Tuesday, April 21, 2015

1930 and 1931 NFL MVP Retroactive

1930 NFL MVP Retroactive
(Part three of an on-going series)

By Chris Willis

In 1931 the NFL MVP race saw some good performances from Portsmouth Spartans rookie tailback Dutch Clark, Chicago Cardinals fullback Ernie Nevers, and Staten Island Stapletons fullback Ken Strong.  But it was a wild man from Green Bay that had a phenomenal year to take the MVP crown.

Packers wingback-halfback Johnny "Blood" McNally put on a weekly display of Herculean effort, leading the Packers to a 12-2 record and the NFL Championship. In the fourteen games the Packers played in 1931 McNally scored an amazing 14 touchdowns- this despite not scoring in the first three games of the season. He had 11 receiving scores, two rushing, and one by interception return. His 84 points scored was by far tops in the NFL with Nevers coming in a distant second with 66 points. McNally made an easy choice for the 1931 MVP.

1931 Pro Football Journal MVP Johnny Blood McNally
Colorization by John Turney
The previous year in the NFL, 1930, saw a much tighter race for MVP.

In the NFL's 11th season, the Green Bay Packers held off the New York Giants to win their second consecutive championship. Looking at the standings we see that the league fielded 11 teams, although the bottom two teams were two of the worse franchises to ever play in the NFL. The Minneapolis Red Jackets and the Newark Tornadoes were a combined 2-17-2 and were outscored by opponents 78-355. So when we look at the performances of the MVP candidates we must take in consideration the game results against these two bad teams.

1930 NFL Standings        (winning percentage/ pts. scored/ pts. against)
Green Bay Packers                    10-3-1,   .769      (234- 111)
New York Giants                      13-4-0     .765      (308- 98)
Chicago Bears                           9-4-1      .692      (169- 71)
Brooklyn Dodgers                     7-4-1      .636      (154- 59)
Providence Steam Roller           6-4-1     .600      (90- 125)
Staten Island Stapletons             5-5-2     .500      (95- 112)
Portsmouth Spartans                  5-6-3     .455      (176- 161)
Chicago Cardinals                      5-6-2     .455     (128-132)
Frankford Yellow Jackets          4-13-1    .222     (113-321)
Minneapolis Red Jackets            1-7-1     .125     (27- 165)
Newark Tornadoes                     1-10-1    .091     (51-190)

Most of the NFL teams played at least 12 games during the 1930 season with the New York Giants leading the NFL in scoring with 308 points (18.1 pts per game) and the Brooklyn Dodgers led the NFL in giving up only 59 points all season (4.9 points per game).

1930 NFL Scoring (Offense/Defense)
Top Five
Offense                                                                 Defense
1) Giants:     308 points                                          1) Dodgers:   59 points
2) Packers:   234 points                                          2) Bears:        71 points
3) Spartans:  176 points                                          3) Giants:       98 points
4) Bears:      169 points                                          4) Packers:     111 points
5) Dodgers:  154 points                                         5) Stapletons: 112 points

Rushing was still the predominant means of moving the ball in the NFL in 1930. Although the NFL didn't officially keep stats until 1932, we can still see who were the better players on the field by looking at the scoring during this season. The game was led by an array of backfield stars who put up a lot of touchdowns during the 1930 season. Throughout 1930 NFL teams scored 1,545 points on 213 offensive touchdowns. Scoring was up from the previous three seasons:

1927 NFL Season = 1075 points scored (12 teams, 72 games)
1928 NFL Season = 1066 points scored (10 teams, 56 games)
1929 NFL Season = 1,344 points scored (12 teams, 70 games)
1930 NFL Season = 1,545 points scored (11 teams, 73 games)

The one thing way down was field goals made, as NFL kickers in 1930 made a measly 6 field goals all year- with Frosty Peters of Providence-Portsmouth leading the NFL with TWO made. Future Hall of Famers Ken Strong, Ernie Nevers, and Benny Friedman each made one, as well as Providence's Butch Meeker, giving the Steam Roller squad a whopping three kicks converted.

As for the touchdowns Brooklyn Dodgers halfback Jack McBride (6th year in NFL) was tied for second in touchdowns scored with eight (all rushing). He also kicked eight extra points giving him 56 total points which was tops in the NFL in 1930. But digging deeper into his output one sees that McBride scored three of his rushing touchdowns, as well as two of his TD passes, came against the rather bad Newark Tornadoes. He did have eight of the Dodgers' twelve touchdowns, but every time the Dodgers lost or tied (0-4-1) McBride did nothing to help his team as every one of those games the Brooklyn squad was a shutout.

Staten Island fullback Ken Strong, the 2nd year player from NYU, and just 24 years old, had an outstanding season with the Stapes. Although Strong's team finished with a five hundred record at 5-5-2 his play was noticed all season. Strong scored 53 of the Stapletons' 95 total points by scoring seven total touchdowns (2 rushing, 5 receiving, eight extra points and one field goal). But the Stapes struggled against the better teams in the NFL in their twelve games. Their five wins came against Newark (twice), Frankford, Brooklyn and an upset win over the Giants. His 53 points scored did put him 3rd in the NFL.

Ken Strong. Colorization by John Turney
1930 NFL Scoring
1) Jack McBride, Brooklyn                56 points (8 TDS, 8 XPs)
2) Verne Lewellen, Green Bay          54 points (9 TDs)
3) Ken Strong, Staten Island              53 points (7 TDs, 8 XPs, 1 FG)
4) Red Grange, Chi Bears                   49 points (8 TDs, 1 XP)
4) Benny Friedman, New York         49 points (6 TDs, 10 XPs, 1 FG)
But the race for the 1930 MVP comes down to three players. First is the "Galloping Ghost" Red Grange. After suffering a knee injury in 1927, Grange sat out the 1928 season. Looking for a drawing card to put more people in the stands George Halas asked Grange to come back to the Chicago Bears. He finally said yes in 1929, when he played in fourteen games. Still getting over his knee injury Red scored just two touchdowns that season as Halas's team finished with a losing record of 4-9-2. But in 1930 Halas gave the coaching reins to Ralph Jones and he signed the NFL's best rookie to a contract- Minnesota All-American fullback Bronko Nagurski. The Bears played much better on the field as they finished in 3rd place with a 9-4-1 record.

