Wednesday, April 1, 2015

1933 NFL MVP RACE Retroactive

By Chris Willis

(Part two of an on-going series)

At the end of the 1932 NFL season two teams tied at the top of the league standings. Becasue the league title was decided by win-loss record, the Chicago Bears and the Posrtsmouth Spartans agreed to play a play-off game in Chicago to decide who would win the championship. What ensued was the famous "Indoor Game" between the two clubs as a brutal snow storm blanked the Windy City. Joe F. Carr, NFL President, agreed to let the two teams play the game indoors at Chicago Stadium. Becasue of the confined field (the field was just 80 yards long) the NFL adopted several new rule changes that would effect the NFL forever- and especailly the 1933 season.

Rules that came out of the Indoor Game included:  Hashmarks for the first time; Passing was legal from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage (before you had to be at least five yards back); the field goal posts were brought up to the front of the endzone to encourage more field goals and in-turn more scoring. Two of the big complaints concerning the NFL in 1932 was that the game was not wide-open enough and that there were too many tie games. In 1933 the NFL saw more points on the scoreboard (16.4 points per game in 1932 compared to 19.0 in 1933), as well as half the number of tie games.

Scoring/Tie Games Comparison
Season       Total Points Scored*           Touchdown Passes     Field Goals     Tie Games
1932                  788   (48 games)               42 TD passes          6 FG made        10 ties
1933                 1,105 (58 games)               61 TD passes          39 FG made        5  ties 
*stats include postseason

The other most important item to come out of the Indoor Game was the publicity and attention that the play-off contest received nationally. Becuase of the media coverage and sold-out crowd the NFL Owners agreed to split the NFL up into two divisions and have the winners meet in a NFL Championship Game. The NFL now had its World Series. In 1933 the newly established set-up worked perfectly. The two best teams met for the Championship. Although the title game would feature the two best teams, the league as a whole featured the haves and the have nots. Only four teams finished the season with winning records. The best teams had several retroactive MVP candadites fighting it out.The only problem when evaulating candidates (especailly stats) for the 1933 MVP, was considering the number of games played, since every team in 1933 didn't play the same number of games (teams played between 9 and 14 games).

1933 NFL Standings
Eastern Division,  Overall Record, Points Scored, Points Against
New York Giants              11-3-0     244 (17.4),      101 (7.2)
Brooklyn Dodgers             5-4-1        93  (9.3),        54 (5.4)
Boston Redskins                5-5-2       103 (8.5),        97  (8.1)
Philadelphia Eagles           3-5-1         77 (8.6),       158 (17.6)
Pittsburgh Steelers             3-6-2         67 (6.1),       208 (18.9)

Western Division,   Overall Record, Points Scored, Points Against
Chicago Bears                  10-2-1        133 (10.2),     82 (6.3)
Portsmouth Spartans         6-5-0         128 (11.6),     87 (7.9)
Green Bay Packers            5-7-1         170 (13.1),    107 (8.2)
Cincinnati Reds                 3-6-1          38  (3.8),      110 (11.0)
Chicago Cardinals             1-9-1          52  (4.7),      101 (9.2)

The new rules helped open up the game just slightly in 1933. Yes tie games were less common, but the running game still towered over the passing game. NFL teams rushed the ball 4,118 times for 13,792 yards (3.3 average) and 69 touchdowns, while NFL passers tossed the ball 1,631 times and completed just 576 (35 percent) for 57 touchdowns. They also threw a whopping 249 interceptions!

As for the passers Giants rookie quarterback-tailback Harry Newman made an immediate impact. Leading the league in all passing categories: completions (53), attempts (136), yards (973) and touchdown passes (11). Newman helped the Eastern Division champion Giants to the scoring title too, by putting up 244 points (17.4 per game), which was heads and shoulders above second place Green Bay with 170 points. Newman also contributed in the running game by gaining 437 yards on 130 carries and scoring three touchdowns. His all-around play showed up in the passing game with 136 receiving yards, one touchdown and played great defense. As a rookie Newman tossed his hat in the MVP race.

The only other passer in contention would be Portsmouth Spartans tailback Glenn Presnell. In his third year with the Spartans Presnell caught a lucky break when Spartans superstar back Dutch Clark retired from pro football to go into coaching full-time. He didn't waste his opportunity finishing second in the league in passing.

