There are 23 quarterbacks who have won both a championship (as a starter) and a Most Valuable Player award in professional football history. Can you name them? First, let’s get to the fine print:
- To determine championships, I began in 1936. I awarded half a ring to each of the championship quarterbacks in the AAFC and NFL from 1946 to 1949, and half a ring to the two championship quarterbacks in the AFL and NFL from 1960 to 1965. For purposes of this post, I am including all quarterbacks with “half a ring”, but when I list career totals, keep the half-ring idea in mind.
- Based on sharing of quarterback duties, I awarded half-rings to the quarterbacks on the NFL champions in 1939, 1951, 1972, and 1990. For the NFL champion in 1970, I also awarded half a ring to that team’s top two quarterbacks, since the starter left while trailing in the Super Bowl. If you disagree with my awarding of half rings in this manner, don’t worry about. I’ve spelled out the relevant information in the post below, so feel free to manipulate the system as you desire. If so inclined, you can dismiss the early AFL years or give full credit to both MVPs in a particular season, for example.
- For MVPs, I used the Joseph F. Carr award from ’38 to ’46. Then I used the UPI for the next ten years, or the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club award when the UPI didn’t name an MVP. Those years were 1947 (which, as it turns out, was one of the easiest seasons to identify), 1949, 1950, and 1952. Then I used the AP for every year since for simplicity’s sake (i.e., just using what is listed on PFR, not out of a misguided notion that the AP is the end-all, be-all source for MVP voting). I gave the AFL and NFL MVP half an award in each year from 1960 to 1969, and I also assigned only half credit to the shared MVPs in ’97 and ’03 (the award was also split in ’49).
Let’s get to it, by breaking out 23 quarterbacks into 8 tiers:
The 3.5 MVPs/5 Titles Club (1)
This one is all Otto Graham. The Browns quarterback was the UPI MVP in ’51, ’53, and ’55, and shared the 1949 MVP with the NFL’s Steve Van Buren. Cleveland won NFL titles in ’50, ’54, and ’55, and then Graham gets half a ring for each of his four AAFC titles, bringing his total to five. If you want to consider Graham a charter member of the 4/7 club, go for it. If you think he’s “just” a 3/3 guy, well, that’s your prerogative, too.
The 2+ MVPs, 2+ Titles Club (3)
Right now, this is a pretty small club, with just three members (other than Graham): Tom Brady (2/4), Joe Montana (2/4), and Johnny Unitas (2/2.5). Brady won rings in ’01, ’03, ’04, and ’14, while he was named NFL MVP in ’07 and ’11. Montana won titles in ’81, ’84, ’88, and ’89, while the 49ers star was the AP MVP in ’89 and ’90.1 Unitas was the NFL MVP in 1959, and gets half credit for his MVPs in ’64 and ’67 since the there were AFL MVPs those years, too. He gets full credit for his titles in ’58 and ’59, but only half credit for his ring in ’70, since he exited while trailing in Super Bowl V. If you want to view Unitas as a 3/3 guy, that’s fine with me, too.2
The 4.5 MVPs, 1 Title Club (1)
The 0.5+ MVPs, 3.5+ Titles Club (2)
These three certainly belong together: all three quarterbacks benefited from HOF teammates and coaches, but also had their share of individual success as well.
- Terry Bradshaw (1/4) was part of the Pittsburgh dynasty that won championships in ’74, ’75, ’78 and ’79, and edged out Earl Campbell 36-33 for the AP MVP in 1978.3
- Bart Starr (0.5/3.5) won five NFL titles, although three of them occurred in the pre-Super Bowl era, so he’s only given half a ring for each of those. He was also the NFL MVP in 1966, while Jim Nance took home that honor in the AFL. I certainly won’t blame you if you prefer to think of Starr as a 1/5 guy.
- Sid Luckman (1/3.5) was MVP in ’43, while he won titles with the Bears in ’40, ’41, ’43, and ’46. The ’46 Bears vs. the ’46 Browns would have been quite a game to watch.
The 2+ MVPs, 1+ Titles Club (5)
- Brett Favre (2.5/1) was the NFL MVP in ’95, ’96, and ’97 (shared with Barry Sanders), while he also won the Super Bowl in ’96.
