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The 1987 MVP Award: Rice, Montana, and Elway

Two of the most valuable players from 1987.

In 1987, the Associated Press voters were faced with a difficult choice. This was a year disrupted by the players’ strike, which led to a 15-game season that included three games featuring replacement players. Jerry Rice was the rare unanimous first-team All-Pro selection at wide receiver, courtesy of a record-breaking 22 touchdown receptions in 12 games.  How remarkable was that? Eagles receiver Mike Quick was second in the league in receiving touchdowns with *11*, and no other player had more than 8!  And for good measure, Rice scored a 23rd touchdown on a rush against the Falcons.

And it’s not as though all Rice did was catch touchdowns. Cardinals wide receiver J.T. Smith crossed the picket line and played in all 15 games; he wound up leading the league in receiving yards, but Rice led the NFL in receiving yards per game for the second straight season.  A remarkable year from the greatest receiver in NFL history is certainly worthy of MVP honors.

The biggest threat to Rice capturing the MVP award appeared to be his own quarterback, Joe Montana.  The 49ers lost on opening day in Pittsburgh, but the 49ers went 10-0 in Montana’s remaining starts.  In part, this is because this was a dominant San Francisco team on both sides of the ball, but Montana led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdowns, touchdown rate, and passer rating.  He also ranked 2nd in ANY/A, behind Cleveland’s Bernie Kosar (the Browns went 8-4 in his starts, and Kosar received minimal MVP attention). Montana had three 4th quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives, while Kosar had none.  And in a head-to-head game on Sunday Night Football, Montana outclassed Kosar. And Montana was Montana, so it’s no surprise that peak Montana on a 10-game winning streak was considered the best quarterback in the NFL.

There were really just two knocks on Montana that year.  One was that he crossed the picket line after a week: that means two of his ten starts came in those games, slightly inflating his stats.  The other was was that his backup — future HOFer in Steve Young — was insanely efficient on 69 pass attempts and three starts. How efficient? Despite playing in 1987, Young posted what remains today as the single-greatest ANY/A average of the modern era, among players with at least 50 pass attempts.1

How far ahead of the pack was the San Francisco passing attack with Montana, Rice, and an assist from Young?  Below are the NFL team passer ratings from the last 10 games of the season, which is when all regular players returned.  The 49ers lapped the field with a passer rating that would still be outstanding 30 years later:

Query Results Table
Passing
Rk Tm Year G W L T W-L% Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Sk Yds Rate
1 SFO 1987 10 9 1 0 0.900 213 335 63.6 2596 32 8 17 115 110.7
2 CLE 1987 10 7 3 0 0.700 196 324 60.5 2444 18 7 17 101 94.7
3 NOR 1987 10 9 1 0 0.900 147 258 57.0 1910 14 6 18 116 90.7
4 SEA 1987 10 6 4 0 0.600 151 251 60.2 1630 19 12 24 216 88.2
5 NYG 1987 10 6 4 0 0.600 193 324 59.6 2417 19 14 38 258 87.7
6 STL 1987 10 5 5 0 0.500 227 373 60.9 2390 19 11 40 287 87.4
7 MIA 1987 10 6 4 0 0.600 230 393 58.5 2822 20 12 8 68 85.7
8 PHI 1987 10 6 4 0 0.600 183 338 54.1 1985 20 9 48 337 84.5
9 BUF 1987 10 5 5 0 0.500 200 336 59.5 2054 13 8 20 181 82.4
10 DEN 1987 10 7 3 0 0.700 175 339 51.6 2436 15 10 23 164 79.5
11 RAI 1987 10 2 8 0 0.200 177 311 56.9 2144 13 13 41 312 78.9
12 KAN 1987 10 3 7 0 0.300 175 319 54.9 2150 14 12 31 238 77.9
13 NYJ 1987 10 3 7 0 0.300 193 336 57.4 1819 10 7 41 311 77.6
14 CHI 1987 10 7 3 0 0.700 195 339 57.5 2256 14 15 34 223 75.8
15 NWE 1987 10 5 5 0 0.500 175 321 54.5 2039 17 14 24 174 75.7
16 WAS 1987 10 7 3 0 0.700 175 351 49.9 2378 18 13 22 186 75.7
17 IND 1987 10 7 3 0 0.700 163 290 56.2 1800 7 8 18 138 73.3
18 DAL 1987 10 4 6 0 0.400 203 354 57.3 2157 12 14 30 249 73.0
19 HOU 1987 10 6 4 0 0.600 157 313 50.2 2259 17 16 22 163 72.9
20 TAM 1987 10 1 9 0 0.100 187 367 51.0 2141 14 11 34 289 72.4
21 RAM 1987 10 5 5 0 0.500 158 291 54.3 1929 11 12 15 120 72.1
22 CIN 1987 10 2 8 0 0.200 209 385 54.3 2719 13 18 22 186 70.5
23 GNB 1987 10 3 7 0 0.300 168 327 51.4 1999 11 11 23 151 69.5
24 MIN 1987 10 6 4 0 0.600 153 291 52.6 1850 12 14 28 193 68.9
25 SDG 1987 10 4 6 0 0.400 212 369 57.5 2294 9 18 26 214 66.1
26 DET 1987 10 3 7 0 0.300 187 344 54.4 2038 9 17 14 110 61.5
27 PIT 1987 10 5 5 0 0.500 138 274 50.4 1541 5 16 14 115 51.0
28 ATL 1987 10 1 9 0 0.100 153 308 49.7 1733 9 22 28 200 49.6