Harry Newman. Colorization by John Turney
 Just like Newman, Presnell was much more than a passer. The former Nebraska All-American also contributed in the ground game, rushing for 522 yards on just 118 carries, placing him fourth in the NFL in rushing. He scored six rushing touchdowns, tops in the NFL, and his average of 4.4 was third best. His leadership while replacing the great Dutch Clark led the Spartans to a 6-5 record. Just ahead of Presnell among the rushing leaders was the NFL's best power runner- Bronko Nagurski. The game's most feared runner finished the season third in rushing with 533 yards (4.2 average was 4th best) but only scored one touchdown all season, which hurts his MVP resume. Although head coach George Halas used him a lot as a decoy near the goalline (Nagurski completed 14 of 27 passes, but none for scores) the lack of scoring knocks Bronko down a notch. In the end he was one of the league's best defensive players (part of a Bears defense that gave up only 8 total touchdowns all season) and helped the Bears capture the Western Division title.

Looking at the top of the rushing stats one sees two players from the Boston Redskins. Both Jim Musick (173 carries, 809 yards, 4.7, 5 TDs) and Cliff Battles (136 carries, 737 yards, 5.4, 3 TDs) had very productive years. The Redskins as a team led the NFL with 2,260 yards rushing but that production didn't amount to wins on the field as Boston finished with a record of 5-5-2. Although they both piled up some great stats, Newman, Nagurski and Presnell also helped their teams win more.

Bronko Nagurski. Colorization by John Turney
 As for the receivers, thier numbers always seem to pale to the rushing stats. Brooklyn back John "Shipwreck" Kelly led in receptions (22) and touchdowns (3), plus he scored in other ways with two rushing, one punt return and one on defensive giving him seven total scores which was half his team's total of thirteen.

John Shipwreck Kelly. Colorization by John Turney
Kelly scored 43 points placing him 4th in the NFL in scoring. The Giants' Kink Richards scored seven touchdowns too, but most of his scores came in mop up duty or when the Giants were well ahead. Boston's Jim Musick finished 3rd in scoring with 45 points. Besides passing and running the Spartans' Glenn Presnell also helped his squad by being one of the game's best kicker. His five field goals and 13 extra points, along with his six touchdowns, gave him 64 total points, tied for tops in the NFL in 1933.

Glenn Presnell, vs. College All-Stars. Colorization by JT
Presnell was tied with one of the NFL's best all-around players who had maybe his best year as a pro in 1933. Ken Strong was playing in his fifth year in the NFL when he scored 64 points for the Giants in 1933. All year long he showed off his versatility by rushing for 272 yards (on 96 carries) and three touchdowns; catching 10 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns; kicked 5 field goals and 13 extra points; threw two touchdown passes, and had one interception return for a touchdown on defense.

Strong was never better than in a November 5th game against fellow MVP candidate Glenn Presnell and the Portsmouth Spartans.  Heading into the game the Western Division Spartans were 5-1 and one game back of the undefeated Bears (6-0), while the Giants were struggling in the Eastern Division at 4-3. At the Polo Grounds Presnell started fast with a 80-yard touchdown run and a 20-yard field goal to give the Spartans a 10-0 lead heading into the 4th quarter. Then Strong took over the game, as he caught a 12-yard scoring pass from Harry Newman, and capped the comeback off with a short 2-yard scoring plunge to give the Giants a 13-10 victory.

Led by Ken Strong the New York Giants would not lose another game the rest of the regular season- winning six straight and capturing the Eastern Division title.

Two weeks (Nov. 19th) after the Spartans win Strong once again showed why he was the best player in the NFL. In front of 22,000 fans at the Polo Grounds Strong's 21-yard field goal was the difference as the Giants defeated the Chicago Bears 3-0 in a hard fought battle of the NFL's two best teams.

 Although the Chicago Bears would get their revenge in the league's first NFL Championship Game (beating the Giants 23-21) Ken Strong was the best player in the NFL during the 1933 season edging out Glenn Presnell and Bronko Nagurski.

1933 NFL MVP
Top Five

1) Ken Strong, New York Giants, Fullback
2) Glenn Presnell, Portsmouth Spartans, Tailback
3) Bronko Nagurski, Chicago Bears, Fullback
4) Harry Newman, New York Giants, Tailback
5) John "Shipwreck" Kelly, Brooklyn Dodgers, Wingback

Ken Strong, 1933 Pro Football Journal Retroactive MVP. Colorization by John Turney

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