We have reached a mythical season—again—for NFL Thursday, as a milestone was reached by an individual player during the 1973 regular season that still endures as somewhat incredible today … for any player to achieve still.
But was that individual effort enough to win the MVP Award? Yes.
1973 MVP: O.J. Simpson (original, confirmed)
The Miami Dolphins won their second-straight Super Bowl after posting a 12-2 record. The team’s first losses since the 1971 postseason came to the Oakland Raiders on the road in Week 2 and the Baltimore Colts on the road in Week 13.
Quarterback Bob Griese posted a 12-1 record as the starter, but his 84.3 QB rating was only good enough for sixth in the league: Our 1971 MVP, Dallas Cowboys star Roger Staubach, topped the NFL with a 94.6 QB rating—closely followed by Minnesota Vikings legend Fran Tarkenton (93.2).
Los Angeles Rams QB John Hadl (88.8) and Oakland Raiders stud Ken Stabler (88.3) also posted very good numbers as all five of these guys led their teams to division titles. But Staubach and Tarkenton are the only real MVP candidates here, although neither did anything truly historical to separate themselves.
In the running category, it was all about Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson, who became the first runner to reach the 2,000-yard milestone. His 2,003 yards were tops in the league by 859 yards (!), and he also topped the NFL in carries (332) and touchdowns (12). The fact he did all this with a QB that posted a 45.8 QB rating is even more stunning.
Simpson’s 6.0 yards-per-carry mark is also incredible, considering defenses were probably stacked nine at the line to stop him. However, the Bills finished just 9-5, three games behind Miami, and Buffalo was outscored, 44-6, in two losses to the Dolphins. Simpson totaled 34 carries and 175 yards in those two games, however, with one catch for 22 yards added in.
We will come back to that, but what about the league’s receivers? Only one player caught more than 60 passes, and only player topped 1,000 yards in the air: the same guy, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Harold Carmichael (67 catches for 1,116 yards and 9 TDs). His team finished just 5-8-1, though, so he’s not really an MVP candidate.
Defensively, Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Mike Wagner had the best season in the league, picking off 8 passes and recovering 5 fumbles. That is a lot of damage for a guy on a team that finished 10-4 to make the postseason. But it doesn’t stand out historically enough to matter in this discussion.
Simpson added just 70 yards receiving all season, but he still led the league in total yards from scrimmage, obviously: His 2,073 yards topped the next-best player by 641 yards. Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little finished third in total yards (1,402), while coming up second in total TDs (13) and fumbling just three times for the 7-5-2 Broncos. That season has value, although it’s not quite historical enough to best Simpson, of course.
Simpson fumbled 7 times while getting a league-high 338 touches: That really isn’t too bad considering everyone was keying on him, thanks to the futility of his offensive teammates. He also averaged 5.2 yards per attempt on the ground against the Super Bowl champions, which means he was doing great, nonetheless, against the best.
We confirm the Juice’s MVP Award in this season, despite the lack of a postseason-contending team around him. Historic achievements in the face of ridiculous odds can do that in this analysis, of course, and posting a 9-5 record on his back alone is plenty of value for us.