The rallying cry of the Dallas Cowboys hitherto was always, “Wait ’til next year!” … but in 1971, dem Cowboys won it all. That’s where we arrive on NFL Thursday today, in the season where the Big D finished on top.
What does that have to do with out MVP Award analysis? Read on to find out!
1971 MVP: Alan Page (original), Roger Staubach (revised)
Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page won the MVP vote at the time, and it’s hard to quantify his contributions to the team’s 11-3 record. Page actually topped the NFL in Approximate Value (AV) in 1970, and this season wasn’t as productive. That’s already a concern, especially since we did not choose him as our MVP for that stellar season.
Page’s AV last season was fueled by a lot of random fumble recoveries (7), and in 1971, he didn’t have those same lucky bounces. He did have three fumble recoveries, though, and Page also registered two safeties. However, again, these are fluky stats, and we don’t have better measurements for his contributions to the Vikings’ success.
In Page’s career, he totaled 23 fumble recoveries and 3 safeties—showing the fickleness of those statistics year to year over the long haul, not to mention the clear outliers that the 1970 and 1971 seasons were for him in each category: We just cannot.
On to the traditional position players and their candidacies for the MVP Award, therefore.
Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach posted a 10-0 record as the starter in Dallas, while also leading the NFL in passer rating (104.8). His team won 11 games to tie for the best record in the NFC with Minnesota, and Staubach added 343 yards rushing and 2 rushing touchdowns as well. He was nicknamed Roger the Dodger, after all.
The next-best QB was Miami Dolphins starter Bob Griese (90.9 QB rating), as the Dolphins went 10-3-1 and made it to the Super Bowl, too. However, that is a big gap between the tiers of quarterbacking value.
Five runners topped 1,000 yards, and the best of the bunch—by far—was Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka, who ran for 1,051 yards on just 195 carries, scoring 7 TDs without fumbling once.
He was third overall in yards gained (just 82 yards behind league-leader Floyd Little of the Denver Broncos), and his 5.4 yards-per-carry average was tops in the NFL. The zero fumbles are very impressive as well.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor topped the league in receiving yards (1,110) as the only player to go over 1,000 yards on the season, but Miami WR Paul Warfield was a monster—gaining 996 yards in just 43 catches while scoring 11 times. That’s a very good season.
Overall, when we look at the total-yards situation, it’s crazy to see three Miami players in the Top 11, each gaining more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage: Csonka (5th with 1,164 yards), Warfield (10th with 1,111 yards), and running back Jim Kiick (11th with 1,076 yards).
Clearly, Griese had a lot of help putting up his great QB rating and stats, while the top Cowboys offensive player was running back Duane Thomas, who finished 21st in total yards with only 946 yards.
For comparison with the Dolphins crew, the third Dallas player in overall yards ranked just 58th in the league. So, while Staubach started only 10 games, he clearly made Dallas what it was as the team went just 1-3 with its other starter (Craig Morton).
That screams M-V-P to us, for sure. Besides, the guy didn’t lose a game all year! The playoffs don’t count here, but Staubach was 13-0 as a starter in 1971. It would be hard to find a better QB season in NFL history.
But we need to look at the defensive players, too, beyond Page: Houston Oilers strong safety Ken Houston had a season for the ages, returning four interceptions for TDs and also scoring on a fumble return.
That record of five return TDs was not broken until 2006, and Houston still holds the record for most defensive TDs in a season. The Oilers finished just 4-9-1, however, making his achievement somewhat dubious.
In the end, Staubach gets our award, for a special season that really had no flaws in it, save the decision of Head Coach Tom Landry to not start him earlier.