We have reached the last season of the 1960s on NFL Thursdays, and that means this is the final year for the American Football League in our analyses. It’s been fun to review that league and see the quality players in it: We will do an AFL wrap-up piece before next week’s entry in the series!
In the meantime, read on for the latest award-winning players in professional football history …
1969 AFL MVP: Joe Namath (original), Warren Wells (revised)
In the final year of the league, only five teams really contended for the four postseason berths—and one them was a .500 team: New York Jets (10-4), Houston Oilers (6-6-2), Kansas City Chiefs (11-3), Oakland Raiders (12-1-1), and San Diego Chargers (8-6). The fact the Oilers made the playoffs and the Chargers did not is bad, but whatever. It happens!
Jets quarterback Joe Namath won the MVP vote, again somehow, despite his 74.2 QB rating. Cincinnati Bengals QB Greg Cook posted the best rating (88.3), but his team finished with just 4 victories. No one here is worthy of the league’s final MVP designation.
The top rusher was San Diego running back Dickie Post, who ran for just 873 yards and 6 TDs. Without a single back scoring double-digit TDs on the ground, either, it was a barren year for MVP candidates, obviously. Maybe that’s why Namath won? Nah.
Only two receivers topped 1,000 yards: Oakland wide receiver Warren Wells (47 catches for 1,260 yards and 14 TDs) and San Diego wide receiver Lance Alworth (64-1,003-4). Yet Wells fumbled three times, which is a lot for a receiver, in truth. Stay tuned.
No defensive players managed to reach double digits for interceptions, either, although Kansas City cornerback Emmitt Thomas did have 9 INTs and 2 fumble recoveries. However, the latter is a “luck” category, so it’s not a huge factor.
Overall, Wells also led the AFL in total yards (1,284), yards per receptions (26.8) and total TDs (14), so despite his 3 fumbles—considering the top-five offensive players in total yards coughed up the ball a combined 17 times—Wells’ miscues clearly didn’t hurt the 12-1-1 Raiders all that much … so he takes home the final league MVP Award for the AFL.
1969 NFL MVP: Roman Gabriel (original), Tom Matte (revised)
All four division winners emerged dominant this season, as each posted at least three more victories than the next-best squad in each respective grouping: Dallas Cowboys (11-2-1), Cleveland Browns (10-3-1), Los Angeles Rams (11-3), and Minnesota Viking (12-2). We can’t make a case for any other team actually “competing” for the postseason.
Each of those teams had a QB ranked in the top 7 for QB rating: L.A.’s Roman Gabriel (3rd, 86.8); Dallas’ Craig Morton (5th, 85.4); Cleveland’s Bill Nelson (6th, 78.8); and Minnesota’s Joe Kapp (7th, 78.5). Gabriel won the MVP vote at the time, but he was hardly better than Morton, so we’re not convinced, of course.
Only one rusher ran for more than 1,000 yards: Chicago Bears RB Gale Sayers (1,032 yards, 8 TDs, 7 fumbles). Obviously, this is a post-injury Sayers, too, so the numbers don’t “wow” us in any way at all. Just like the AFL, this was a thin year for stellar performances, and when your fumbles almost match your TDs, that is bad.
Three receivers topped 1,000 yards on the season, but all three played for non-contending teams. The best MVP “candidate” in this category was probably Dallas WR Lance Rentzel, who totaled 43 catches for 960 yards and 12 TDs without a fumble. But like the QBs, this doesn’t scream “M-V-P” at us.
Cowboys safety Mel Renfro did intercept 10 passes to top the NFL, but he didn’t score on any of his returns. In fact, he averaged just 11.8 yards on his interception returns, so that’s not a dominant performance, either.
Finally, we look at total yards: Baltimore Colts RB Tom Matte led the league by 232 yards in this category, but his team finished just 8-5-1, well behind the Rams in the Coastal Division. Dallas RB Calvin Hill was the best player here from a contending team: 1,174 yards, 8 TDs, and 7 fumbles. That’s not an MVP, either, for the same reason as Sayers.
This is a tough one: There are no clear candidates from contending teams, and no player from a bad team posted anything resembling a historical season, either, to fill that initial void. Where do we go here?
Gabriel’s 24:7 ratio for TDs-to-INTs is pretty good, but his 54.4 completion percentage is not, nor is his 6.4 yards-per-attempt number. Morton threw 15 INTs, but his 8.7 YPA mark compensated for it. And his completion rate was even lower than Gabriel’s number!
Consider this now: Matte led the NFL in TDs, too, with 13 scores overall. He did run for 909 yards, while adding 513 yards in receptions. The Colts weren’t that bad, although their one win against the Rams came in the meaningless season finale: They also lost to L.A. on the road by a TD in the season opener.
In that game, Matte had just 30 yards on 10 touches. Ouch. But in the end, he played for a winning team, and he led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,422) and total TDs. Matte did fumble four times, but 18 players in the league fumbled more than that. In a year of very underwhelming options, he gets the MVP nod in a vacuum of sorts.