Guardian Awards 1946-2017

Named in honor of Jim Parker, the behemoth who protected Johnny Unitas from doom, the Guardian Award honors the top offensive tackle in the league each season.1 Because passing is what really wins games, I put far more emphasis on pass protection than I put on run blocking. If a guy is an atrocious run blocker, then he probably won’t win an award, but a stellar pass blocker who is just okay in the ground game is far more valuable than a big mauler who can’t keep his quarterback upright. It wasn’t always this way, of course. Passing has always been important, but the rushing attack was a valuable part of the offense for most of NFL history. Therefore, I’m more likely to recognize bulldozing tackles from yesteryear than I am to give credit to that type of player today.

To name Guardian Award winners, I watched an unhealthy amount of game footage as far back as I could. Where I couldn’t find ample tape, I didn’t name a winner. Thus, the award only goes back to 1946 – for now. I have tape for a few years prior to that, but most of it is a sloppy mess that I haven’t been able to clean up. There’s no commentary, players are difficult to tell apart, and it’s often hard to even know which game is even happening. To supplement film study, I also read vast amounts of analysis from both contemporaneous journalists and historians, read player and coach interviews, and looked at offensive success versus opponents faced. I also reached out and talked to other researchers to get their ideas, which was especially helpful when I wanted to be contrarian but shouldn’t have been or when the players I liked didn’t even make the Pro Bowl but should have.

Guardian Award Winners

The table below lists every Guardian Award winner since 1946. Read it thus: In 1946, playing in the AAFC, Bruiser Kinard of the Yankees won his first Guardian Award.

YearLeagueTTeam#
1946NFLAl WistertPhiladelphia Eagles1
1946AAFCBruiser KinardNew York Yankees1
1947NFLAl WistertPhiladelphia Eagles2
1947AAFCLou RymkusCleveland Browns1
1948NFLDick HuffmanLos Angeles Rams1
1948AAFCLou RymkusCleveland Browns2
1949NFLDick HuffmanLos Angeles Rams2
1949AAFCLou RymkusCleveland Browns3
1950NFLDick HuffmanLos Angeles Rams3
1951NFLLou RymkusCleveland Browns4
1952NFLLou CreekmurDetroit Lions1
1953NFLBob St. ClairSan Francisco 49ers1
1954NFLLou CreekmurDetroit Lions2
1955NFLMike McCormackCleveland Browns1
1956NFLRosey BrownNew York Giants1
1957NFLRosey BrownNew York Giants2
1958NFLRosey BrownNew York Giants3
1959NFLRosey BrownNew York Giants4
1960NFLJim ParkerBaltimore Colts1
1960AFLRon MixLos Angeles Chargers1
1961NFLJim ParkerBaltimore Colts2
1961AFLAl JamisonHouston Oilers1
1962NFLForrest GreggGreen Bay Packers1
1962AFLAl JamisonHouston Oilers2
1963NFLForrest GreggGreen Bay Packers2
1963AFLRon MixSan Diego Chargers2
1964NFLForrest GreggGreen Bay Packers3
1964AFLRon MixSan Diego Chargers3
1965NFLDick SchafrathCleveland Browns1
1965AFLJim TyrerKansas City Chiefs1
1966NFLForrest GreggGreen Bay Packers4
1966AFLJim TyrerKansas City Chiefs2
1967NFLRalph NeelyDallas Cowboys1
1967AFLRon MixSan Diego Chargers4
1968NFLRalph NeelyDallas Cowboys2
1968AFLRon MixSan Diego Chargers5
1969NFLBob BrownLos Angeles Rams1
1969AFLJim TyrerKansas City Chiefs3
1970NFLJim TyrerKansas City Chiefs4
1971NFLRon YaryMinnesota Vikings1
1972NFLRayfield WrightDallas Cowboys1
1973NFLRon YaryMinnesota Vikings2
1974NFLArt ShellOakland Raiders1
1975NFLRon YaryMinnesota Vikings3
1976NFLDan DierdorfSt. Louis Cardinals1
1977NFLArt ShellOakland Raiders2
1978NFLDan DierdorfSt. Louis Cardinals2
1979NFLMarvin PowellNew York Jets1
1980NFLMike KennAtlanta Falcons1
1981NFLAnthony MunozCincinnati Bengals1
1982NFLAnthony MunozCincinnati Bengals2
1983NFLJoe JacobyWashington1
1984NFLKeith FahnhorstSan Francisco 49ers1
1985NFLAnthony MunozCincinnati Bengals3
1986NFLAnthony MunozCincinnati Bengals4
1987NFLGary ZimmermanMinnesota Vikings1
1988NFLAnthony MunozCincinnati Bengals5
1989NFLChris HintonIndianapolis Colts1
1990NFLJim LacheyWashington1
1991NFLJim LacheyWashington2
1992NFLRichmond WebbMiami Dolphins1
1993NFLErik WilliamsDallas Cowboys1
1994NFLLomas BrownDetroit Lions1
1995NFLWillie RoafNew Orleans Saints1
1996NFLTony BoselliJacksonville Jaguars1
1997NFLJonathan OgdenBaltimore Ravens1
1998NFLJonathan OgdenBaltimore Ravens2
1999NFLTony BoselliJacksonville Jaguars2
2000NFLJonathan OgdenBaltimore Ravens3
2001NFLWalter JonesSeattle Seahawks1
2002NFLWillie RoafKansas City Chiefs2
2003NFLJonathan OgdenBaltimore Ravens4
2004NFLWalter JonesSeattle Seahawks2
2005NFLWalter JonesSeattle Seahawks3
2006NFLJammal BrownNew Orleans Saints1
2007NFLJordan GrossCarolina Panthers1
2008NFLDamien WoodyNew York Jets1
2009NFLJoe ThomasCleveland Browns1
2010NFLJake LongMiami Dolphins1
2011NFLJason PetersPhiladelphia Eagles1
2012NFLJoe ThomasCleveland Browns2
2013NFLJoe ThomasCleveland Browns3
2014NFLJason PetersPhiladelphia Eagles2
2015NFLJoe ThomasCleveland Browns4
2016NFLTrent WilliamsWashington1
2017NFLDavid BakhtiariGreen Bay Packers1

Quick thoughts.

Anthony Munoz and Ron Mix have the most wins, with five apiece. Munoz did it in a stronger league, but Mix likely would have been a dominant player in any league in which he played. He wouldn’t have taken as many awards, with stuff competition from Parker, Forrest Gregg, and Ralph Neely, but he still deserved the awards he received.

The four-timers. Gregg, who Vince Lombardi called the greatest player he ever coached, made his mark while manning the right side of the vaunted Packers line. Rosey Brown, overlooked today but a rare athlete and perhaps one of a handful of men who can call himself the greatest. Jim Tyrer is not in the Hall of Fame, and he probably never will be, but he is arguably the single best eligible player not enshrined. Jonathan Ogden may be the most intimidating figure ever to play the position, his massive frame tricking defenders into thinking he didn’t also possess catlike quickness. When it comes to protecting quarterbacks, Joe Thomas may be the very best in nearly a century of NFL football.

From Lou Rymkus (and Lou Groza) to Mike McCormack to Dick Schafrath to Thomas, the Cleveland Browns have had plenty of support from the offensive tackle position. They have ten Guardian Awards as a franchise, which is twice as many as any other team (the Bengals, Packers, Chiefs, and Chargers each have five).

 

  1. Parker isn’t the greatest tackle ever, and he doesn’t even make my top five. However, none of the players I’d rank ahead of him have a nickname suitable for a positional award.