Motley Awards 1920-2017

Named in honor of dominating fullback Marion Motley, the Motley Award is given to the league’s top fullback each year. When bestowing this award, I emphasize blocking prowess, but I make plenty of exceptions for versatility. Although fullbacks are technically “skill position” players (as though one can succeed at left tackle or cornerback through sheer tyranny of will), I am not nearly as concerned about their statistical production as I am with that of the other offensive glory hogs.  If the goal is to showcase offensive weapons, then the Supersonic Award does a fine job with that. The aim of the Motley Award is to highlight often  lesser known players who excel at clearing holes for rushers and keeping quarterbacks off their backsides.

I’m taking a different route with this list than I will with subsequent lists with a dearth of footage and official records available. I have full stats back to 1932 and partial stats back to 1920. I have enough film to be confident back to the mid-to-late 1950s and enough to be reasonably confident back to about 1945. Prior to that, I have very little tape and a lot of newspaper articles, interviews with coaches, player testimonials, research from other historians, and the like. Where footage is available to me, I use it to fill in the gaps, but it cannot be the bulk of my reasoning with such little evidence. For offensive linemen and many defenders, I’m not even going to bother going back too far (though I do have my picks, which I probably won’t publish). However, for fullbacks I’m presenting every Motley winner back to 1920. Why? Because I want to bring up some names that most people don’t know, don’t remember, or don’t care about. Without further ado.

Motley Award Winners

The chart below lists every Motley Award winner in NFL, AAFC, and AFL history. Winners from 1920 till 1944 are in italics to denote the fact that they are based almost entirely on hagiography and are presented for the sake of highlighting respected blockers of the past. Read the table thus: In 1920, playing in the NFL, Tex Grigg of the Canton Bulldogs was the Motley winner. It was his first time winning the award.

YearLeagueFBTeam#
1920NFLTex GriggCanton Bulldogs1
1921NFLPaul SheeksAkron Pros1
1922NFLChuck DressenRacine Legion1
1923NFLHarry RobbCanton Bulldogs1
1924NFLLes HawsFrankford Yellow Jackets1
1925NFLJack ErnstPottsville Maroons1
1926NFLJack ErnstPottsville Maroons2
1927NFLNed WilcoxFrankford Yellow Jackets1
1928NFLKen MercerFrankford Yellow Jackets1
1929NFLBo MolendaGreen Bay Packers1
1930NFLCy KahlPortsmouth Spartans1
1931NFLFather LumpkinPortsmouth Spartans1
1932NFLBronko NagurskiChicago Bears1
1933NFLBronko NagurskiChicago Bears2
1934NFLBronko NagurskiChicago Bears3
1935NFLBull KarcisBrooklyn Dodgers1
1936NFLBronko NagurskiChicago Bears4
1937NFLRiley SmithWashington1
1938NFLLeland ShafferNew York Giants1
1939NFLHank BruderGreen Bay Packers1
1940NFLFred VanzoDetroit Lions1
1941NFLNello FalashiNew York Giants1
1942NFLLarry CraigGreen Bay Packers1
1943NFLBen KishPhiladelphia Eagles1
1944NFLBen KishPhiladelphia Eagles2
1945NFLJoe SulaitisNew York Giants1
1946NFLCharlie SeabrightPittsburgh Steelers1
1946AAFCMarion MotleyCleveland Browns1
1947NFLJoe SulaitisNew York Giants2
1947AAFCMarion MotleyCleveland Browns2
1948NFLPat HarderChicago Cardinals1
1948AAFCMarion MotleyCleveland Browns3
1949NFLPat HarderChicago Cardinals2
1949AAFCMarion MotleyCleveland Browns4
1950NFLPat HarderChicago Cardinals3
1951NFLMarion MotleyCleveland Browns5
1952NFLMarion MotleyCleveland Browns6
1953NFLMarion MotleyCleveland Browns7
1954NFLJohn Henry JohnsonSan Francisco 49ers1
1955NFLTank YoungerLos Angeles Rams1
1956NFLJohn Henry JohnsonSan Francisco 49ers2
1957NFLJohn Henry JohnsonDetroit Lions3
1958NFLJohn David CrowChicago Cardinals1
1959NFLJohn Henry JohnsonDetroit Lions4
1960NFLMal HammackSt. Louis Cardinals1
1960AFLBill MathisNew York Titans1
1961NFLPaul HornungGreen Bay Packers1
1961AFLBill MathisNew York Jets2
1962NFLPaul HornungGreen Bay Packers2
1962AFLCurtis McClintonKansas City Chiefs1
1963NFLJim TaylorGreen Bay Packers1
1963AFLCookie GilchristBuffalo Bills1
1964NFLJohn David CrowSt. Louis Cardinals2
1964AFLCookie GilchristBuffalo Bills2
1965NFLPaul HornungGreen Bay Packers3
1965AFLCookie GilchristDenver Broncos3
1966NFLJohn David CrowSan Francisco 49ers3
1966AFLBill MathisNew York Jets3
1967NFLJoe MorrisonNew York Giants1
1967AFLBill MathisNew York Jets4
1968NFLRonnie BullChicago Bears1
1968AFLMatt SnellNew York Jets1
1969NFLWalt GarrisonDallas Cowboys1
1969AFLMatt SnellNew York Jets2
1970NFLCharlie HarrawayWashington3
1971NFLJim KiickMiami Dolphins1
1972NFLJim KiickMiami Dolphins2
1973NFLJim BraxtonBuffalo Bills1
1974NFLRocky BleierPittsburgh Steelers1
1975NFLJim BraxtonBuffalo Bills2
1976NFLRoland HarperChicago Bears1
1977NFLRobert NewhouseDallas Cowboys1
1978NFLRocky BleierPittsburgh Steelers2
1979NFLRobert NewhouseDallas Cowboys2
1980NFLJohnny DavisTampa Bay Buccaneers1
1981NFLMatt SuheyChicago Bears1
1982NFLMatt SuheyChicago Bears2
1983NFLOtis WonsleyWashington1
1984NFLKenny KingLos Angeles Raiders1
1985NFLMatt SuheyChicago Bears3
1986NFLBarry ReddenLos Angeles Rams1
1987NFLMarcus AllenLos Angeles Raiders1
1988NFLTom RathmanSan Francisco 49ers1
1989NFLTom RathmanSan Francisco 49ers2
1990NFLMaurice CarthonNew York Giants1
1991NFLMaurice CarthonNew York Giants2
1992NFLDaryl JohnstonDallas Cowboys1
1993NFLDaryl JohnstonDallas Cowboys2
1994NFLAlfred PupunuSan Diego Chargers1
1995NFLDaryl JohnstonDallas Cowboys3
1996NFLRichie AndersonNew York Jets1
1997NFLLorenzo NealNew York Jets1
1998NFLSam GashBuffalo Bills1
1999NFLLorenzo NealTennessee Titans2
2000NFLTony RichardsonKansas City Chiefs1
2001NFLTony RichardsonKansas City Chiefs2
2002NFLFred BeasleySan Francisco 49ers1
2003NFLTony RichardsonKansas City Chiefs3
2004NFLJerald SowellNew York Jets1
2005NFLLorenzo NealSan Diego Chargers3
2006NFLLorenzo NealSan Diego Chargers4
2007NFLGreg JonesJacksonville Jaguars1
2008NFLGreg JonesJacksonville Jaguars2
2009NFLLousaka PoliteMiami Dolphins1
2010NFLOvie MughelliAtlanta Falcons1
2011NFLVonta LeachBaltimore Ravens1
2012NFLMarcel ReeceOakland Raiders1
2013NFLAnthony ShermanKansas City Chiefs1
2014NFLAnthony ShermanKansas City Chiefs2
2015NFLPatrick DiMarcoAtlanta Falcons1
2016NFLKyle JuszczykBaltimore Ravens1
2017NFLJames DevelinNew England Patriots1