Just like the Bears Red Grange also played better in 1930. Looking more like the Galloping Ghost, Grange had one of his better professional years. Grange's season helped the Bears change their fortunes on the field and in the win column. In his team's first six games Red scored just two touchdowns as the Bears struggled out of the gate to a 2-3-1 record. But over the last eight games of the season, Grange scored five touchdowns (4 running, 1 receiving), threw three TD passes, and helped the Bears defense by allowing just ten TDs all season (just 3 TD passes allowed all year)- as the Bears went 7-1 over those eight games.

Grange, 27 years old, showed off his break-away skills in a Nov. 22nd game (Saturday afternoon) against the Frankford Yellow Jackets, as the Galloping Ghost scored on long runs of 51 yards and 78 yards as the Bears defeated the Jackets 13-6. Grange's candidacy is hurt a little because three of his scores came against Minneapolis, but the rest of his scoring was against some of the better teams in the league. Late in the season, he threw two touchdown passes against league-champ Green Bay as the Bears upset the Packers 21-0. It wasn't enough as the Bears would finish just behind the Bears and Giants in the standings.
Red Grange. Colorization by John Turney
As for the Packers and Giants, they were the two best teams in the NFL in 1930 and had two of the other finalists for MVP. Giants tailback-quarterback Benny Friedman was playing in his 4th NFL year (25 years old) and was at the peak of his passing powers. The former Michigan All-American came into the NFL throwing passes, but in 1930, he got off to a slow start. In the Giants' first five games, Friedman threw just three TD passes. But he also rushed for three during that time period as the Gotham squad got off to a 4-1 start. 

The next three games Old Benny fired nine touchdown passes, including a stunning 5 (one was a lateral play) against the Frankford Yellow Jackets in a 53-0 slaughter. In the Giants' ninth game (on Nov. 2nd) Friedman's one field goal made was the difference in a 9-7 victory over the Staten Island Stapletons. At this time the NFL Standings saw a two-horse race:

Green Bay Packers:  8-0
New York Giants:    10-1

         Benny Friedman         
Colorization by John Turney

On November 23rd the Giants defeated the Packers, 13-6, in front of 37,000 fans at the Polo Grounds. It looked like the G-Men would win the title. But they would come up short, by not being able to kick extra points. They lost to the Stapletons 7-6 on Thanksgiving (missing an extra point), and lost the following week against Brooklyn, once again 7-6, by missing an extra point. The Giants would finish the season with a 13-4 record just a few percentage points behind the Packers, who went 10-3-1.

Green Bay Packers     10-3-1,  .769 (234- 111)
New York Giants        13-4-0,  .765 (308- 98)

Unlike most of the teams in the NFL, just like the Giants, the Packers used the passing game as the main weapon to move the ball. Packers coach Curly Lambeau had the studs to do it. In 1930 the Packers scored 35 offensive touchdowns, with nearly a 50-50 split, 18 rushing scores and 17 passing scores. The main benefactor in Lambeau's offense in 1930 was halfback Verne Lewellen. The former Nebraska star was an old pro at 29 years old and playing his 7th year in the NFL. Lewellen was a scoring machine. From 1924-1929 he scored 40 total touchdowns. 1930 was no different.

Playing in 14 games Lewellen was the most consistent player throughout the 1930 season. In the Packers first ten games he scored eight touchdowns (7 rushing, 1 receiving) and throw three touchdowns. Accouting for 11 total touchdowns he helped led the Packers to a 9-1 record.

In the nine games that Lewellen scored a touchdown, the Packers were 8-1 in those games. It seems that every touchdown he had in 1930 impacted the outcome of the game.

On September 28th Lewellen's one-yard touchdown run was the difference in an early season 7-0 victory over their big rivals the Chicago Bears. On Nov. 2nd the Packers MVP candidate scored two touchdowns and threw another score in a big 47-13 victory over the Portsmouth Spartans. The following week in the rematch with the Bears Lewellen's 21-yard touchdown catch from Red Dunn in the 4th quarter broke a tie game and would give the Packers a 13-12 victory.

Lewellen would finish the season with nine touchdowns, tops in the NFL, and his 54 points were second to Jack McBride of the Dodgers. In the end, Verne Lewellen is the 1930 NFL MVP!
1930 Pro Football Journal MVP
Verne Lewellen. Colorization by John Turney
1930 NFL MVP
Top Five

1) Verne Lewellen, Green Bay Packers, Halfback
2) Benny Friedman, New York Giants, Tailback
3) Red Grange, Chicago Bears, Halfback
4) Jack McBride, Brooklyn Dodgers, Fullback
5) Ken Strong, Staten Island Stapletons, Fullback


  1. "MVP's" so far:

    *1937: Dutch Clark - Detroit Lions
    1936: Dutch Clark - Detroit Lions
    1933: Ken Strong - New York Giants
    1931: Johnny "Blood" McNally - Green Bay Packers
    1930: Verne Lewellen - Green Bay Packers
    *1927: Jack McBride - New York Giants

    * - not part of the series but with Clark's 1937 Gruen Award, and McBride's 'MVP' in 1927, seems fair to list them.

  2. another terrific article chris; hopefully more on the way....