As the Green Bay Packers faded, the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers rose to prominence, appearing in nine Super Bowls combined over a 10-year stretch. This decade would shape perception of the league for decades to come, so enjoy our analysis of the 1970 season’s award …
1970 MVP: John Brodie (original), MacArthur Lane (revised)
With the AFL-NFL merger, the league switched to six divisions in two conferences, with eight total playoff berths up for grabs. This makes it a challenge to list out the contending teams, here are the standings—and we will explain if/why a player is not considered an MVP candidate due to his team’s poor regular season.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie led the NFL in passer rating with a 93.8 mark, which was four points better than the next QB from a contending team, Dallas Cowboys QB Craig Morton. The 49ers won the NFC West with a 10-3-1 record, putting Brodie at the forefront of the MVP conversation after he tossed an NFL-high 24 touchdown passes.
The best runners from contending teams were New York Giants running back Ron Johnson, with 1,027 yards and 8 TDs with a 3.9 average per carry, and St. Louis Cardinals fullback MacArthur Lane, who posted 977 yards and 11 TDs on the ground with a 4.7 average per carry.
The Giants were a 9-5 team, one game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East, while the Cards finished 8-5-1 in the NFC East, finishing 1.5 games behind Dallas, albeit with the best point differential in the division. However, we really don’t see either stat line alone as being a special one worthy of MVP consideration.
The only real receiving candidate for the award was San Francisco wide receiver Gene Washington, who led the league in receiving yards (1,100) while finishing second in TD receptions (12). Most of the other top WRs played for losing squads during the 1970s season.
Both Lane and Johnson added receiving yards to their scrimmage totals, however, putting them in the top echelon of consideration: Johnson’s 1,514 total yards was tops in the NFL, but that per-carry average on the ground was not good, and he also fumbled five times.
Meanwhile, Lane fumbled just twice while finishing third in total yards (1,342). Lane also totaled 13 TDs overall to Johnson’s 12 scores. That makes Lane more valuable in our eyes.
We have an interesting defensive candidate this year: Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page, who tallied 7 fumble recoveries while returning one of them for a score. He also had 1 interception on the year. There are no sack or tackles statistics available from 1970, but Page’s season was unique enough to earn him a very high Approximate Value (AV) rating for the season (23, highest in the NFL).
The Vikings finished 12-2, which was the best record in the league, and a lot of it was due to Page’s dominant play on defense. Meanwhile, Lane is our more-traditional leading candidate, as Brodie and Washington fed off each other, clearly, while Lane played with a QB—Jim Hart—who posted a downright deplorable 61.5 QB rating.
Fumble recoveries are fluky, as recent sabermetric analysis has shown. And in Page’s 15-year career, he recovered just 22 fumbles total. How he could gather in one third of his career total in one season is clearly inexplicable. But it happened.
In the absence of more concrete data, as well, we just cannot justify giving the award to a defensive player—even one as good as Page. Ironically, he would win the MVP Award in 1971, and we will have to take that on next week, but for now, we’re going to give the MVP to Lane for his all-around efforts in keeping the Cards competitive.
To wit, St. Louis actually swept division-winning Dallas by a combined score of 58-7, but after a 7-2 start, the Cardinals finished 1-3-1 to miss the postseason. In those last five games, Lane still averaged over 77 yards from scrimmage per game as his teammates collapsed around him—proving one man cannot do it all alone, even if he is the MVP.