Slinger Awards 1920-2017

Named after Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, the Slinger Award is given to the league’s top quarterback in a given season. In general, statistical production is the primary factor that goes into determining the winner. The focus on production is meant to differentiate between the most statistically dominant quarterbacks and the most valuable players each year. Most of the time, they are one and the same, as the quarterback with the best stats tends to have quite a lot to do with his team winning football games. Occasionally, however, a player’s impact on his team’s success will transcend what shows up in the box score. In those seasons, I’ll recognize the importance of such a player with a Most Valuable Player award but name the quarterback with the gaudiest statistical profile the Slinger Award winner.

A quick note about the statistics in question. From 1920 till 1931, touchdowns were the only official statistic. However, research by several historians, most notably David Neft and Bob Gill, has shed light on numbers from that era. The profiles are far from complete, but they paint a much better picture than simply looking at touchdowns and calling it a day. From 1932 till today, I focus on Total Adjusted Yards versus league average, which is nice because it incorporates rushing and can be calculated for any season in the official stat era. The caveats are that sack data only go back to 1963, sack yardage data go back to 1947, and fumbles aren’t available before 1945 (or at all for AAFC players). For more recent seasons, I use more advanced statistics, where available. That primarily consists of Football Outsiders metrics since 1986 and ESPN’s QBR since 2006.

Additionally, I have watched an unhealthy amount of film from every season dating back to the 1960s and a pretty good bit of film prior to that.1 Prior to 1950ish, games are much harder to come by, and you often have to rely on bits and pieces of games with large chunks missing, or you have to do half an hour of research just to figure out what game you’re watching. I try to use the tape I have seen, in concert with my knowledge of schemes and support, to add proper context to the numbers I have. With that brief explanation out of the way, we can get to the list.

Slinger Award Winners

The chart below lists every Slinger Award winner since 1920, for the NFL, AAFC, and AFL. Given the paucity of information available till 1931, those players are italicized to differentiate them from those in the official stat era. The table is straightforward, so I won’t insult your intelligence with an explanation.

