On NFL Thursdays, we have reached the 1977 season, memorable for a few reasons, although we can’t recall them right now. One of them, however, resides in the fact this was the last 14-game regular season in league history, as a 16-game schedule started being used in 1978.
This was also the last season under the “old” passing rules. How will that impact our MVP Award analysis? Read on to find out …
1977 MVP: Walter Payton (original AP & PFWA, confirmed)
In perhaps a reflection of the times, no quarterback stood out this year at all: Five different QBs posted QB ratings between 80.8 and 87.8, which shows us that none of them had any real value in terms of MVP consideration. We won’t even both listing their names, but by the end of the postseason, the top two guys each had won two Super Bowls (hint, hint).
Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton had perhaps the best season of his career, running for 1,852 yards and 14 touchdowns, although he also fumbled a whopping 11 times. No other RB came close to his numbers.
Not one receiver topped even 900 yards during the regular season, and only one player even caught more than 60 passes (see below). These stats do reveal the dire situation for the NFL passing game in 1977, don’t they?
Baltimore Colts free safety Lyle Blackwood compiled 10 interceptions and four fumble recoveries to top all defenders in combined turnovers, but he did not score on any of them, and the overall impact wasn’t impressive enough to warrant serious MVP consideration.
Finally, in yards from scrimmage, Payton topped the league with 2,121 yards and 16 TDs, while Colts RB Lydell Mitchell—who led the NFL with 71 receptions—was second with 1,779 yards. Mitchell scored just 7 times, however, although he did cough up the rock a mere 5 times.
Payton’s Bears posted a 9-5 record to reach the postseason as the NFC wild-card team, while Mitchell’s Colts won the AFC East with a 10-4 mark. A quick look at the QBs each back played with says a lot—not to mention Blackwood’s defensive contributions above.
Baltimore’s Bert Jones finished with an 80.8 QB rating, completing 57 percent of his passes for 17 TDs and 11 INTs. Meanwhile, Chicago’s Bob Avellini dropped a 61.3 QB rating on the league, while completing 52.6 percent of his passes for just 11 TDs and 18 INTs. We’re guessing most of you reading this have never even heard of Avellini.
Clearly, Payton shouldered a bigger burden in leading the Bears to the postseason than Mitchell did, and despite his fumbles—when everyone on the defense is keying on him—we see Payton’s value here as higher due to that huge difference in supporting cast. That’s good enough for us.