This is the second entry in our second NFL Thursday miniseries, as we examine the Championship Game/Super Bowl MVP Award and the Rookie Player of the Year Award. MVP awards were not voted upon for the NFL title games until 1961 (and the AFL title games only started giving out the award in 1963), so we’re on our own there for awhile.
Likewise, 1957 was the first year the NFL had a ROTY Award, so there’s that to consider as well. We do like to fill in those gaps in the historical record, after all; that is what historians/journalists do! Also, remember to check out our first miniseries entry on this year for context, too.
1951 NFL Championship Game MVP: Tom Fears, E, Los Angeles Rams
This game between the Los Angeles Rams and the defending champion Cleveland Browns was defensive struggle, with the starting quarterbacks combining for 5 interceptions and just a 43.8-percent completion rate. Yet, both teams still gained close to 400 total yards, so the defenses were in a bend-but-don’t-break mode. That doesn’t make them as valuable as the turnovers alone (7 in total) would suggest, however.
The game was tied in the fourth quarter when Rams end Tom Fears caught a pass from timeshare QB Norm Van Brocklin at midfield and covered 73 yards overall for the go-ahead touchdown—which turned out to be the game winner in the Rams’ 24-17 victory. Since he didn’t start the game, Van Brocklin only tossed six passes in the game, without an INT, so we cannot give him the award, really.
Fears, however, caught 4 passes overall for 146 yards and that huge touchdown: Without the long game winner, he still averaged over 24 yards per catch on the day, which helped the Rams score their first 17 points, obviously. Fears was the dominant player for the winning team, and he also scored the big one. He gets our nod, easily.
1951 NFL ROTY: Dorne Dibble, E, Detroit Lions
It was a thin year for rookies, as many top draft picks—like future Hall of Fame QB Y.A. Tittle—were actually redistribution picks from the folding Baltimore Colts franchise that had come from the All-America Football Conference that merged with the NFL for the 1950 season. This version of the Colts lasted one season before folding, and the players had to be distributed fairly across the league for the 1951 season.
The two most productive rookies, therefore, were Detroit Lions end Dorne Dibble (613 yards, 6 TDs) and Philadelphia Eagles end/kicker Bobby Walston (512 yards, 8 TDs, 1 fumble, 94 points overall). But Philly finished a whopping 7 games behind the Browns in the American Division, so we will go with Dibble: The Lions finished 7-4-1 in the National Division, trailing division winner L.A. by just a half game. His season clearly had more value.
The 33rd pick in the draft out of nearby Michigan State, Dibble would play 5 more years in the league, missing 1952 to serve in the U.S. Air Force and winning the NFL championship with the Lions in 1953 and 1957. Overall, he would start 45 of the 68 games he played in, although his career totals (146 receptions for 2,552 yards and 19 TDs) look modest by today’s standards. But he never fumbled once in his career, so that’s something quite special.