On our third entry in our second NFL Thursday miniseries, we examine the Championship Game/Super Bowl MVP and the Rookie Player of the Year awards for 1952. Remember, title-game MVP awards were not voted upon until 1961 (and the AFL title games only started giving out the award in 1963), so we’re on our own there for now.
Likewise, 1957 was the first year the NFL gave out the 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.
1952 NFL Championship Game MVP: Doak Walker, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions won the big hardware with a 17-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns, and the Lions running game was so overpowering that Detroit starting quarterback Bobby Layne only attempted 9 passes all game. He completed 7 of them for 68 yards, but the Lions controlled the game with running prowess and defense, forcing two turnovers and committing just 3 penalties.
Layne himself ran for 47 yards and the first touchdown of the game, but the real star was halfback Doak Walker: He carried the ball just 10 times, but he gained 97 yards, including the back-breaking 67-yard run in the third quarter that extended the Detroit lead to 14-0. Obviously, the Browns never recovered.
In the absence of defensive statistics, Walker gets our nod. But we do want to point out the Lions sacked Browns QB Otto Graham for 34 yards in losses and intercepted him once while limiting him to under 200 yards passing on 35 attempts. This was a dominant team effort by Detroit, overall.
1952 NFL ROTY: Billy Howton, Green Bay Packers
The two best rookies, by far, were San Francisco 49ers halfback Hugh McElhenny (1,051 scrimmage yards and 9 TDs) and Green Bay Packers end Billy Howton (1,231 scrimmage yards and 13 TDs). Neither team really competed, with the 49ers finishing two games behind the Lions in the National Division and the Packers one game behind San Francisco. Team realities being somewhat equal, here’s our thoughts.
While McElhenny would go on to have the Hall of Fame career, Howton was the better rookie, helping the Packers get to .500 on the year by fumbling just once—while McElhenny coughed up the ball 5 times. We know Howton was a receiver and less prone to turnovers, but he also had the yardage and scoring edges. So, he gets our nod here.
It is interesting to note Howton twice led the NFL in receiving yards (1952, 1956) while with Green Bay, and when he retired, he was the all-time leader in both receptions and receiving yardage—yet he was never a finalist for the Hall of Fame ballot. When the legendary Vince Lombardi took over the Packers in 1959, he traded Howton, preferring receivers who could block well. Perhaps that’s the reason.