Montana had a 103.8 passer rating, while Young had a 120.8 rating! Now, was Young’s performance enough to cost Montana the MVP?  In 2011, Aaron Rodgers was remarkable, with a 122.5 passer rating, but seeing Matt Flynn torch the Lions for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns (and a 136.4 passer rating) in his only start didn’t cost Rodgers the award. From ’99 to ’01, Kurt Warner had a 103.4 passer rating and averaged 7.87 ANY/A and won two AP MVP awards, while his backup Trent Green had a 101.8 passer rating and 7.63 ANY/A in 8 games and 5 starts for those same Rams. Heck, last season, Tom Brady received 15 of 50 All-Pro votes despite not having the best passer rating on his own team! Brady averaged 8.81 ANY/A and had a 112.2 passer rating, while Jimmy Garoppolo had a 113.3 passer rating and averaged 8.59 ANY/A on a Young-like 63 attempts.

Montana was still widely viewed as the best quarterback in football that season.  He was named the first-team All-Pro quarterback by the Associated Press, the Pro Football Writers of America, Pro Football Weekly, the Football Digest, Sports Illustrated (Dr. Z), USA Today (Gordon Forbes), the New York Daily News (Bryan Burwell), the Washington Post (Michael Wilbon), Newsday (a young Peter King), the Buffalo News (Larry Felser), and NFL Films.

But he was not a unanimous first-team choice. The Newspaper Enterprise Associated, The Sporting News, College and Pro Football Newsweekly, Gannett News Service’s Joel Buchsbaum, and National Sports Daily all chose John Elway as its first-team All-Pro quarterback.

Is there anyone else to consider? If you really want a fourth candidate, it’s not another offensive player,2, but Eagles defensive end Reggie White, who like Rice, was a historically great player having a historically great season. White had 21 sacks in 12 games, while no other player had more than 12.5 sacks! White also had a 70-yard strip-sack touchdown against the eventual Super Bowl MVP that year, too.  But let’s be real: this was a three-man race.

The Results

The Football News, NFLPA (poll of league players), and Washington Touchdown Club named Players of the Conference. All three named Elway the MVP of the AFC, of course, while Rice was the NFC MVP for two of the three organizations, with the WTC going with Montana.  That splitting of the vote for 49ers players would be a sign of things to come, at least when it came to the Associated Press. For just about everyone else, the answer was pretty easy.

