Top Five MVP Controversies

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted in November 2011, but has been updated.

Because the Associated Press has named an NFL MVP since 1957 (more on that later), it’s no surprise that some decisions have been second-guessed. Below are five of the biggest MVP controversies, but leave a comment or tweet me @nflmvpvoting if you think something more notable should make the list.

5. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning barely miss unanimous MVPs

When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady won the first unanimous NFL MVP award in 2010, it could be considered karma for barely missing the feat several years earlier.

Despite throwing for an NFL-record 50 touchdowns in 2007 while leading the Patriots to the league’s first 16-0 regular season, Brady only received 49 MVP votes. Frank Cooney of The Sports Xchange voted for Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who threw for 4,155 yards and 28 touchdowns and led Green Bay to a 13-3 record.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning faced a similar fate when he received 49 votes in 2004 after setting the then-NFL record with 49 passing touchdowns. Mike O’Hara of the Detroit News voted for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who had mediocre passing statistics (2,313 yards, 14 TD, 12 INT) but 902 rushing yards.

“I took the word ‘valuable’ seriously,” O’Hara told me in 2009. “In my mind, I shortened it to ‘value,’ and what value a player’s career had to his team.”

“Vick’s presence made all the difference to the Falcons,” O’Hara said. He was impressed how Vick helped the Falcons sell tickets and win games — the Falcons went 2-12 in games Vick didn’t start 2002 before finishing 11-4 in games he started in 2003.

4. Revisionist history from the Associated Press

For decades, the AP copied and pasted an inaccurate list of MVP winners with its annual announcement. Despite not receiving any votes, Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti was listed as the 1958 MVP and Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly was listed as the winner even though he finished second in 1959.

The faux pas was the subject of a crusade by Pro Football Weekly to recognize the award’s true winners (Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas in 1959 and Browns running back Jim Brown in 1958) and the AP finally capitulated in 2009.

The organization dug in its heels, however, by distinguishing its Player of the Year award from 1957 to 1960 and claiming the first MVP was Packers running back Paul Hornung won in 1961. The petty distinction, which I ignore in my research, hurts Brown most because he also was named MVP in 1957.

Pro Football Weekly‘s John Turney summarizes the discrepancy:

“So, after decades of the AP award list being erroneous and instead of giving Brown and Unitas the credit they richly deserve, the AP just took away those awards,” Turney wrote. “The AP had been accepting Marchetti and Conerly as the winners for those years, but now Brown and Unitas are not?”

3. Wide receiver Jerry Rice never won the award

Jerry Rice is in prestigious company by receiving MVP votes in six seasons (1995, 1994, 1993, 1990, 1987, 1986), joining Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, and Jim Brown. That murderer’s row has combined for 18 MVP awards, but Rice was never recognized by the Associated Press.

He came closest in the strike-shortened 1987 season, finishing behind Broncos quarterback John Elway (36 votes to 30). Rice caught 65 passes for 1,078 yards and an astounding 22 touchdowns in 12 games, which stood as the NFL record until Randy Moss caught 23 in 2007 during a 16-game season. Rice also finished second in 1995 — he caught 122 passes for a then-NFL-record 1,848 yards and 15 touchdowns — but trailed Packers quarterback Brett Favre 69-10 in voting.

2. Kicker — yes, a kicker — Mark Moseley wins in 1982

Blame a strike-shortened season, when Redskins kicker Mark Moseley edged Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts 35-33 in voting after helping the Redskins finish 8-1. It was the closest that Fouts, who led the league in passing yards (averaging 320.3 per game) and touchdowns (17), would come to winning an MVP award. But the NFL’s last straightahead kicker made 20 of 21 field-goal attempts (missing his last attempt of the regular season) and had a flair for the dramatic.

In the season opener, Moseley kicked the game-tying and game-winning field goals in a 37-34 overtime victory. He provided all the scoring with four field goals in a 12-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams. His most memorable kick was a game-winning field goal in the snow that delivered a 15-14 victory over the New York Giants. The field goal clinched a playoff berth and set the NFL record for most consecutive kicks made (21).

According to Grantland, even Moseley was surprised by the decision. “I think once I got nominated it was such an unusual thing that everybody voted for me,” Moseley said. “When they called me to tell me I had won it, I was shocked beyond words.”

Somewhat surprisingly, it’s not the only time a kicker has received MVP votes. Raiders kicker/quarterback George Blanda finished second in voting in 1970, and Packers kicker Chester Marcol received two votes in 1972.

1. Mixed signals for 1960 award

Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin ended his career with the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles with a bang, capturing winning the 1960 NFL Championship and capturing the Associated Press’s MVP award. Or so we think.

Sometimes the Associated Press says Van Brocklin won the award alone after throwing for 2,471 yards and 24 touchdowns in a 12-game season. But other times the organization says the award was shared with Lions linebacker Joe Schmidt, who would be one of only three defensive players to win the award. (Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page won in 1971; Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor won in 1986.)

Although tackle numbers aren’t readily available and sacks weren’t recorded as an official NFL statistic until decades later, Schmidt was clearly a legitimate contender for a Detroit team that finished third in points allowed (17.7 points per game). He returned an interception and a fumble for touchdowns to lead the league in defensive scoring.

Van Brocklin also won MVP awards from Sporting News and UPI that season. But voting data isn’t readily available for the Associated Press for 1960 or 1961, an anomaly during that decade.

Whether Schmidt actually shared in the award might always be a mystery. His bio on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website doesn’t mention a league MVP award. His bio on the Detroit Lions team site does.


One response to “Top Five MVP Controversies

  1. JaY Kolodne

    Drew Brees has never won. Seeing as he’s a QB, to me that’s just as egregious (if not more so) than the fact that Jerry Rice never won.

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