Welcome back to NFL Thursdays, where we move into the year of Super Bowl II. This would be the end of the dominant Green Bay Packers dynasty that won five NFL titles in a seven-year period (1961-1962, 1965-1967), as well as the beginning of the end of the NFL dominance over the AFL.
So, who were the respective MVPs? Keep reading!
1967 AFL MVP: Daryle Lamonica (original), Hoyle Granger (revised)
The Oakland Raiders dominated the league, going 13-1 and outscoring opponents by 235 points overall. They ran away with the West Division by four games over the nearest team. In the East, only two teams finished over .500 on the year: the Houston Oilers (9-4-1) and the New York Jets (8-5-1).
On to the MVP candidates: For quarterbacks, Kansas City Chiefs starter Len Dawson was tops in QB rating (83.7), while New York Jets legend Joe Namath was tops in yards with the first-ever 4,000-yard season (4,007). However, he threw more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26). Raiders QB Daryle Lamonica led the AFL with 30 TD passes and was second in QB rating (80.8). None of those guys screams “M-V-P” at us, though.
As for rushing stars, Houston fullback Hoyle Granger was the best of the bunch, posting 1,194 yards (second in the league), averaging 5.1 yards per carry (also second best) and scoring six TDs (fifth best). And he only fumbled once, which was much better than any other top rusher in the AFL during the season.
The only other two backs with over 1,000 yards struggled to hold on to the ball: Boston Patriots Jim Nance—last year’s AFL MVP pick— fumbled 10 times (!) while gaining 1,216 yards, while K.C. halfback Mike Garrett coughed up the ball six times on his way to 1,087 yards on the ground.
In the pass-receiving world, two Jets receivers topped the league in yardage: flanker Don Maynard (71 catches for 1,434 yards and 10 TDs) and end George Sauer (75 receptions for 1,189 and 6 TDs). Maynard is the better player here, based on pure production.
Three different defensive players picked off 10 passes each: Houston corner Miller Farr (returning three for TDs!), Buffalo Bills safety Tom Janik (returning two for TDs), and Miami Dolphins cornerback Dick Westmoreland (one TD return). Maybe Farr is an MVP candidate with the scores and the Oilers’ overall defensive excellence in giving up just 199 points on the season—best in the AFL for 1967.
That leaves us with three guys worthwhile: Granger, Maynard, and Farr, who also had one fumble recovery on the season. While stats are incomplete for the era, Farr actually generated the highest Approximate Value (AV) rating in the league (19). We can’t rely on that, however, until the early 1980s, really, when more defensive stats were recorded.
While Farr was clearly the “leader” of the defense, the pedestrian Oilers offense never would have gone anywhere without Granger. Houston didn’t have a QB that qualified for the QB rating title, and the Oilers scored just 258 points on the season—including Farr’s three TDs: the lowest of any winning team by over 100 points.
Maynard falls out here, because his team was relatively loaded at the skill positions: The Jets had three backs to run the ball effectively, and Namath was clearly throwing the ball all over the place and often, regardless of efficiency.
Granger takes the award, because he didn’t turn the ball over, and he helped Houston grind out enough yards and points to win the East Division. Overall, the Oilers won six games by a TD or less, and Granger’s ability to churn out the yards without fumbling played the largest role in that success.
He also led the AFL in yards from scrimmage (1,494 yards), adding 31 catches, 300 yards receiving, and 3 receiving TDs to his running stats above. That’s definitely an MVP season, although we do acknowledge that Farr was a very close second here, and we wouldn’t argue if someone else anointed him.
1967 NFL MVP: Johnny Unitas (original), Leroy Kelly (revised)
Now up to 16 teams due to competitive expansion, the NFL split into four divisions this season: the Capitol, the Century, the Coastal, and the Central—don’t ask. This means a lot more teams than usual could be considered contenders.
That list of contending teams is long: Dallas (9-5, winners of the Capitol); Cleveland (9-5, winners of the Century); Baltimore and Los Angeles (each 11-1-2, co-champs of the Coastal—even though they were on opposite coasts!); Green Bay (9-4-1, champs of the Central); and Chicago (7-6-1, the only non-division winner to finish over .500 on the season, and barely at that).
That gives us six teams with potential MVP candidates. Starting with the QBs, the efficiency rating champ was Washington Redskins starter Sonny Jurgensen (87.3). Rams leader Roman Gabriel was the best QB on a contending team (25 TDs, 13 INTs, 85.2 QB rating), while Johnny Unitas posted an 83.6 rating based on 20 TDs and 16 INTs. No MVPs there in our assessment.
Only one runner topped 1,000 yards on the season: Browns halfback Leroy Kelly. He ran for 1,205 yards and 11 TDs, while posting a 5.1 yards-per-carry average—all three numbers were the best in the NFL. His 235 carries were also the tops in the league.
Six receivers topped 990 yards on the season, although only two of them played for a contender: Cowboys end Bob Hayes (998 yards, 10 TDs) and his teammate, flanker Lance Rentzel (996 yards, 8 TDs). Considering Dallas QB Don Meredith posted just a 68.7 QB rating, those are impressive seasons. Hayes is the superior player, however, based on average yards per reception (20.4 to 17.2).
Two defenders on non-contending teams posted 10 interceptions each: Detroit Lions corner Lem Barney (3 TD returns) and New Orleans Saints corner Dave Whitsell (2 TD returns). Neither qualifies as an MVP candidate.
It’s a pretty easy choice to pick Kelly here for the MVP over Hayes, as he also led the NFL in yards from scrimmage—adding 20 receptions, 282 receiving yards, and 2 receiving TDs to his rushing totals. His QB—Frank Ryan—mustered just a 72.7 QB rating, so Kelly was doing the heavy lifting for a division winner with little help.