Friday, December 2, 2022

Otto Graham's Five MVP/Player of the Year Awards

 By John Turney 
Otto Graham in 1955
The Associated Press (AP) joined the organizations that named NFL Player of the Year or Most Valuable Player awards in 1957. The AP called its award the "NFL  Player of the Year" from that season through 1959, then in 1961 (there was no AP MVP award in 1960), they changed the name to MVP, then back to Player of the Year in 1962. In 1963 they settled on the MVP title and have kept it until today.

From 1938 through 1946 the NFL had its own official MVP award and in 1947 United Press began releasing Player of the Year awards sporadically through 1952 and then kept on through 1969. In 1970 they chose to release separate NFC and AFC awards and did that through 1996.

In that era, the United Press (later United Press International) was a major award and appeared in the NFL Record Books and had as much gravitas as any press association in terms of its awards being recognized by the NFL and other media organizations.

The All-American Football Conference, an NFL rival league, had official MVP awards much like the NFL did in the late-1930s through the mid-1940s. 

Twice Cleveland Browns quarterback was named the AAFC MVP, sharing one with 49ers quarterback Frankie Albert.

Three times Graham was the UP Player of the Year when that organization was the only real game in town in terms of major awards. 

Revisionist history and a trend towards recentism sometimes cause younger fans from the Internet era to think that there is and has been only one MVP Award. It's just not so.

While it is true that AP awards do take center stage in terms of coverage but they still don't have the imprimatur of the NFL as being official. However, it is also accurate to point out that in 2011 the NFL Network has televised the AP awards ceremony which takes place the week before the Super Bowl—it had been on Saturday night the day before the Super Bowl but starting in 2022 it has been moved to the Thursday before the big game. 

Graham's Major Awards
1947— AAFC MVP (Official League Award)
1948— AAFC co-MVP (Official League Award)
1951—NFL Player of the Year (United Press)
1953—NFL Player of the Year (United Press)
1955—NFL Player of the Year (United Press)

It would not be possible for Graham to win an AP MVP prior to its existence but an accurate account of history would easily conclude he was a five-time winner of the top awards available to him. 

Some may object to the terminology of "Player of the Year" rather than MVP but if verbiage really mattered then the 1957-59, and 1962 MVPs would not count since they are being misnomered now. If that thinking were to prevail in this issue it would take away two of Jim Brown's MVP awards (1957 and 1958) one from Johnny Unitas (1959) and one from Paul Hornung (1961). 

Obviously, that would make no sense given the spirit of the award and the accepted meanings of the terms in question from that era. The only 'MVP" award was from the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) which began choosing the top NFL player in 1955 and specifically used that wording. 

So, sans recency bias, it's clear that Otto Graham was the top player in his league five times and he should be recognized as such. He earned those awards like he earned his seven NFL/AAFC titles and his post-season awards shouldn't be minimized by a misread of history. 

The clippings—
1947 AAFC

1948 AAFC 

1951 UP

1953 UP

1955 UP

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