Eight organizations — the Pro Football Writers of America, the Newspaper Enterprise Association & Jim Thorpe Athletic Club (voting as a collective entity), The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, the Football Digest, the Maxwell Club of Philadelphia Bert Bell Award, the New York Daily News, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Robert Sansevere) — named Rice their MVP.

Michael Wilbon, writing for the Washington Post, put out his column with one game left in the regular season. He named Rice, with 20 touchdown receptions in 11 games, his Most Outstanding Player, and Elway his most valuable player. “Yes, it’s a copout to pick an MVP and an outstanding player, but where would the Denver Broncos be without John Elway? He’s completed 56 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Without Elway, the Broncos probably would be the Raiders.”  Had Wilbon waited another week, his vote may have gone to Rice alone, as he caught two more touchdowns in the final game (we’ll get to Elway’s final game later).

At Newsday, Peter King went with Elway as his MVP, with Montana 2nd, Rice 3rd, and White 4th.

King appears off on an island.  The only other outlet to name Elway MVP that year? Well, that happened to be the Associated Press.  Of the 84 AP voters, 43% named Elway MVP, with the remaining 57% voting for one of the 49ers stars.  Of course, 30 votes went to Rice and 18 to Montana, allowing Elway and his 36 votes to narrowly take the award.

Here was the story from the AP on January 1, 1988:

John Elway of the Denver Broncos, who carried the injury-decimated Denver Broncos to the best record in the AFC, was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by The Associated Press on Thursday. Elway was one of only three players to receive votes for the award, beating out wide receiver Jerry Rice of San Francisco, who was named the AP’s offensive player, and 49ers quarterback Joe Montana.

Elway was beaten out by Montana for the first-team quarterback spot on the AP’s All-Pro team “It’s very flattering,” Elway said in Denver. “But without the team behind you, you don’t have a chance to win an award like this. A quarterback tends to get more credit than he deserves sometimes.”

Of 84 votes cast — by three broadcasters and sports writers from each NFL city — Elway received 36 votes to 30 for Rice. Montana got 18 votes. Elway carried the Broncos to a 10-4-1 record this season, good enough for the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, even after losing to injury such stars as running backs Gerald Willhite3 and Steve Sewell4, safety Dennis Smith5, wide receiver Steve Watson6 and center Bill Bryan.7 Also, five defensive players from the team that went to the Super Bowl last season retired.

Elway entered the league as the first choice in the 1983 draft, but got off to a shaky start, thrown in as the savior of the Denver franchise. Still, in his last four years, the Broncos have been 44-17-1 with him as the starter. “It makes me feel like I’ve come a long way in five years,” Elwav said. “As a rookie, I hit rock bottom. When you start down-and-out and then come back to this level, it makes all the hard work seem worthwhile. That makes this award seem even more special.”

How far he has come was evident during a four-game stretch in mid season when he carried the Broncos to four straight victories after a loss in Buffalo that dropped the Broncos to 4-3-1. He threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-29 win over the Bears and 347 and two TDs in a key 31-17 victory in San Diego. “Since he’s been here he’s played an awful lot of good games” Coach Dan Reeves said after the San Diego game. “But I don’t know that he’s been as consistent as he’s been in these past three.” With his running backs hurt, Elway relied principally on three fast wide receivers Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and rookie Ricky Nattiel, who were nicknamed “The Three Amigos”.

He finished with 224 completions in 410 attempts and 19 touchdowns. He also finished as the team’s second leading rusher behind Sammy Winder, carrying 66 times for 304 yards, a 4.6 average. On numerous occasions, he scrambled his way to first downs on third down situations and ran for four touchdowns. Against San Diego, for example, he carried six times for 40 yards and against the Bears, he was five for 35.

