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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)

Well, you know who this one is. Peyton Manning was the NFL MVP in ’03 (shared with Steve McNair), ’04, ’08, ’09, and ’13, while he won the Super Bowl to conclude the 2006 season.

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.

 

  1. While some have questioned whether Montana really merited the honor in 1990, he arguably deserved to win an MVP award before ’89, too. []
  2. Unitas was certainly the most deserving player in ’64, although one could make an argument for Lamonica in ’67. []
  3. 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. []
  4. 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). []
  5. Although Lamonica was the AP MVP that season. []
  • Andropov

    It’s kind of interesting to look at how infrequently QBs won both a chamionship and an MVP in the same year. Of course, I would guess you would see that change were MVP voting done post-Superbowl.

    • sacramento gold miners

      Generally speaking, when a QB plays on a talented team with a strong running attack, he’s not going to have the same opportunities of other QBs, who play in different circumstances. Players like Bob Griese and Troy Aikman were more than capable of putting up huge numbers, but it was smarter for those teams to utilize all their weapons. I think Russell Wilson could definitely put up more impressive numbers in a different system, but Seattle has a very successful philosophy, and there’s no reason for changes.

      • Erik Persson

        I completely agree. Any offensive coordinator worth his salt isn’t going to take unnecessary risks throwing the ball, when their defense is stonewalling their opponents and their stud running back(s) is/are moving the sticks consistently. It makes no sense to air it out in that situation, as even the best QBs have balls tipped at the LOS, bounce off WRs’ hands, etc., i.e., miscues largely outside of their control. That’s why I refuse to short sell QBs on teams built that way. Cumulative yardage is a product of attempts and outside of audibling, today’s NFL QBs are operating hands tied in that light.

    • Warner, 1999
      Favre, 1996
      Young, 1994
      Montana, 1989
      Bradshaw, 1978
      Starr, 1966

      There are a lot more seasons of an MVP quarterback making the Super Bowl but losing. In fact, every QB who won MVP from 1981-88 ended up on the Super Bowl losing team.

      Manning, 2013
      Manning, 2009
      Brady, 2007
      Gannon, 2002
      Warner, 2001
      Favre, 1997
      Esiason, 1988
      Elway, 1987
      Marino, 1984
      Theismann, 1983
      Anderson, 1981
      Morrall, 1968

  • sam

    Plotted the list (crudely) in excel.
    Missing from the chart: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger. Funny how the popular perception is that these two will make the HOF when neither has sniffed an MVP award.

    • sacramento gold miners

      Brian Sipe, Boomer Esiason, and Steve McNair are a few of the players who have won the MVP award, and those players won’t sniff Canton. With the likes of Brady, Peyton Manning, and Rodgers around, it’s not that surprising Eli or Big Ben hasn’t won an MVP. Shaun Alexander won’t ever approach Canton, and he won an MVP award, too. Gotta look at the entire career, and the greatest prize in the NFL. Qualifications matter, and I don’t see how Eli and Roethlisberger aren’t in Canton.

      The MVP award has much to do with timing, whereas Canton is about the whole career. Big Ben’s 2014 season could have won him a MVP in a different season.

      • Totally agree about Roethlisberger’s 2014 season. That was good enough to be MVP in probably half the seasons in NFL history. Them’s the breaks though.

        I disagree about Shaun Alexander. Although I never felt that he was on the level of Tomlinson or Faulk, I think there’s a good chance Senior Committee voters will one day look back at his 2001-2005 and say “how the heck is this guy not in Canton?”

        After all, a five-year average of 1770 yards from scrimmage and 19.6 touchdowns (with a record breaking MVP season) is impressive, regardless of who’s blocking for you.

        Like I said, I wouldn’t put him in my HOF, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him end up there. He might not be one of the three worst running backs in the Hall.

        • Erik Persson

          I’d bet money that Alexander makes it eventually.

      • Daniel Menezes

        If Eli does make the HOF is there any argument that he would not be the worst QB in there.

        I guess some could argue Namath, but Eli has exactly one HOF-worthy regular season (’11), and two nice playoff runs, one of which was more about the Giants defense (’07) than him.

        • Goerge Blanda wasn’t a very good QB. He basically had one good year, and it was against 1961 AFL defenses. If you really want to play fast and loose with definitions, Jim Finks is the worst QB in the HOF.

        • Richie

          Griese would be in the running for worst QB currently there.

          • Every time I think that about Griese as the answer to that question, I look at his stats (and two 1st All Pro teams) and change my mind, even with the minimal attempts.

            http://pfref.com/tiny/JSdFF

            • Richie

              Interesting.

              Just for fun, I thought I would normalize each HOF QB’s stats for a 600-attempt season (what the top QB’s generally attempt these days).

