It’s 1968 on NFL Thursdays, and this was a landmark season in the history of American professional football. Not just because of Super Bowl III, but because the merger of the two major leagues was inevitable from this point on, giving us the modern behemoth we have today.
So who took home the hardware in this special season? Scroll down …
1968 AFL MVP: Joe Namath (original), Len Dawson (revised)
Only three teams really “contended” this season, as the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs each posted 12-2 records to tie for the West Division title, while the New York Jets (11-3) won the East Division. No other team finished within three games of the division leaders. In fact, only the San Diego Chargers (9-5) even finished above even.
Jets quarterback Joe Namath somehow won the MVP Award while completing just 49.2 percent of his passes and throwing for more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (15). That—and his 72.1 QB rating—don’t rate in our analysis, so Broadway Joe is out of the running. The real MVP candidate among the QBs was Chiefs star Len Dawson and his 98.6 QB rating, bolstered by a 17-to-9 TD: INT ratio and a 58.5 completion percentage.
Only one runner amassed over 1,000 yards rushing in 1968, and it was Cincinnati Bengals running back Paul Robinson (1,023 yards, 8 TDs). Meanwhile, K.C. fullback Robert Holmes was second in yards-per-carry average (5.0) as he gained 866 yards and scored seven times. Neither player is worthy of an MVP nod, of course.
San Diego flanker Lance Alworth seems to be a perennial MVP candidate, and he posted great numbers with a crappy QB throwing him the ball (John Hadl and his 64.5 QB rating). Alworth topped the league in receptions (68) and receiving yards (1,312), while finishing second in TD receptions (10) and not fumbling once. The Chargers did finish third in the West Division, but without Alworth, they’d have been under .500, for sure.
Other WRs worth noting: Oakland’s Fred Biletnikoff (61 catches for 1,037 yards and 6 TDs) and New York’s Don Maynard (57-1,297-10). Obviously, both played with QBs not on the MVP rader here, as well, and neither receiver fumbled, either. They weren’t as good as Alworth, though. Yet Maynard played with a bad QB, as Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica at least posted an 80.9 QB rating.
Alworth and Maynard finished atop the yards from scrimmage list, and third was Oakland fullback Hewritt Dixon: 360 receiving yards and 865 rushing yards. Yet he only scored four times, which doesn’t scream MVP, either. Meanwhile, Raiders safety Dave Grayson picked off 10 passes to lead the league, but that was wasn’t extraordinary at all.
In the end, it’s clear Dawson was the MVP, then, posting excellent QB numbers while leading his team to the best record in the NFL. Remember, we awarded him the revised 1962 AFL MVP, too. He now ties Alworth as the only AFL players to win our award twice.
1968 NFL MVP: Earl Morrall (original), Leroy Kelly (revised)
In the four-division version of the NFL, we have roughly eight teams that could have been considered contenders for postseason spots. It’s easier to list them out below:
- Capitol Division: Dallas Cowboys (12-2)
- Century Division: Cleveland Browns (10-4) and St. Louis Cardinals (9-4-1)
- Coastal Division: Baltimore Colts (13-1) and Los Angeles Rams (10-3-1)
- Central Division: Minnesota Vikings (8-6), Chicago Bears (7-7), and Green Bay Packers (6-7-1)
The only other team with a winning record was the San Francisco 49ers (7-6-1), finishing three games behind the Rams as non-contenders for the postseason. So we have sort of a mess in determining just which players fit the profile of an MVP here.
QBs first: Green Bay’s Bart Starr posted a superb 104.3 QB rating, but he started only nine games. Maybe that is why the Packers slumped after three straight NFL titles? Yet Green Bay was just 4-5 in those starts, so there is little value there, and Starr doesn’t even qualify since he didn’t throw enough passes.
Colts QB Earl Morrall—a member of the 1953 MNC winners, you should remember—was next best, posting a 93.2 QB rating on his way to winning the MVP vote at the time. Morrall was second in yards (2,909), second in completion percentage (57.4), and tops in TD passes (26). Right now, that doesn’t stand out to us, but let’s see what else there is.
Browns running back Leroy Kelly—our pick for the NFL MVP last year—was the only runner to gain more than 1,000 yards, and his season was stellar, in truth: He wins the Triple Crown of rushing, topping the league in carries (248), yards (1,239), and rushing TDs (16). In a 14-game season, those are great numbers.
Two receivers stood out: Pittsburgh Steelers flanker Roy Jefferson (58 catches for 1,074 yards and 11 TDs) and Browns end Paul Warfield (50-1,067-12). The Steelers finished 2-11-1, which makes Jefferson’s effort more impressive, albeit without value. Warfield did his work mostly with QB Bill Nelson starting 11 games (and posting a respectable 86.4 QB rating). Kelly’s efforts on the ground still top Warfield’s in the air, however.
Kelly’s season is even better when you add in his 297 receiving yards and 4 TD receptions. Overall, he topped the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,536) by more than 250 yards, and his 20 overall TDs are incredible in a 14-game season. No one else scored more than a TD a game.
In a year with no defensive standouts, Kelly wins a second-straight MVP Award from us, and overall, in 19 seasons so far, we’ve given the MVP to three different Cleveland runners a combined eight times. That’s incredible!