So was Elway a deserving MVP choice by the Associated Press?  Remember, nearly every organization chose Rice as MVP, and even the AP only narrowly selected Elway over Rice.  There’s no doubt who sportswriters as a group thought was the most valuable player in 1987.  The AP is the “name” award, but there’s no reason to take the votes of 36 men as superior to those of other organizations.  The Maxwell Club MVP polled 640 people, and there Rice actually received a majority of first-place votes (which, of course, Elway did not in the AP poll):

In ballots for the Bert Bell Award cast by sports writers, football coaches and club members, Rice received 326 first-place votes and 1,996 total points to become the first wide receiver to win the prize since it was first awarded in 1959.

White had 105 first-place votes and 905 points, Elway received 133 first-place votes and 833 points and Montana garnered 49 first-place votes and 421 points.

If four AP voters selected Rice over Elway — or seven of the Montana voters went for Rice, or some combination of the two — then Rice would have been the AP, NEA, PFW, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, and Maxwell Club MVP.  And no one would ever associated Elway with being the most valuable player in the NFL in 1987.  Perhaps the most remarkable note: Elway didn’t even account for more touchdowns than Rice that season: both were responsible for 23 touchdowns.

The Case For Elway

A one-man show.

That said, let’s end with some reasons why Elway won the award.  Elway’s numbers may not look great to you — 3,198 yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 83.4 passer rating — but they are better than they appear at first glance.  He finished 4th in ANY/A and actually led the NFL in net yards per pass attempt.   He had a better interception rate than Montana, but a mediocre 4.6% touchdown rate hurt his ANY/A average.  That low touchdown, however, was due in part to all the injuries to the Denver running backs that turned the Broncos in a pass-happy team that ranked 2nd in pass attempts.

It’s also probably fair to throw out Elway’s terrible numbers from the last game of the season, played in absolutely miserable conditions, that the Broncos won 24-0 over a Chargers team that appeared frozen.  He was 7 of 20 for 98 yards with an interception in a game that had 14 inches of snow, but also a game that was never in doubt. It’s not hard to imagine that the voters ignored his stats from the game.  And without those bad numbers, Elway’s ANY/A jumps to 7.00, which was narrowly ahead of Montana’s ANY/A.

Let’s operate under the assumption that the voters paid little attention to the first two weeks of the season — the pre-strike games were a distant memory — and the final week of the year, due to the blizzard conditions and since the game was meaningless for San Francisco. Over that time period, Elway edged out Montana in ANY/A (though not passer rating), despite, you know… not having the best player in football. If anything, it’s Kosar (who played well in the two pre-strike games, too) who has a real gripe:

Elway produced legitimately great passing numbers over games 6 through 14 of the 15-game season, while also finishing the season 2nd among all quarterbacks in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.  Oh, and he did it with a mediocre supporting cast and a coach who wasn’t exactly quarterback-friendly, while engineering a new-look, quarterback-centric, shotgun offense.  That was the opposite of the situation Montana found himself in, and we can all agree that elevating a mediocre team to the 1 seed is the kind of stuff MVPs are made of. But if you don’t score more touchdowns than a wide receiver, it’s hard to be the most valuable player in football.

Ironically, Elway had a better claim to be made as the most valuable quarterback in the NFL, rather than its most valuable player. The Associated Press just got it reversed.

  1. And his most meaningful work came not as a starter. In week 14, the 49eres had a huge game against the Bears for conference supremacy. Both teams were 10-2 entering the game, making it a showdown for the 1 seed in the NFC.  The Bears defense was still dominant, and while Montana was the starter,  he pulled a hamstring early in the game after going 4-8 for 47 yards with two sacks. Young stepped in and the 49ers blew out the Bears, 41-0. Young threw for 4 touchdowns on his 19 passes. []
  2. If you are curious about the running backs of 1987, you probably would focus on either Rams running back, Eric Dickerson or Charles White. Dickerson was magnificent down the stretch for Indianapolis after a mid-season trade — he rushed for 973 yards in the Colts final 8 games and carried the team to the postseason — but didn’t do enough in September or October to merit consideration. White crossed the picket line and led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns, but did so for a 6-9 Rams team.  Ironically, these two running backs who began the season as teammates ended as the two AP 1st-team All-Pro backs. []
  3. In 1986, Willhite finished 2nd on the team in rushing yards, 3rd in receiving yards, and 2nd in yards from scrimmage. []
  4. The team’s top pass-catching back. []
  5. A Pro Bowler in ’85 and ’86, Smith was limited to six games in ’87. []
  6. Second on the ’86 Broncos in both receptions and receiving yards. []
  7. Who started nearly every game from ’78 to ’88, but was limited to four starts in ’87. []
  • FWIW, Kosar is my MVQB in ’87. I think I might put Elway over Montana, too. Rice probably had to be the overall MVP.