              Cmp

              Att
              Yds
              TD

              Int

              Otto Graham
              335

              600
              5,389
              40

              31

              Sid Luckman
              311

              600
              5,053
              47

              45

              Norm Van Brocklin
              322

              600
              4,893
              36

              37

              Steve Young
              386

              600
              4,790
              34

              15

              Bart Starr
              344

              600
              4,710
              29

              26

              Johnny Unitas
              327

              600
              4,655
              34

              29

              Dan Fouts
              353

              600
              4,608
              27

              26

              Len Dawson
              343

              600
              4,605
              38

              29

              Roger Staubach
              342

              600
              4,604
              31

              22

              Sonny Jurgensen
              343

              600
              4,536
              36

              27

              Y.A. Tittle
              331

              600
              4,515
              33

              34

              Joe Montana
              379

              600
              4,513
              30

              15

              Jim Kelly
              361

              600
              4,453
              30

              22

              Joe Namath
              301

              600
              4,412
              28

              35

              Dan Marino
              357

              600
              4,405
              30

              18

              Bob Waterfield
              302

              600
              4,397
              36

              47

              Bob Griese
              337

              600
              4,391
              34

              30

              Sammy Baugh
              339

              600
              4,385
              37

              41

              Fran Tarkenton
              342

              600
              4,361
              32

              25

              Bobby Layne
              294

              600
              4,341
              32

              39

              Warren Moon
              351

              600
              4,338
              26

              20

              Terry Bradshaw
              311

              600
              4,305
              33

              32

              John Elway
              341

              600
              4,260
              25

              19

              Troy Aikman
              369

              600
              4,192
              21

              18

              Arnie Herber
              246

              600
              4,106
              41

              54

              George Blanda
              286

              600
              4,031
              35

              41

              Jim Finks
              287

              600
              3,743
              24

              38

              • No surprise to have a ton of pretty ridiculous TD-INT numbers there. Sid Luckman! Arnie Herber with the highest TD+INT.

                • Richie

                  I enjoyed Arnie Herber’s 54 interceptions.

      • Richie

        Hey, I agree with SGM!

      • sam

        Agree with you that there are MVP’s who won’t (and shouldn’t) make the HOF, but don’t you think that *some* measure of individual greatness (whether measured by MVP’s, All-Pro’s, Stats, Pro-Bowls….) should be a prerequisite to making the HOF, much more than winning a Ring (or two)? I wasn’t trying to say that winning an MVP trophy in and of itself makes you HOF-worthy – your Boomer/McNair examples show that – but what I find weird is that a ring (or two) can almost guarantee you entry as a QB, even if you lack the individual greatness.

        Shouldn’t it be considered odd for a player to make it *without* being considered for MVP or some other individual positional award (e.g. All-Pro) throughout their career? How could you make the HOF if you were never considered one of the top players in the league, or even considered top-5-8 at your position (i.e. good enough to get MVP, All-Pro, or OPOY/DPOY votes)?

        Yes Eli/Ben’s careers overlapped with Brady/Manning/Rodgers who outperformed them on an individual level, and there’s no shame in that. But they also overlapped with Brees, Romo, and Rivers, who have also arguably outperformed them. If Eli/Ben are truly HOFers based on performance, doesn’t that mean you have to put in Brees/Romo/Rivers? I find it hard to believe that the last few years we’ve been watching 8 HOF QB’s at once…

        • sacramento gold miners

          If we didn’t keep score in football games, compile standings or decide a champion, we could have a stats only discussion. Individual greatness has to be linked with team greatness, it’s extremely rare to see the likes of Trent Difler hoisting the SB trophy. And unlike Jim Plunkett, Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have both regular season and postseason success. Tony Romo and Phillip Rivers aren’t at this level right now, both have had numerous postseason opportunities. Brees and Rodgers will be in the HOF someday, but they’ve combined for two SB wins.

          The MVPs are nice, and under different circumstances, it would be a big deal if we didn’t have the postseason. It’s worth noting Eli outplayed 2007 MVP Tom Brady in the SB that season, and it was Roethlisberger leading one of the best drives in SB history, while perennial MVP Peyton Manning threw a costly pick against the Saints. In other words, we have to consider the whole resume, including the all time lists, and being the all time leader for a storied franchise is a prestigious honor by itself.

          I honestly don’t know who is making the top 5 lists, it seems kind of irrelevant to me. I’m more of a subscriber to the top QBs in the league, and probably have a more liberal definition than others. In terms of having a large number of active future QBs, I think that’s just a reflection of the era. Time will tell if the younger QBs will step forward, Andrew Luck is clearly number one in that grouping.

          • Erik Persson

            In my opinion, having eight QBs all in the upper echelon within the same era renders them less deserving of HOF status, than those who have reached great heights in smaller such groupings. That shakes out to more peers that each of them have failed to separate themselves from over the long haul. The true greats, not unlike Secretariat in the equestrian world, dominate and win by several lengths. A tight pack is more akin to a sign of the times. Or the mean of the era, as it were.

    • Thanks, Sam. How do you get the chart to double stack data points like that? I.e., the Brady/Montana 2/4 intersection, or the 2/1 intersection?

      • sam

        I cheated 🙂 For Brady/Montana, manually changed the x/y values to 2/4.1 and 2/3.9. At the 2/1 point, Rodgers/Warner/Young are 2/1.1, 2/1, 2/0.9 etc.

        • Ha, okay. Thanks.

  • Richie

    Has anybody created any kind of “historical” re-creation of NFL MVP’s, using a voting system like baseball uses? I guess there are Pros and Cons to the idea of putting more than 1 MVP on a ballot, but it’s definitely interesting to be able to see the top 10 MVP candidates in a given year.

    • If I had the time, this would be on my to-do list.

  • John

    Who is 2014 Ben winning MVP over in the last 10 years?

    • sacramento gold miners

      Over Peyton Manning’s 2008 season, for starters.

  • southdodger

    Eli Manning has been a victim of his own strengths throughout his career. The best way to build impressive stats is throwing the short ball, which many modern day QBs have done. Not so much with Eli. He has been a guy who throws the ball down the field. Only last year did he finally get an offensive coordinator that allows him the latitude to throw a lot of short balls in addition to his specialty, which is the mid level game. If that continues for him, we may see Eli’s statistics continue to rise for the rest of his career, and by the end of it, he may have the numbers to warrant Hall of Fame consideration. He already has the post season success.