YearLeagueQBTeam
1920NFLAl MahrtDayton Triangles
1921NFLRip KingAkron Pros
1922NFLJimmy ConzelmanRock Island Independents/Milwaukee Badgers
1923NFLCurly LambeauGreen Bay Packers
1924NFLCurly LambeauGreen Bay Packers
1925NFLHust StocktonFrankford Yellowjackets
1926NFLPaddy DriscollChicago Bears
1927NFLBenny FriedmanCleveland Bulldogs
1928NFLBenny FriedmanDetroit Wolverines
1929NFLBenny FriedmanNew York Giants
1930NFLBenny FriedmanNew York Giants
1931NFLRed DunnGreen Bay Packers
1932NFLArnie HerberGreen Bay Packers
1933NFLGlenn PresnellPortsmouth Spartans
1934NFLArnie HerberGreen Bay Packers
1935NFLEd DanowskiNew York Giants
1936NFLArnie HerberGreen Bay Packers
1937NFLEd DanowskiNew York Giants
1938NFLEd DanowskiNew York Giants
1939NFLParker HallCleveland Rams
1940NFLSammy BaughWashington
1941NFLCecil IsbellGreen Bay Packers
1942NFLCecil IsbellGreen Bay Packers
1943NFLSid LuckmanChicago Bears
1944NFLFrank FilchockWashington
1945NFLSammy BaughWashington
1946NFLSid LuckmanChicago Bears
1946AAFCOtto GrahamCleveland Browns
1947NFLSammy BaughWashington
1947AAFCOtto GrahamCleveland Browns
1948NFLCharlie ConerlyNew York Giants
1948AAFCOtto GrahamCleveland Browns
1949NFLJohnny LujackChicago Bears
1949AAFCOtto GrahamCleveland Browns
1950NFLNorm Van BrocklinLos Angeles Rams
1951NFLBob WaterfieldLos Angeles Rams
1952NFLOtto GrahamCleveland Browns
1953NFLOtto GrahamCleveland Browns
1954NFLNorm Van BrocklinLos Angeles Rams
1955NFLOtto GrahamCleveland Browns
1956NFLTobin RoteGreen Bay Packers
1957NFLJohnny UnitasBaltimore Colts
1958NFLJohnny UnitasBaltimore Colts
1959NFLJohnny UnitasBaltimore Colts
1960NFLMilt PlumCleveland Browns
1960AFLButch SonginBoston Patriots
1961NFLSonny JurgensenPhiladelphia Eagles
1961AFLGeorge BlandaHouston Oilers
1962NFLY.A. TittleNew York Giants
1962AFLLen DawsonKansas City Chiefs
1963NFLY.A. TittleNew York Giants
1963AFLTobin RoteSan Diego Chargers
1964NFLJohnny UnitasBaltimore Colts
1964AFLLen DawsonKansas City Chiefs
1965NFLJohn BrodieSan Francisco 49ers
1965AFLLen DawsonKansas City Chiefs
1966NFLSonny JurgensenWashington
1966AFLLen DawsonKansas City Chiefs
1967NFLSonny JurgensenWashington
1967AFLJoe NamathNew York Jets
1968NFLEarl MorrallBaltimore Colts
1968AFLDaryle LamonicaOakland Raiders
1969NFLRoman GabrielLos Angeles Rams
1969AFLDaryle LamonicaOakland Raiders
1970NFLJohn BrodieSan Francisco 49ers
1971NFLRoger StaubachDallas Cowboys
1972NFLJoe NamathNew York Jets
1973NFLRoman GabrielPhiladelphia Eagles
1974NFLKen StablerOakland Raiders
1975NFLFran TarkentonMinnesota Vikings
1976NFLBert JonesBaltimore Colts
1977NFLBert JonesBaltimore Colts
1978NFLRoger StaubachDallas Cowboys
1979NFLRoger StaubachDallas Cowboys
1980NFLBrian SipeCleveland Browns
1981NFLKen AndersonCincinnati Bengals
1982NFLDan FoutsSan Diego Chargers
1983NFLJoe TheismannWashington
1984NFLDan MarinoMiami Dolphins
1985NFLDan MarinoMiami Dolphins
1986NFLDan MarinoMiami Dolphins
1987NFLBernie KosarCleveland Browns
1988NFLBoomer EsiasonCincinnati Bengals
1989NFLJoe MontanaSan Francisco 49ers
1990NFLWarren MoonHouston Oilers
1991NFLDan MarinoMiami Dolphins
1992NFLSteve YoungSan Francisco 49ers
1993NFLSteve YoungSan Francisco 49ers
1994NFLSteve YoungSan Francisco 49ers
1995NFLBrett FavreGreen Bay Packers
1996NFLBrett FavreGreen Bay Packers
1997NFLBrett FavreGreen Bay Packers
1998NFLRandall CunninghamMinnesota Vikings
1999NFLKurt WarnerSt. Louis Rams
2000NFLJeff GarciaSan Francisco 49ers
2001NFLKurt WarnerSt. Louis Rams
2002NFLRich GannonOakland Raiders
2003NFLSteve McNairTennessee Titans
2004NFLPeyton ManningIndianapolis Colts
2005NFLPeyton ManningIndianapolis Colts
2006NFLPeyton ManningIndianapolis Colts
2007NFLTom BradyNew England Patriots
2008NFLPhilip RiversSan Diego Chargers
2009NFLDrew BreesNew Orleans Saints
2010NFLTom BradyNew England Patriots
2011NFLAaron RodgersGreen Bay Packers
2012NFLPeyton ManningDenver Broncos
2013NFLPeyton ManningDenver Broncos
2014NFLAaron RodgersGreen Bay Packers
2015NFLCarson PalmerArizona Cardinals
2016NFLMatt RyanAtlanta Falcons
2017NFLTom BradyNew England Patriots

Some quick notes.

Otto Graham earned a Slinger Award in seven of his 10 seasons. His supporting cast is arguably the greatest in history, and his coach was an offensive genius, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a great quarterback outproduced his contemporaries when put in ideal circumstances.

Peyton Manning received Slinger Awards in five different seasons with two different teams. He had a few other years that were superb but not quite at the peak.

Benny Friedman took four Slinger Awards. He was a talented passer and runner in an era when professional football was a rung above modern day rec league level. Johnny Unitas, whose face looks like it was made for Quarterback Rushmore, earned four awards of his own. Playing in the inferior early AFL, Len Dawson grabbed four awards while manning an efficient Hank Stram offense. Dan Marino also earned four awards. A greedy yardage gobbler sent from the future, Marino changed our expectations from the position.

Several great quarterbacks earned three Slingers but were close in other seasons. Because the award goes to just one person, coming in second doesn’t show up. I’d argue being a top five quarterback for a decade is better than being the best just once, but that’s how it goes with awards. The list of three timers: Arnie Herber, Brett Favre, Ed Danowski, Roger Staubach, Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Steve Young, and Tom Brady.

The Green Bay Packers have had incredible success at the game’s most important position and lead all teams with 14 Slinger Award winners. The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts come in second with 10 winners.

 

  1. Modern games are easy to find online, and games dating back to around 1945 aren’t too hard to find either online, from friendly strangers in forums, from estate sales and flea markets, or if you’re lucky enough to have a family member who was an avid collector of obscure VHS copies of games.