    • sacramento gold miners

      It’s unfortunate Kosar wasn’t very durable, because he had the ability and mind to be a HOF QB. A case could be made those 1986-87 Browns teams would have more competitive against the Giants and Redskins in those Super Bowls.

  • For me, MVP came down to Elway and Kosar. They were arguably the best QBs in football that year, despite not playing with Craig, Rathman, Rice, and a solid line, for one of the most innovative coaches in history, with an outstanding defense providing support. PFR will show you that the Browns had the best defense in football by SRS, but that has much to do with holding opponents to a combined 25 points during the strike. Really, Denver and Cleveland were about even on defense. The real tiebreaker is in the tape, where Elway stood out much more than Kosar, despite Kosar’s huge DVOA advantage.

    I named Rice OPOY and most outstanding player, and named White DPOY. I had a hard time considering Rice as the MVP when he was receiving passes from another MVP candidate. He was probably the best player in the NFL, but his team would have been fine without him.

    • But the ’87 49ers were more than “fine” with Rice. If you discard games 3, 4, and 5 of the season, Rice had 33% of his team’s receiving yards and no one else had even 15%. He had 40% of all receiving fantasy points (using 0.5 PPR), with no one else at 15%. And, of course, he had 60% of his team’s receiving touchdowns.

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d38c720496af06b8df3ac0f29ca21f6f7178157031b435da107cafdd3f2b1b35.png

      Without Rice, the 49ers passing game would probably have been OK, but with him, it was one of the most dominant passing games ever.

      • He was a big piece of the pie, but I don’t think he was the league’s most valuable player. In the official stat era, Don Hutson is the only WR I feel good about naming league MVP.

        • What about Rice getting 23 TDs and Elway getting 23 TDs?

          • Rice was as dominant as they come, but just comparing TD numbers ignores some other stuff. Rice had 1129 yards on 73 touches, including 64 catches from two HOF QBs. Elway had 496 plays from scrimmage and gained 3364 yards while leading an offense that ranked fifth in DVOA despite having marginal support.

            One thing I will say about Rice is that his TD numbers are especially impressive given the lengths of his scores. Nine of his touchdowns were inside 10 yards, but 13 were beyond 20, and 8 were beyond 30. Heck, he had six scores over 40 yards. These weren’t easy touchdowns.

            If you don’t like this, you’re going to hate my 2016 MVP pick.

      • Mr. Dunwich

        Certainly, removing Rice from the lineup would have delivered a solid blow to the 49ers offensively, but at the same time they likely would have made due by throwing more to Craig, Rathman, Clark, Taylor and the others. Not ideal certainly, Clark and Francis were on their way out, Craig and Rathman were meant for short field passing, and Taylor was a rookie.

        Still, the team would have likely finished with a winning record, thanks to the always strong defense and the mind and competitiveness of Walsh. They also had slightly weak opposition that season, and two of the finest “do it all” backs in the league (Craig/Rathman)

        Even with one the weakest schedules that year, I can’t see how the Broncos would have had a winning season in 87′ without Elway. Winder was just not a great RB, and I can’t see him having a season where he blows up the league in rushing. Further, the backup QB situation was not ideal.
        Take Montana away from the 49ers, and Young steps in and likely does exceedingly well with Rice. Take Rice away and the team still likely comes out winning.