It’s his namesake award for a reason: Marion Motley is the greatest blocking back in history, equally adept at devastating defenders on run plays and embarrassing blitzers on pass plays. As legendary coach Weeb Ewbank once mused, “Motley takes the romance out of the blitz.” Highly regarded thinking man Dr. Z for many years opined that Motley was the greatest football player he had ever seen – and he had seen many of them. In addition to his peerless blocking, he was a freight train with the ball in his hands, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 13.0 yards per catch.1

Bronko Nagurski‘s awards are based mostly on reputation. He was bigger (6’2″ 226) than the defensive linemen he blocked (or who tried to tackle him), and he was reportedly an athletic marvel. Nagurski had a massive frame that easily could have carried an additional fifty pounds had he began his career today rather than 1930. The Bronko was revered as a blocker, runner, and defender. In the days when a player had to do everything, he did everything better than anyone else.

John Henry Johnson, like Motley, was equally proficient when blocking for the run or the pass. He succeeded playing for different teams and in different schemes, and he showed with reasonable certainty that his dominance was entanglement proof. Lorenzo Neal has a similar triumph over entanglement, though he doesn’t quite match JHJ in the pass protection department.

It is popular today to call Paul Hornung one of the least deserving Hall of Famers. It may be true, as he wasn’t an elite runner, and he was only an occasionally good kicker. However, he complemented those aspects of his game by putting his golden boy persona on the backburner and delivering knockout punches to linebackers while making a way for bruising runner Jim Taylor. Taylor, for his part, was also a skilled blocker and returned the favor when Hornung carried the ball.

The Jets of the AFL were blessed with a decade of brilliance at the fullback position. Bill Mathis and Matt Snell were terrific blockers who also contributed as rushers. Snell was particularly excellent in pass pro.

Cookie Gilchrist and Daryl Johnston represent opposite ends of the spectrum. Gilchrist was a mammoth who carried his offenses and led the AFL in rushing touchdowns all four years of his all-too-brief prime. He could block, sure, but he’s one of the rare exceptions who makes the list for his role as a primary threat. Johnston, on the other hand, averaged under 20 yards from scrimmage per game, but put his welfare on the line to help Emmitt Smith make the most of his carries.

 

  1. Before knee injuries significantly hampered his effectiveness as a runner and receivers (from 1946-1950), he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 14.2 yards per catch. Even after his knees went, he remained the premier blocking back in football.