This is our fourth entry in our second NFL Thursday miniseries, as we examine the Championship Game/Super Bowl MVP and the Rookie Player of the Year awards for 1953. 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, as is often the case.
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 while you’re here …
1953 NFL Championship Game MVP: Jim Doran, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions were a powerhouse in the 1950s, winning three NFL titles, and this was the second one: A 17-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns sealed the deal for the Lions. In the final four minutes of the game, Detroit drove 80 yards for the game-tying touchdown and the game-winning extra point. Both teams committed 4 turnovers, including four interceptions combined from Lions quarterback Bobby Layne and Browns quarterback Otto Graham.
In fact, the Detroit defense held Cleveland under 200 total yards for the game, and both QBs also fumbled once each. However, Layne did orchestrate the winning drive, culminating with the only TD pass of the game: a 33-yard strike to end Jim Doran. Overall, the 26-year old receiver caught 4 passes for 95 yards in the title tilt, after catching just six passes for 75 yards in the 12-game regular season.
Sometimes, it’s players like this that make the difference in a championship game, and for that reason, we give the award to Doran, as Layne’s three turnovers were one of the reasons the Lions were trailing so late in the game despite outgaining the Browns by 102 yards overall.
1953 NFL ROTY: Gern Nagler, Chicago Cardinals
The top two first-year players were Chicago Cardinals end Gern Nagler (43 receptions, 610 yards, 6 TDs) and his teammate, fullback Johnny Olszewski (596 scrimmage yards, 5 TDs). In truth, many draft picks from the 1953 Draft ended up serving in the military, so even though the Cardinals finished dead last in the East Division, one of these guys has to be our pick for ROTY. Odd, we know.
And it has to be Nagler, as Olszewski fumbled more than he scored (6 turnovers). Nagler has a relatively unremarkable pro career, lasting 8 years with 3 teams, and making the Pro Bowl once in 1958 in his final year with Chicago. In 1957, he did catch an 83-yard pass to register the longest play through the air that season across the league.