Here we go on NFL Thursday, taking on the MVP Award votes from years gone by. At this point, we have reached the final year of the 1990s, and that is significant as next week we will be moving forward into a new century! The NFL has continued its progression as a game dominated by quarterbacks as well, despite the last two MVPs here going to running backs. The trend will get more clear as we move closer to the present day, for sure.
On with the final year of the 20th century in professional football …
1999 MVP: Kurt Warner (original AP & PFWA), Marshall Faulk (revised)
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis once again was the only defensive player to average more than 10 tackles a game as he made 165 combined tackles during the regular season. St. Louis Rams defensive end Kevin Carter was an unsung hero of the Super Bowl champions with 17 sacks in just 16 games, while Arizona Cardinals defensive Simeon Rice added 16.5 sacks of his own to surpass the one-a-game threshold we like here.
Carter also added 4 passes defended (!), 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries, while Rice accumulated credit for 5 forced fumbles while defending 1 pass and recovering one fumble. The Cardinals won just 6 games in the NFC East, while the Rams posted the top record in the NFC (13-3). We don’t think Carter is a true MVP candidate at this point, but we do know Rice is not. It is what it is.
On to the QBs, where the Rams’ Kurt Warner took both MVP votes rather surprisingly, his career year coming out of nowhere like a comet in the night sky. His 109.2 QB rating led the league by almost 15 points, and Warner became just the second QB ever to throw for more than 40 TDs in a season (41). That was easily the most impressive performance at his position this season.
Fourteen RBs surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground, and a few of them stood out: Indianapolis Colts star Edgerrin James led the league in yards (1,553), while Washington Redskins RB Stephen Davis topped his peers in yards per game (1,405 yards in 14 games), becoming the only player to average over 100 yards a game as he missed two contests. Davis also topped the league with 17 rushing touchdowns. The Colts improved 10 victories from the previous season to win the AFC East, while the Redskins added 4 wins from 1998 to win the NFC East.
Indy wide receiver Marvin Harrison came close to winning the Triple Crown for receivers by catching 115 passes for 1,663 yards, and 12 TDs. Only Jacksonville Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith beat him in receptions (116), and only Minnesota Vikings WR Cris Carter caught more touchdowns (13). But this whole picture changes when we go to scrimmage yards.
Rams RB Marshall Faulk broke the all-time NFL record for yards from scrimmage, posting 1,048 yards receiving on 87 catches while adding 1,381 yards rushing as well. His 2,429 total yards beat James’ total (2,139) by almost 300 yards. Also, while James scored 17 TDs to Faulk’s mere 12 scores, Faulk only fumbled twice—while James coughed it up 8 times!
So, now we’re looking at a limited list here: Warner, James, Davis (1,516 total yards), Harrison, and Faulk. Normally, we’d see the two pair of teammates here and land on Davis for the MVP—but his numbers aren’t good enough to do that, especially in light of Faulk’s NFL record, which would last 10 years before being broken. James’ excessive fumbles are also problematic. Ironically, the Rams acquired Faulk from the Colts before Draft Day in 1999, and Indy picked James to replace him.
The Colts QB—some guy named Peyton Manning—posted a 90.7 QB rating, so Indy had a pretty good offense going for it. Meanwhile, the Rams had another receiver (besides Faulk) lighting up the Greatest Show on Turf: Isaac Bruce (1,165 yards and 12 TDs)—not to mention Carter wreaking havoc on defense.
But it is Faulk’s presence as a second target for Warner that sets him apart in these two groups—heck, any group—of “triplets” really. He was just the second player in history to go over 1,000 yards in both receiving and rushing, after Roger Craig in 1985, but unlike Craig, he not only led the NFL in total yards, but set the all-time record.
Warner’s season was an incredible story, going from grocery clerk to the Super Bowl championship, but he doesn’t pull it off as an untested, inexperienced NFL QB without the veteran Faulk providing him with such a safety net both on the ground and through the air. We understand the emotion of the vote at the time, but the numbers in favor of Faulk do not lie here. He was the real MVP.