We are almost a decade into our second NFL Thursday miniseries, as we determine the non-existent Championship Game MVP awards for the past in professional football in America. Remember, title-game MVP awards were not voted upon until 1961 (and the AFL title games only started giving out the award in 1963). You can check out our first miniseries entry on this year for context, by the way.
The NFL started doling out the Rookie of the Year Award in 1957, so we’re doing our usual thing there. Read on!
1958 NFL Championship Game MVP: Johnny Unitas, QB, Baltimore Colts
This was the famous game that put the NFL on the map as the new national sport, so to speak, replacing baseball. With the 23-17 overtime victory over the New York Giants, the Baltimore Colts captured their first NFL title and the imagination of American sports fans across the country. Fullback Alan Ameche scored the winning touchdown on a short run, and he finished with 65 yards and two scores, but it was really Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas who dominated the game with 349 yards passing.
Unitas did throw an interception, but his TD pass to Raymond Berry in the first half helped stake the Colts to a 14-3 halftime lead, before the Giants came back to take a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Unitas led the game-tying and game-winning drives to get the Colts to the promised land, and with his 26 completions on 40 attempts. he started to re-define the QB position for decades to come in the sport. This was a transformative performance from a legend, in essence, although no one knew it at the time.
1958 NFL ROTY: Jimmy Orr, E, Pittsburgh Steelers (original, confirmed)
This was an interesting vote at the time, as Pittsburgh Steelers end Jimmy Orr won the vote, as his team finished 7-4-1 for a rare winning season at the time for the lowly franchise. He caught 33 passes for a whopping 970 yards and 7 TDs, with only 1 fumble. The Steelers posted a winning record for the first time since 1949, and it was only the fourth winning season since its 1933 founding for the organization as well.
We also like the contributions of Colts safety Ray Brown, who intercepted 8 passes on the year for 9-3 Baltimore, returning them for 149 yards total. The Colts defense gave up just 203 points on the season, which was the second-best effort in the league that season. However, the other Baltimore safety, Andy Nelson, also had 8 INTs and even returned one for a score, so Brown’s efforts weren’t as valuable as they seemed to be on the surface. It was a team effort there, for sure.
Yet we also have to consider the contributions of Cleveland Browns halfback Bobby Mitchell, who helped his team to a 9-3 record in the East Division, tying with the Giants for the crown there. Mitchell totaled 631 scrimmage yards and 4 TDs for a better team, although therein lies the rub: He had better teammates, and his numbers were inferior to Orr’s production levels. Plus, Mitchell also fumbled twice, so upon further review, we will confirm Orr’s award.
It is ironic that Orr would end up playing for the Colts, and in Super Bowl III, he was involved in a famous play that led to Baltimore’s downfall in that game against the New York Jets. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?