Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The NFL's First Defensive Player of the Year Awards: The NEA

By John Turney

The Associated Press began voting for a separate Defensive Player of the Year in 1972 and the winner was Joe Greene. In 1971 Alan Page was "designated the AP's Defensive Player of the Year by virtue of getting more votes than any other defender in the balloting for the NFL's Most Valuable Player.  Page was voted the AP MVP which was announced a couple of days later, but there was not a vote to determine Page as the DPOY.
Source: AP
However, a major media outlet, the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) had been awarding Defensive Player of the Year Awards since 1966. Larry Wilson was the winner in 1966, Deacon Jones won in 1967 and 1968, Dick Butkus won it in 1969 and 1970. Those, and subsequent winners were given the George S. Halas Trophy, sometimes called the Halas Cup and for a few years the winners were presented those awards on CBS-TV along with the trophy that went along with being voted NEA All-Pro. See below:

The Defensive Player of the Year, as a separate award was not invented by Murray Olderman, the NEA's top writer and illustrator, but he sure popularized it and made it a consistent, yearly award. 
Olderman. Photo Credit: John Truney
Olderman also made it a lot of fun. When the NEA Awards came out, they not only represented the voting of the NFL and AFL players, making the NEA awards unique, they also had extra panache as Olderman, a talented artist in both sketches and cartoon drawings, would illustrate the winners in as part of the story the NEA sent out over the wires.

Here are some examples:

George S. Halas Trophy Winners
1966— Larry Wilson, S, St. Louis Cardinals
1967— Deacon Jones, DE, Los Angeles Rams
1968— Deacon Jones, DE, Los Angeles Rams
1969— Dick Butkus, MLB, Chicago Bears
1970— Dick Butkus, MLB, Chicago Bears
1971— Carl Eller, DE, Minnesota Vikings
1972— Joe Greene, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers
1973— Alan Page, DT, Minnesota Vikings
1974— Joe Greene, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers
1975— Curley Culp, DT, Houston Oilers
1976— Jerry Sherk, DT, Cleveland Browns
1977— Harvey Martin, DE, Dallas Cowboys
1978— Randy Gradishar, ILB, Denver Broncos
1979— Lee Roy Selmon, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1980— Lester Hayes, CB, Oakland Raiders
1981— Joe Klecko, DE, New York Jets
1982— Mark Gastineau, DE, New York Jets
1983— Jack Lambert, MLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
1984— Mike Haynes, CB, Los Angeles Raiders
1985— Howie Long, DE, Los Angeles Raiders/ Andre Tippett, OLB, New England Patriots (tie)
1986— Lawrence Taylor, OLB, New York Giants
1987— Reggie White, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
1988— Mike Singletary, MLB, Chicago Bears
1989— Tim Harris, OLB, Green Bay Packers
1990— Bruce Smith, DE, Buffalo Bills
1991— Pat Swilling, OLB, New Orleans Saints
1992— Junior Seau, LB, San Diego Chargers
1993— Bruce Smith, DE, Buffalo Bills
1994— Deion Sanders, CB, San Francisco 49ers
1995— Bryce Paup, OLB, Buffalo Bills
1996— Kevin Greene, OLB, Carolina Panthers

Note: Wikipedia lists a 1997 winner, Dana Stubblefield. I do not believe that there was an NEA vote taken that season and the World Alamanc adopted the AP DPOY when it published the Almanac in 1999. 

The NEA Sports Bureau, due to a failing business model, is no more, though the NFL MVP Award was picked up by the Jim Thorpe Assocation and they released the "Players MVP"  though 2008 and then, it too, ceased. While it lasted, the NEA made the awards given out by major news organizations more fun.


  1. I miss multiple outlets grating awards and naming all pros. Made for good debate, exposed different perspectives, and certainly when AP, UPI, NEA, TSN all named you all pro, you could bet you had a hell of a season, you could essentially tell the difference between a unanimous and a split decision.

  2. Agree. Unanimous All-Pro (made them all), consensus All-Pro (Made majority) and All-Pro (made a minority or one, are really three different "levels" of All-Pro. Pro Football Reference has Andy Robustelli as 7-time All-Pro because he made the AP team. But, he was not consensus or unanimous very often, Marchetti, Atkins and even Brito usually were "consensus" or unanimous. Robustelly made one of the three, usually AP