We have reached the 1988 season on NFL Thursday, and in 22 editions of this miniseries, we have confirmed just 9 of the voted Super Bowl MVPs. We have to wonder why this is the case, and we can only go with emotional subjectivity of being in the moment—while we have the advantage of detached objectivity in our retrospective analyses. Yeah, that’s the ticket … on with the show, folks!
(And if you’re curious, check out our first miniseries entry on this year for context.)
Super Bowl XXIII MVP: Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco (original); Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco (revised)
The San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals on a last-second touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Montana to wide receiver Jerry Rice, and the latter won the MVP vote for catching a then-record 11 passes for 215 yards. The 49ers outgained the Bengals, 452-229, so this game should not have even been close, and we want to look at the S.F. defense, too.
The 49ers forced just 1 turnover, but they held league MVP Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati’s QB, to just 144 passing yards. No single defensive player stands out on the S.F. roster, as the team notched 5 sacks and 1 INT, but clearly, the Bengals couldn’t run, either. Cincy kicked 3 field goals to go along with a special-teams TD, and that’s why the Bengals held the late lead in the game.
In truth, WRs are rarely what makes the offense go, as QBs still need to get them the ball: Montana was 23-for-36 for 357 yards and 2 TDs, and there is this famous anecdote to consider, too. Rice wasn’t leading the offense; he was just the beneficiary of Montana’s coolness and greatness. The 49ers gained just under 4.0 yards per carry on the ground, so the 10 yards per attempt through the air were vital.
1988 NFL ROTY: John Stephens, RB, New England & Erik McMillan, S, New York Jets (original); Ickey Woods, RB, Cincinnati (revised)
The ROTY voting was weird, as New England Patriots running back John Stephens (1,266 scrimmage yards, 4 TDs, 3 TOs) and New York Jets free safety Erik McMillan (8 INTs, 2 TDs) won the awards. But both teams missed the postseason, while Cincinnati RB Ickey Woods (1,265 scrimmage yards, 15 TDs, 8 TOs) definitely helped his team improve from 4 wins the prior season to 12 wins in this one.
Remember, the Bengals played in a division where both wild-card teams also resided. Woods definitely had more value than Stephens, even with the high number of fumbles. He also averaged 1.4 more yards per carry than Stephens did, too, so the voters really screwed up here. The only other defensive player we like is Atlanta Falcons linebacker Aundray Bruce (6 sacks, 2 INTs). But his team won just 5 games.
So, we see this award as being Woods’ trophy to claim now, all these years later. It can somewhat make up for the SB disappointment he and his team experienced.