Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pro Football Writers of America Awards and the "AP Only" School of Thought

by John Turney

In the past decade or so I have noticed an approach to NFL Awards that seems to have gained momentum, but, in my view, is not historically accurate or even currently accurate.

The "approach" as I call it, is the "AP-only approach" to the various awards that are announced at the end of every NFL season. The Awards are the All-Pro teams, the MVP, the Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc. Of course, the Associated Press (AP) is one of the major players or "veteran media" as the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement calls the sources for awards, but I contend it is not the only one.

Over the past several years I have had discussions with those who promote the AP-only approach and the comments I receive are similar to as follows: "The AP is THE All-Pro team"; The "AP are the "Official NFL Awards" or "The AP are the semi-official awards of the NFL",  or "the AP Awards have a television show", etc.

While I can see that in the age of the Internet "AP-only" could be a common perception. For many years the PFWA announced their teams/awards in Pro Football Weekly and that was largely a classic mail subscription magazine and when it did become more digital, it was subscription only and their All-Pro teams didn't get much play beyond their own subscribers, which, of course, were substantial. Prior to that marriage, one could find that the PFWA All-Pro team had been reprinted in local newspapers - sometimes on the same day as the AP or NEA All-Pro teams. 

Similar things are also true of Sporting News who often didn't release its awards until the issue that came out during Super Bowl week. I remember many times picking up the magazine in the press area of the Super Bowl media center and learning it's All-Pro team there. However, with the Super Bowl rightly sucking all the air out of the room and column space from newspapers who might have picked the story up in another week, it also didn't get the reprints in newspapers it did before.

Thus, in my opinion, younger fans and even younger writers simply were not aware of the teams since they got much of their information online and any search for All-Pro team would show AP results more often than not. Now, as these younger writers and fans are in the habit of "AP-only" like many of us older folks were in the habit of a more diverse view of NFL awards.

Back in the day, readers could sometimes ask sportswriters questions via mail. One question, in 1976, was about who picks the All-Pro teams and the answer to the question was as salient then and now.

"There is no official all-pro team" is the key point. True then. True now.

That plus many other points show the "AP-only" world view just not accurate because in the history of official publications of the NFL, such as the Official NFL Record and Fact Book, ProLog, The NFL Information Guide, (of which only the Record and Fact Book remains) there has never been a mention of the AP being official or semi-official. It's been listed next to the other major selectors.

Add to that Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the NFL and Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the NFL   

Neither of those volumes designate any official NFL Awards, with very few exceptions. The most notable was the Joe F. Carr Trophy which went to the NFL MVP from 1938-46.

However, there have been a couple NFL seasons in which the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) actually WAS the "Official NFL All-Pro Team" and that was in 1970 and 1971 as recorded in the  Official NFL Record Manuals published in 1971 and 1972.

Additionally, in 1969, the NFL Record Manuel used only the HOF Voting Committee's All-Pro team as the lone "official" All-Pro team.

See examples below:

In those two of those three Record Books the AP All-Pro teams are not even included and in the 1970 version, the AP is grouped with the NEA and UPI. So, to me, that ends the "AP only" school of thought that the AP was "official" or "semi-official" or "THE All-Pro team". Especially when coupled with Total Football which includes the AP All-Pro teams from those two years, but also the PFWA, the NEA, Pro Football Weekly as well as the UPI All-Conference teams

So, if the official NFL Publications prints an All-Pro team, it seems that would be the recognized All-Pro teams and awards. None have been given any extra gravitas over another, with the noted exceptions I have mentioned.

Added to which is the aforementioned NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, in which bonus may be awarded to players' contracts based on what the NFLPA and the NFL agree on are "veteran media" honors.
2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement
Since 2011 when the above was agreed upon Pro Football Weekly has folded and Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman is no longer able to pick teams because a tragic stroke (what a loss to us all) and successor to Dr. Z., Peter King wrote that didn't want his selections to have so much influence as to reward tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to a player he may select, or cost because he didn't select. 

So, that leaves three "Recognized Media":  AP, PFWA, and SN.

Additionally, here is Reggie White's 1987 contract's incentive clauses and the recognized teams for used for bonuses—

As for the NFL Awards Show that does, in fact, feature the AP Awards, which is new to the AP, but not new to television. In 1967 and 1968 the NEA contracted with CBS for their awards to be presented as the annual banquet was filmed and televised in January of 1968 and 1969.

Here is a photo of two All-Pro linebackers from one of those NEA-CBS dinners:

With a topic so filled with minutia, there are inevitably going to be some items I have omitted from this post, folks are free to comment, but in this case, it's brevity that will likely be most understandable but there may be some exceptions that I am unaware of any please post them as well.

So, perhaps this can, at the very least, offer some evidence and perspective as to what an All-Pro or MVP is and maybe we can celebrate the AP awards as well as PFWA which is full of fine, dedicated NFL beat writers, and Sporting News which polls players and general managers and since 1992 has been the "players voice" as the NEA  All-Pro teams and awards were in the "glory days" (defined as when I was a kid).

Makes sense to me, one is a select group of media, another a larger slice of football writers and one team/awards is by those who work as players or general managers. Gives a good cross section like in the days of the AP, UPI and NEA awards from the mid-1950s through 1969.

For the record, I am not a member of PFWA. Also for the record, I have no complaints against AP. Several years ago I did point out that they had been printing Gino Marchetti as the 1958 NFL MVP and a few other errors, but they have been partially corrected. The AP can, in my view, say they have been around the longest of the major teams, but as explained in this post, they are not now nor ever have been THE All-Pro team/awards.

And yes, Pro Football Journal has selected All-Pro teams and given awards recently, but in no way are they official nor would we advocate for such. We give them thought and try to do a good job, but we are just one voice and like to chime in on things we are passionate about. 

And for those PFWA awards, click here. For the AP, PFWA and SN side-by-side All-Pro team click here. And I go to Wikipedia often to make sure the teams are accurate. Then again, sometimes folks get in there and make changes to put their favorite player in there, too. So, beware.

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