This is our fifth entry in our second NFL Thursday miniseries, as we analyze the Championship Game/Super Bowl MVP and the Rookie Player of the Year awards for 1954. 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, which is just fine by us!
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 like us do! Remember, you can check out our first miniseries entry on this year for context while you’re here …
1954 NFL Championship Game MVP: Otto Graham, QB, Cleveland Browns
After losing to the Los Angeles Rams in 1951 and the Detroit Lions in both 1952 and 1953, the Cleveland Browns stormed to their second NFL title in five season by absolutely flattening the Lions, 56-10, in the NFL Championship Game. It was 35-10 at halftime, and Detroit mailed it in during the second half. So which Browns player gets our MVP nod?
Cleveland’s defense forced 9 turnovers, including 6 interceptions (!) off Lions quarterback Bobby Layne, while Browns QB Otto Graham ran for 3 touchdowns and passed for 3 scores, as well. He also tossed two INTs, however. Does that matter? Four different Cleveland defensive players had the interceptions off Layne, and none of them scored. That leaves us to assess how the Browns got the big, early lead.
And that takes us back to Graham: He threw two TD passes in the first quarter, and then he ran for two more in the second quarter while adding his third scoring throw. So, five of his six scoring plays helped bury Detroit in the first half and psychologically destroyed the Lions. He wasn’t perfect, but Graham didn’t need to be on this day. He just was good enough to dominate … easily.
1954 NFL ROTY: Harlon Hill, E, Chicago Bears
We have two primary candidates for the ROTY nod, and they are Green Bay Packers end Max McGee—who would achieve serious fame in the first Super Bowl—and Chicago Bears end Harlon Hill, who was our pick for the league MVP, in truth. McGee totaled 623 yards from scrimmage with 9 TDs and zero fumbles, while Hill managed 1,124 scrimmage yards and 12 TDs without a fumble.
The Bears finished 8-4 in the West Division, which was 1.5 games behind the Lions, while the Packers were just 4-8. So, all signs have us re-affirming Hill’s amazing rookie season with this award, too. But McGee may be the more famous player thanks to his surprise exploits in Super Bowl I.