Now that Aaron Rodgers has been named the Associated Press’s Most Valuable Player of the 2011 NFL season, I will consider it open season to utter the most unpopular opinion a Packer fan could ever have.
Drew Brees deserved the MVP award this year. For that matter, so did Tom Brady. They had monstrous statistical seasons--record-breaking seasons, NFL benchmark seasons—that in nearly any other year would have and should have been rewarded with the honor of the MVP.
Now, do I believe that either quarterback deserved it more than Rodgers? No, I don’t. But had the final tally gone a different way, while being very disappointed, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The MVP voting is always a fickle mistress, and you can’t always count on what’s “right”.
I mean, you do realize that when Dan Marino set the previous yards-in-a-season record in 1984, he was named the AP MVP that year, right? There is a bit of a precedent for honoring a guy who breaks enormous records like that. And this season, both Brees and Brady broke that record. Rodgers, even if he would have played the last game of the regular season, wouldn’t have even cracked the top ten.
On the other hand, Rodgers set the new single-season passer rating mark, breaking Peyton Manning’s mark from 2004…the year Manning won the MVP. Again, a precedent was set.
I can see this piece quickly devolving into a debate on who deserved the MVP and why, so let me stop you short right now. I’m not trying to make a case that Rodgers shouldn’t have won. I’m letting you know that this MVP award is that much more of an honor, given the stiff competition Aaron was up against.
To not recognize the fantastic seasons by Brees and Brady is not only obtuse, but detracts from the significance of what Rodgers accomplished. He did not win the award in spite of Brees and Brady, nor in a vacuum, looking only at his own accomplishments without comparison. No, Rodgers won, fair and square, measured pass-for-pass against two quarterbacks who also deserved it this year. It just so happened that Rodgers did just a little bit more than the stat sheet shows.
Most of the time, the MVP award is a mixture of statistical considerations, but the very subjective perception of a player who captures the imagination of the nation. Other things may play into it also, like whether the media thinks a player has “won it before” or set a personal bar high enough.
Heck, Brett Favre’s first MVP performance in 1995 was based on a 4,413-yard season, barely inside the top-40 of all-time performances. But, it was Favre’s play on the field, the capturing of America’s heart with his gutsy, improvised approach and endless highlights on SportsCenter that garnered that first award…not necessarily his stats.
But, as Rodgers scored a convincing 48-2 win over Brees in the MVP voting this season, who did Favre have to edge in 1995? It’s a long trip down memory lane, but Favre beat out Jim Harbaugh, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. Yes, Harbaugh beat out Favre in quarterback rating 100.7 to 99.5, but Harbaugh simply had a good season—nothing more. 2,575 yards, 17 touchdowns, with a 7-5 record? You didn’t have to work too hard to beat that.
And that’s the point. When the Packers finally came of age and captured the attention of America, the previous glory boys were in decline. Troy Aikman was never the statistical machine, just a good game manager for the Super Bowl-winning Cowboys. Steve Young’s MVP performance from 1994 went into decline as injuries mounted. Favre won the MVP, and deserved to win the MVP.
But the reality is that he didn’t have nearly the competition that Aaron Rodgers had this season.
I do understand Brady not garnering a single vote this season. In some ways, I see him in the same point in his career as Favre was in 2002. Statistically, it had been Favre’s best season since his MVP years (along with a 12-4 record, the best in the NFL that season). But Favre’s statistics weren’t viewed in a vacuum, comparing Favre only to Favre. Rich Gannon had his statistically great season, throwing for 4,689 yards, the sixth-highest total ever at that time.
But, in my opinion, Favre’s previous awards went against him. While his stats were very good that year, they weren’t better than his 1990’s MVP seasons. Thus, the fickleness of the voting process: in 2002, the better statistical quarterback triumphed over the best-record quarterback. In 2011, the reverse was true.
Is there a rule, a rhyme or reason we can divine from all of this? Of course not: each season is its own animal, and the reasons for why the AP writers cast their votes run the same gamut of reasons that we all talk about on Twitter and in the blogs.
But, let it be said: Drew Brees could have easily walked away with his first MVP this season instead of Aaron Rodgers. Both were deserving, and both set some incredible records that were precedential of winning the award.
In the end, our Aaron Rodgers took home the award, much to our delight as Packer fans. But, because the case can be made for Brees (or Brady, for that matter), the honor that comes with that award is that much higher.
In order to be the best, you have to beat the best, and when it comes to MVPs, there may have never been so many titans deserving of the prize as there were in 2011. Congrats to Aaron Rodgers for winning perhaps the Most Valuable MVP award.
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