It is time for the 1990s on NFL Thursday, as we move to the first year of the decade this week on our miniseries that covers Super Bowl MVPs and ROTYs. The media is batting 10-for-24 so far on our big-game MVP winners, and most of that success came in the 1980s: Seven of the 10 trophies were confirmed by us here in this space. What does that mean? Well … that hindsight is 20/20, for starters.

(And if you’re curious, check out our first miniseries entry on this year for context.)

Super Bowl XXV MVP: Ottis Anderson, RB, New York Giants (original); Thurman Thomas, RB, Buffalo (revised)

In a game with no turnovers, the New York Giants escaped with a 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills when a last-second, game-winning field goal attempt went wide. The Giants had possession of the ball for over 40 minutes of game time, thanks to voted MVP Ottis Anderson, their veteran running back. He posted 109 scrimmage yards and a touchdown on 22 touches, which is a solid game.

But overall, the Giants ran for 172 yards, and even Anderson’s backup registered 66 scrimmage yards on just 11 touches. New York quarterback Jeff Hostetler threw for 222 yards and a TD on 32 attempts for a 93.5 QB rating. Generally, the Giants offense had a lot of good performances, without a true MVP effort. What about defense? The Bills gained 371 yards without a turnover, getting sacked just once.

Can we look to the Buffalo offense instead, then? The true star of the game actually was Bills RB Thurman Thomas, who ran for 135 yards on just 15 carries, while adding 55 yards on 5 receptions. His 31-yard TD run in the fourth quarter gave Buffalo a 19-17 lead, and overall, he was the dominant player of the game. The missed FG shouldn’t have mattered; Thomas was the deserving Super Bowl MVP.

1990 NFL ROTY: Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas & Mark Carrier, FS, Chicago (original); James Francis, LB, Cincinnati (revised)

The vote winners here were Dallas Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith (1,165 scrimmage yards and 11 TDs) and Chicago Bears free safety Mark Carrier (10 INTs, 5 FF). The Cowboys missed the postseason, but the Bears won 11 games to claim the NFC Central Division title. Do we have any other contenders to challenge Carrier here? Of course, but they’re all on the defensive side of the ball, too. Crazy!

New Orleans Saints defensive end Renaldo Turnbull (9 sacks, 1 FF), Dallas defensive tackle Jimmie Jones (7.5 sacks), Cincinnati Bengals linebacker James Francis (8 sacks, 1 INT, 1 safety), and Los Angeles Raiders LB Aaron Wallace (9 sacks) all made big contributions to their teams. We know the Cowboys weren’t in the playoffs, but the Saints made it while the Bengals and Raiders won divisions.

So, this comes down to Carrier, Turnbull, Francis, and Wallace. Carrier is hard to beat with those forced 15 turnovers, but Chicago won its division by 5 games! The Bears probably would have won the division without him. He’s the best rookie, but is he the most valuable? The Saints made the postseason by 1 game over the Cowboys, so Turnbull has lots of value.

Likewise, Cincy finished in a 3-way tie for the AFC Central Division title, winning a tiebreaker to snag the crown and a playoff spot over Houston and Pittsburgh. That’s more value for Francis than Turnbull, in truth. The Silver & Black won the AFC West by a single game, but they had 12 wins and some playoff cushion regardless.

We feel Carrier was the best rookie, but we see Francis as having the most value to his team. Without him, the Bengals miss the playoffs, period. He would go on to have a relatively undistinguished 10-year NFL career, but that’s also irrelevant here. We are consistent if nothing else.

Check in every Thursday for our NFL awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!