  • I don’t think you can just say “If some of the Montana voters had voted for Rice, he would have edged Elway”. I mean, I get the reasoning: the voters wanted to vote the best 49er for MVP, they thought it was Montana, but really it was Rice. Rice and Montana split the 49ers vote.

    But that reasoning quickly falls apart when you turn it on its head: I can just as easily say “if some of the Montana voters had voted for Elway, he would have won in a landslide”. The voters wanted to vote the best QB for MVP, they thought it was Montana, but it was really Elway. Montana and Elway split the QB vote.

    I mean, you said it yourself: Elway was, from a purely statistical standpoint, basically as good of a passer as Joe Montana, despite Montana throwing to the best player in the NFL and Elway throwing to… who, exactly? And Montana played for the best offensive mind in NFL history, (IMO), while Elway played for a coach who we have ample evidence actively held him back.

    (Consider: Elway played for 16 years total, 10 of them with Reeves. Per ANY/A relative to league average, Elway’s 10 years with Reeves rank as his 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th-best years… plus 1987, which was the best year of his career. And it’s not just that Shanahan and his supporting cast was so great; in 1993 Elway was 33, his coach was Wade Phillips, his leading rusher was Rod Bernstein, and while he had an emergent Shannon Sharpe, his top WRs were Derek Russell, Vance Johnson, and Arthur Marshall. His ANY/A+ of 117 was 16 points higher than his average under Reeves and *31 points* higher than his ANY/A+ in 1992. Basically just from losing Reeves. It’s not like this is hindsight bias– the Elway/Reeves dynamic was known at the time. Shanahan had been fired because he and Elway were going behind Reeves’ back to draw up plays.)

    Regardless of how heavily you weigh entanglement, it’s pretty clear that if John Elway was in a situation where his true level of play was probably better than his raw stats would suggest, while Joe Montana was in a situation where his true level of play was probably worse than his raw stats would suggest.

    So if some voters thought Montana was as good as Rice that year, perhaps they *really* should have been amazed at how good that Elway kid was, instead.

    • Digging into the Dan Reeves thing, here’s Elway’s ANY/A+ year-by-year for his career, along with notes about the presence/absence of Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan:

      1983 – 79 (Reeves, no Shanahan)
      1984 – 104 (Reeves, Shanahan OC)
      1985 – 96 (Reeves, Shanahan OC)
      1986 – 110 (Reeves, Shanahan OC)
      1987 – 124 (Reeves, Shanahan OC)
      1988 – 96 (Reeves, no Shanahan)
      1989 – 99 (Reeves, no Shanahan)
      1990 – 101 (Reeves, Shanahan offensive assistant)
      1991 – 103 (Reeves, Shanahan offensive assistant)
      1992 – 86 (Reeves, no Shanahan)
      1993 – 117 (no Reeves, no Shanahan)
      1994 – 105 (no Reeves, no Shanahan)
      1995 – 118 (Shanahan HC)
      1996 – 114 (Shanahan HC)
      1997 – 116 (Shanahan HC)
      1998 – 123 (Shanahan HC)

      Using simple averages, here’s how that breaks down:
      Reeves HC, no Shanahan: 4 years, 90 average (94 minus rookie year), zero above 100.
      Reeves HC, Shanny on staff: 6 years, 106 average, five of six above 100.
      No Reeves, no Shanahan: 2 years, 111 average, both above 100
      Shanahan as HC: 4 years, 118 average, all four above 100.

      Elway was above-average in ANY/A+ in 11 of his 12 years where it wasn’t just him and Reeves and below-average in all four years where it was just him and Reeves. And if anything, this probably understates the results, because those Reeves years were Elway’s prime. The two years after winning the MVP, Elway was 28 and 29 and below-average in both. All those high-ANY/A+ years at the end of his career came after his 33rd birthday.

      There’s tons of evidence of how badly Elway’s statistics underrated him during the Reeves era. Bill Walsh reportedly wanted to trade Montana for the rights to Elway during the 1983 draft. We’ll never know what Elway’s numbers would have looked like if we had, but I think there’s more than enough evidence here to provide fertile space for imagining.

