Supersonic Awards 1920-2017

Named for Supersonic Steve Van Buren, the Supersonic Award is given to the league’s top running back each season. In general, I base this on production, both on the ground and through the air. In the days when rushing mattered more than it does now, I emphasized running prowess. For the modern game, I put a greater emphasis on versatility, especially the ability to run routes, catch, and pass protect. Ball security is also important, although teams themselves didn’t seem to place much value on it prior to the 1980s, so I don’t care quite as much about it before then. Keep in mind that I can only use statistics that are available, so I base Supersonic Awards for the pre-stat era of 1920 through 1931 on the research of other historians, as well as my own dives into old local newspaper articles.

Having watched thousands of hours of film spanning ~1945 to 2017,1 it makes sense to put some of that wasted time to use. So I supplement the statistical achievements of each running back with film to add some often much-needed context. I don’t heavily penalize anyone for having a good offensive line, nor do I attempt to give anyone undue credit for the perceived weakness of his blocking. I believe players still have to be able to execute within a system, but I recognize some environments are more friendly than others. Ultimately, I gave the Supersonic Awards to the players I thought deserved them. Agree or disagree, that’s part of the fun.

Supersonic Award Winners

The chart below lists every Supersonic Award winner since 1920, for the NFL, AAFC, and AFL. Due to the lack of information available prior 1931, those players are italicized to differentiate them from those in the official record era.

1920NFLPaddy DriscollChicago Cardinals/Decatur Staleys
1921NFLFritz PollardAkron Pros
1922NFLHank GilloRacine Legion
1923NFLTex GriggCanton Bulldogs
1924NFLTex HamerFrankford Yellowjackets
1925NFLBarney WentzPottsville Maroons
1926NFLErnie NeversDuluth
1927NFLPaddy DriscollChicago Bears
1928NFLVerne LewellenGreen Bay Packers
1929NFLRed GrangeChicago Bears
1930NFLChuck BennettPortsmouth Spartans
1931NFLRed GrangeChicago Bears
1932NFLCliff BattlesBoston Braves
1933NFLCliff BattlesBoston
1934NFLBeattie FeathersChicago Bears
1935NFLErnie CaddelDetroit Lions
1936NFLAce GutowskyDetroit Lions
1937NFLCliff BattlesWashington
1938NFLWhizzer WhitePittsburgh Pirates
1939NFLAndy FarkasWashington
1940NFLDick ToddWashington
1941NFLMarshall GoldbergChicago Cardinals
1942NFLBill DudleyPittsburgh Steelers
1943NFLHarry ClarkeChicago Cardinals
1944NFLBill PaschalNew York Giants
1945NFLSteve Van BurenPhiladelphia Eagles
1946NFLPat HarderChicago Cardinals
1946AAFCSpec SandersNew York Yankees
1947NFLSteve Van BurenPhiladelphia Eagles
1947AAFCSpec SandersNew York Yankees
1948NFLSteve Van BurenPhiladelphia Eagles
1948AAFCChet MutrynBuffalo Bills
1949NFLGene RobertsNew York Giants
1949AAFCJoe PerrySan Francisco 49ers
1950NFLMarion MotleyCleveland Browns
1951NFLDub JonesCleveland Browns
1952NFLHugh McElhennySan Francisco 49ers
1953NFLJoe PerrySan Francisco 49ers
1954NFLJoe PerrySan Francisco 49ers
1955NFLAlan AmecheBaltimore Colts
1956NFLRick CasaresChicago Bears
1957NFLLenny MooreBaltimore Colts
1958NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns
1959NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns
1960NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns
1960AFLAbner HaynesDallas Texans
1961NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns
1961AFLBilly CannonHouston Oilers
1962NFLJim TaylorGreen Bay Packers
1962AFLCookie GilchristBuffalo Bills
1963NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns
1963AFLClem DanielsOakland Raiders
1964NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns
1964AFLClem DanielsOakland Raiders
1965NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns
1965AFLPaul LoweSan Diego Chargers
1966NFLGale SayersChicago Bears
1966AFLJim NanceBoston Patriots
1967NFLLeroy KellyCleveland Browns
1967AFLHoyle GrangerHouston Oilers
1968NFLLeroy KellyCleveland Browns
1968AFLPaul RobinsonCincinnati Bengals
1969NFLTom MatteBaltimore Colts
1969AFLFloyd LittleFloyd Little
1970NFLRon JohnsonNew York Giants
1971NFLSteve OwensDetroit Lions
1972NFLLarry BrownWashington
1973NFLO.J. SimpsonBuffalo Bills
1974NFLOtis ArmstrongDenver Broncos
1975NFLO.J. SimpsonBuffalo Bills
1976NFLO.J. SimpsonBuffalo Bills
1977NFLWalter PaytonChicago Bears
1978NFLEarl CampbellHouston Oilers
1979NFLWalter PaytonChicago Bears
1980NFLEarl CampbellHouston Oilers
1981NFLWilliam AndrewsAtlanta Falcons
1982NFLMarcus AllenLos Angeles Raiders
1983NFLEric DickersonLos Angeles Rams
1984NFLEric DickersonLos Angeles Rams
1985NFLMarcus AllenLos Angeles Raiders
1986NFLEric DickersonLos Angeles Rams
1987NFLCurt WarnerSeattle Seahawks
1988NFLEric DickersonIndianapolis Colts
1989NFLThurman ThomasBuffalo Bills
1990NFLBarry SandersDetroit Lions
1991NFLBarry SandersDetroit Lions
1992NFLEmmitt SmithDallas Cowboys
1993NFLEmmitt SmithDallas Cowboys
1994NFLBarry SandersDetroit Lions
1995NFLEmmitt SmithDallas Cowboys
1996NFLRicky WattersPhiladelphia Eagles
1997NFLBarry SandersDetroit Lions
1998NFLTerrell DavisDenver Broncos
1999NFLMarshall FaulkSt. Louis Rams
2000NFLEdgerrin JamesIndianapolis Colts
2001NFLMarshall FaulkSt. Louis Rams
2002NFLPriest HolmesKansas City Chiefs
2003NFLLaDainian TomlinsonSan Diego Chargers
2004NFLEdgerrin JamesIndianapolis Colts
2005NFLTiki BarberNew York Giants
2006NFLLaDainian TomlinsonSan Diego Chargers
2007NFLBrian WestbrookPhiladelphia Eagles
2008NFLDeAngelo WilliamsCarolina Panthers
2009NFLChris JohnsonTennessee Titans
2010NFLJamaal CharlesKansas City Chiefs
2011NFLMaurice Jones-DrewJacksonville Jaguars
2012NFLAdrian PetersonMinnesota Vikings
2013NFLLeSean McCoyPhiladelphia Eagles
2014NFLLe'Veon BellPittsburgh Steelers
2015NFLDevonta FreemanAtlanta Falcons
2016NFLDavid JohnsonArizona Cardinals
2017NFLTodd GurleyLos Angeles Rams

To the surprise of no one, Jim Brown has more Supersonic Awards than anyone else, with seven. Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson are next with four apiece. Cliff Battles, Emmitt Smith, Joe Perry, O.J. Simpson, and Steve Van Buren are the only other players with three awards.


  1. Obviously, less and worse footage the further back I go.