We start the 1980s on NFL Thursdays, and that means we could see the MVP streak for running backs end very soon: Eight straight RBs have won our award here, but the upcoming decade was know for its aerial action.
Whether the MVP trends start changing this year or next is the big question!
1980 MVP: Brian Sipe (original AP & PFWA), Earl Campbell (revised)
We will start with the quarterbacks again, reverting to our old habits. Two QBs stand out: Cleveland Browns signal caller Brian Sipe (91.4 QB rating) and Philadelphia Eagles grinder Ron Jaworski (91.0). Both led their teams to division titles, and no other QB surpassed the 90-point QB rating level.
Both QBs were very good, but neither was outstanding, and it’s hard to separate them from each other in terms of value. We are tepid about Sipe’s chances in retaining his voted-upon awards.
On to the backs, and Houston Oilers stud Earl Campbell had his best season, gaining 1,934 yards to come close to the 2,000-yard threshold. He also scored 13 touchdowns while fumbling just four times this season. Chicago Bears star Walter Payton won’t be winning his fourth straight MVP from us, but his 1,460 yards on the ground were enough to warrant notice.
Three San Diego Chargers receivers topped 1,000 yards on the season: wideout John Jefferson (1,340 yards and 13 TDs), tight end Kellen Winslow (1,290 yards and 9 TDs), and WR Charlie Joiner (1,132 yards and 4 TDs). Green Bay Packers WR James Lofton was in the middle there (1,226 yards and 4 TDs). We can see this game evolving in these statistics, for sure.
Oakland Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes topped the league with 13 interceptions, which he returned for 273 yards and one TD. He also added two fumble recoveries, contributing to his takeaway total. That’s an impressive season, even if he was wearing a lot of Stickum.
Campbell topped the NFL in scrimmage yards with 1,981 yards in just 15 games, and that plus-9 margin for scoring and fumbling was impressive. Detroit Lions rookie RB Billy Sims posted 1,924 yards from scrimmage, but he fumbled 12 times for a mere plus-4 margin—his team missed the postseason, too, so you know those fumbles hurt.
For us, this comes down to Campbell, Hayes, and Jefferson—who didn’t fumble once. The Oilers and the Raiders made the postseason as wild-card teams, while the Chargers won their division. So that’s a wash, and in truth, we also see the fact that Jefferson had pretty good teammates to share the load with as a negative factor on his potential MVP value.
So, is it Campbell or Hayes? A lot depends on their teammates, too, in truth. Neither team’s QB had a rating higher than 73.0 on the season. Oakland had two RBs combine for 1,599 yards, which is very solid, and two Raiders WRs combined for 1,644 yards; Houston’s best WRs gained just 1,171 yards when put together. The Oilers’ two best defenders combined for 12 INTs.
What we see here is Campbell did more heavy lifting on his own to elevate Houston to 11 victories and a postseason slot. Hayes’ season was very impressive, but his team’s overall quality was a lot better, too. Ironically, this was demonstrated in the postseason—irrelevant to this discussion—when Oakland defeated Houston, 27-7, in the AFC Wild Card Game.
The Houston star had to go it alone more often than not, and Hayes had a quality team around him almost all the time. Thus, while we took away MVP awards from Campbell in 1978 and 1979, we now give him this one.
Sadly, carrying the load so alone for three years took its toll on the Tyler Rose’s career, and he was never the same after this season. Nonetheless, he deserves this award no matter what else befell him.