One experiment is over: our NFL Thursday revisions of the American Football League’s Most Valuable Player awards. What we learned is that the voters from the era really didn’t understand the award itself or the selection process—let alone what makes a player a true MVP.
In 10 seasons, from 1960 to 1969, we confirmed just one (!) of the AFL’s original MVP winners: Boston Patriots runner Jim Nance in 1966. The other nine winners were not even really on our radar as we did retroactive analysis, taking under consideration many factors laid out here in our original NFL Thursday column.
Look at the basic errors made by voters for the AFL MVP, with the notable flaws of the original winners clarified in short:
- 1960: Dallas Texans halfback Abner Haynes coughed up the ball 9 times.
- 1961: Houston Oilers quarterback George Blanda threw 2 interceptions a game.
- 1962: Buffalo Bills fullback Cookie Gilchrist fumbled 7 times for a 7-6-1 team.
- 1963: San Diego quarterback Tobin Rote posted a mere 20:17 TD:INT ratio.
- 1964: Boston Patriots utility man Gino Cappelletti was primarily a kicker.
- 1965: Buffalo QB Jack Kemp generated an absolutely terrible 54.8 QB rating.
- 1967: Oakland Raiders QB Daryle Lamonica produced an average 80.8 QB rating.
- 1968: New York Jets QB Joe Namath had a negative TD:INT ratio.
- 1969: Namath compiled a mediocre 74.2 QB rating.
We didn’t use a lot of sabermetric tools for this analysis, since statistics are a bit incomplete for the league. But, in every one of these seasons listed above, there was just a better player who had more value to his contending team. It really was that simple.
For the record, we gave the MVP to six receivers overall—including all-time great Lance Alworth twice—while running backs earned two awards and the same QB—Hall of Famer Len Dawson—won the award twice as well.
Overall, QBs weren’t that great in the AFL, in terms of accuracy and efficiency, even for the time period. A lot of those receivers that won the award did so in spite of their QBs, and that is what makes a great receiver—not the Jerry Rice types that always have an MVP-level QB throwing them the ball.
Likewise, the runners didn’t dominate the AFL like they did in the NFL during the same era—see Jim Brown, for example. If the upstart league was an offensive league, it was through the air because of the special talents the AFL receivers possessed.
That’s our big takeaway from this exercise: Good QBs can make good WRs look great, but even great WRs can’t make bad QBs look good.