9-5), the Cleveland Browns (9-5), and the St. Louis Cardinals (8-5-1) in the East.
We start with QBs: Green Bay’s Bart Starr posted a 105.2 QB rating to lead the NFL, although he averaged less than 20 attempts per game (251 passes thrown in 13 games). His 14 TDs were pedestrian, although he did toss only 3 picks all season while completing 62.2 percent of his throws.
Cleveland’s Frank Ryan and Dallas’ Don Meredith each posted higher counting stats (29 TDs for Ryan, 24 for Meredith) and lower QB ratings (88.2 for Ryan, 87.7 for Meredith). A lot of this depended on offensive schemes, of course, and that is usually based on personnel.
As we see in the rushing leaders, Ryan got a lot of help from halfback Leroy Kelly, who ran for 1,141 yards and 15 TDs, while fumbling just once. Chicago Bears legend Gale Sayers led the league with 1,231 yards, but his team finished just 5-7-2 on the year. Interestingly, no Dallas or Green Bay runner finished near the top of the league in yardage gained.
Cowboys end Bob Hayes was second in receiving yards (1,232) and first in receiving TDs (13), giving Meredith some help in Dallas. Packers fullback Jim Taylor—our NFL MVP pick in 1961 and 1962—led Green Bay with just 705 rushing yards and 41 receptions, meaning he was the best weapon Starr had at his disposal.
Even so, Taylor was just 13th in the NFL in overall yards from scrimmage (1,036), while Kelly was second for the Browns (1,507). The Cowboys had two players better than Taylor: halfback Dan Reeves (1,314) and Hayes (1,231).
What we see here is Starr doing more with less than Meredith and Ryan had to work with all season. While St. Louis safety Larry Wilson topped the NFL in picks (10) while returning two INTs for TDs, it’s clear Starr was extremely efficient and the key to Green Bay’s dominant regular season. He was the MVP in that sense.