Earlier today on NFL Thursday, we looked at some of the more surprising “stars” of our MVP analysis stretching back to the 1950 season. Now, we’re going to look at some of the shockers to us, in terms of “legendary” greats that didn’t fare well under modern scrutiny.
One of the factors we analyzed was overall team quality and support, in the sense that if a quarterback had good players at both running back and receiver, it lessened the overall value the QB brought to the team table, individually. This became known as our “Triplets” exercise, eventually, when we compared players’ supporting casts to each other.
Take Johnny Unitas, for example: He is often held up as the gold standard for old-school QBs, in the era before the 1978 rules changes. But we did not give Johnny U any MVP love here; he lost his 1959 award to another QB, and his 1964 and 1967 trophies were re-assigned to Cleveland Browns running backs. This does not mean Unitas wasn’t a great quarterback; it just means he wasn’t as valuable as he seemed at the time.
A lot of QBs didn’t have as much value in that time period, retroactively, however, so this is no slight against Unitas. These quarterbacks also lost MVP hardware: Y.A. Tittle, Earl Morrall, Roman Gabriel, John Brodie, et al. A lot of our analysis is about context, so we all know how much that matters in exercises of critical thinking. In this case, it just meant modern analytical tools helped us re-define greatness for the era and for all time, as well.
Some defensive players also took a hit, too, of course, for contextual reasons: Alan Page (1971) and Lawrence Taylor (1986) did not get to keep their MVP awards in our world. Overall, though, we did give MVPs to defensive players Dick Lane (1952) and James Harrison (2008). Again, context matters, always.
The biggest loser in all this analysis, besides Cheatin‘ Tom Brady? Brett Favre. Remember, he was voted the winner of three straight MVP awards in the mid-1990s, and we re-assigned them all, actually—including twice to other QBs who brought more value to their teams in those respective seasons. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles, sometimes.
And finally, the biggest surprise for our MVP journey had to be in 1970: MacArthur Lane may be the most anonymous MVP winner in all the four sports where we’ve been doing this retroactive research. His name sounds like a song title, and he passed away in May 2019, before we started all this historical exploration—but we’d still like to throw out props one more time to our pick for the 1970 NFL MVP Award.
Wikipedia gave us this gem on Lane, courtesy of his friend Raymond Chester: “Mac was one of those guys that everybody loved. He was smart as a whip, kind-hearted, and generous.”
That’s the best anyone can say of any of us in the end, in truth.