- Bob Waterfield (2/1.5) is a name you probably didn’t expect to see here, but he was named the game’s most valuable player in both 1945 (as a rookie) and 1950. Waterfield won the title in ’45 and ’51, but he shares his second ring with his Rams teammate, Norm Van Brocklin.
- Aaron Rodgers (2/1), Kurt Warner (2/1), and Steve Young (2/1) are part of a mini-club inside this tier. Rodgers may very well get himself out of this tier, but for now, he has MVPs from ’11 and ’14 and a Super Bowl from 2010. Warner was the AP choice in ’99 and ’01, while he also won the Super Bowl in 1999. And Young has MVP trophies from ’92 and ’94 to go with the Super Bowl title he captured in the latter season.4
The 1 MVP, 2+ Titles Tier (2)
In 1996, you never would have guessed that John Elway (1/2) would end up here. You may have assumed that the Broncos quarterback had already won more than 1 MVP, but in fact, he probably wasn’t the right choice the one year he did win the award: That year, 1987, Jerry Rice and Montana split the 49ers vote, while Montana was the MVP choice by most organizations (and even the AP choice for All-Pro quarterback). Elway would finish his career by winning the Super Bowl in 1997 and 1998.
The other member of this tier is Sammy Baugh (1/2), and it feels right to put him together in a tier with Elway. Baugh had one of the greatest seasons of all time in 1947, while he won titles in ’37 and ’42. The two are certainly in the upper tier when it comes to winning the genetic lottery.
The 1 MVP, 1 Title Tier (3)
- Joe Theismann pulled off a Super Bowl and an MVP in the same calendar year, ala Rodgers from 2011. Theismann quarterbacked Washington to the title on January 30th, 1983, and then won the AP MVP award for his performance during the 1983 season.
- Ken Stabler won the MVP in 1974 and then a Super Bowl in ’76; that year he finished as MVP runner up to Bert Jones.
- Joe Namath won his championship in Super Bowl III (had you heard?), while he was the MVP in both ’68 and ’69 in the AFL. It is not entirely clear whether he or Daryle Lamonica was the “true” MVP of the AFL in ’69, and you can read a bit more about that here. I went with Namath here since the reports I’ve seen from that day cited Namath as MVP, which is what PFR has as well.5 As a result, two half-MVPs (shared with the NFL’s selection), put Namath in the 1/1 tier.
The 0.5 MVPs, 1+ Title Tier (5)
- Tobin Rote (0.5/1.5) led the Lions to the championship in 1957, and then did the same with the Chargers in the AFL in 1963. That year, Rote was also the AFL’s Most Valuable Player.
- Earl Morrall (0.5/1) is a pretty unique case. Morrall was the NFL MVP in 1968, and then gets half-credit for his titles in ’70 (replacing Unitas) and ’72 (where he was replaced by Bob Griese).
- Jack Kemp (0.5/1) won titles with the Bills in ’64 and ’65, and he was the AFL MVP the latter season.
- George Blanda (0.5/1) won titles with the Oilers in ’60 and ’61, and was the AFL MVP the latter year. Given the quality of play in the early years of the AFL, I won’t quibble if you think of him as a 0/0 guy.
- Norm Van Brocklin (0.5/1) gets a shared ring for his work with Waterfield in ’50, and then gets another half ring for his title with the Eagles in ’60. NVB was also the NFL MVP in 1960. If you prefer to think of Van Brocklin was a 1/2 guy, I’m cool with that.
- While some have questioned whether Montana really merited the honor in 1990, he arguably deserved to win an MVP award before ’89, too. [↩]
- Unitas was certainly the most deserving player in ’64, although one could make an argument for Lamonica in ’67. [↩]
- This was pretty hotly contested: Campbell was the choice of the NEA and the PFW, and Campbell was the AFC POY choice over Bradshaw from both the UPI and The Sporting News. The Maxwell Club, the Players Association, and the AP were the only organizations to go with Bradshaw over Campbell. On balance, Campbell was probably the majority choice for player of the year, but we’re deferring to the AP today. [↩]
- Young nearly won a third MVP in ’93, when Emmitt Smith narrowly defeated him, 26-21. Young was dominant that year, but he split both the quarterback vote with John Elway (10 votes) and the 49ers vote with Jerry Rice (15). [↩]
- Although Lamonica was the AP MVP that season. [↩]