      • Mr. Dunwich

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5a07aaf0d891524230e9670c6b153b87b92b6c2f583ef44995544db7090ef81c.jpg

        Just for further reference on how detrimental Reeve’s and his system (Smashmouth) was on John Elway’s passing performance. Bear in mind, the biggest reason for the uptick in passing performance, wasn’t the inclusion of Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Terrell Davis, or Mike Shanahan, but the switch from Smashmouth to West Coast. Smith and McCaffrey in 95′ combined for fewer targets than Davis (who was 3rd with 82). In 96′, combined they were targeted less than Sharpe (117) or Miller (110). It wasn’t until 97′ and 98′ that Smith and McCaffrey became as important as Sharpe.

        Smashmouth is a great system (as proven by Lombardi, Landry, and Ditka to name a few), but only on the condition that you have great RB/FBs and great defenses. Without these though, the system fails and places a terrible burden on the QB. Since it isn’t a passing system first, it isn’t setup for quality passing opportunities by itself, and success for the passer is largely on the strength of the ground game (if the opponent expects and fears the run, it becomes easier to pass efficiently as we saw with Bart Starr). Reeve’s system typically employed only three receivers and rarely had even one in a short field, quick dump off setup. Which means he was sticking to a traditional Smashmouth system, but again, a broken one due to the lack of rushing strength.

        No quarterback is going to thrive under those conditions, no matter how good they are.

  • Douglas Lee

    I had always wondered why Elway won that MVP, and now I know! Chase, the throroughness of your research always impresses. Hope you’re well

  • Mark Growcott

    Not surprisingly QBs have a mortgage on the MVP award at present and have won 67% of the time since the award has been held. With no WR having ever won the award and given what Rice achieved in 1987 and how close he came, one must wonder if we will ever see a WR win it. What will it take for a WR to be crowned MVP? No one besides Moss has come close to matching Rice’s 22 Rec TDs and one can speculate how many he would have had had he played 16 games, the total would be astonishing yet he did not win. Calvin Johnson garnered no votes when he broke Rice’s Single Season yardage record in 2012 and neither did Marvin Harrison when he had his record breaking 143 catches in 2002. It is not going to happen.

    WRs have a much better chance of winning SB MVP and 6 have done so incl. Rice.

    • Part of the problem is AP-centrism. Rice did win the MVP award, according to several major publications. So did Harlon Hill in 1955. Lance Alworth received the UPI AFL player of the year award in 1963. Don Hutson earned the Joe F. Carr trophy twice, which is important because the Carr trophy is the only MVP award ever named official by the NFL.

  • kevin trammo

    I am all about statistical analysis however there are times where stats do not tell the entire story. Or maybe a analytical analysis of entire rosters should come into play. I can make a case that the 49ers were superior to the Broncos at almost every position on the field (o-line,across the defense, skill positions obviously). Heck, the Broncos of the late 80s were inferior to at least half the league on a position by position basis. Yeah, they had a few nice players, but the Broncos winning the AFC is all about Elway.

  • Jason Nedrich

    To me, Rice not winning the AP MVP that year is one of the biggest highway robberies in sports history. He was historically great in 1987, which was proved considering he won every single other MVP/Player of the Year award that year. All he needed was the AP MVP to have a clean sweep. His season was probably one of the 5 greatest single seasons ever when you consider he led the NFL in TDs with 23 and the next closest player had 11. Yet they gave it to Elway and his 19 TDs and 12 Ints?? Seriously!! So while Rice won every award except the AP, people recognize Elway as the 1987 NFL MVP. What a farse!

    On a side note, I’m not surprised at all that Peter King had Jerry Rice third in the MVP voting that year. King in my opinion is one of the biggest blowhards in sports. The dude thinks Don Hutson is the best NFL player ever. I bet the solid competition that Hutson dominated during WWII when 80% of the league was in the war could have held up to the Deion Sanders and Darrell Greens that Rice faced…