World Awards 1920-2017

Called such in honor of perhaps the greatest football player of all time, Jerry Rice, the World Award is reserved for the most outstanding player in the league each season. Don’t confuse this with the most valuable player award, which is almost always a quarterback. This award is for the best player, without respect to position. The award is a difficult one to bestow, because it means I am counting all positions as equal and trying to determine who played his position better than other players players their positions. I promise it’s not perfect, and I promise many will have disagreements with my choices. It would be naive to imagine otherwise, and my brain would have to be pickled in a hubristic brine to think my opinions on the matter are infallible. Remember, as always, awards are stochastic in nature and treat second place the same as one-thousand-and-second place. It’s safe to assume that if you believe a player was snubbed, he was probably pretty high on the list, and I already feel bad leaving him out in the cold.

World Award Winners

The table below lists every World Award winner since 1920. Read it thus: in 1920, playing in the NFL, Dutch Sternaman of the Bears won his first World Award.

1920NFLDutch SternamanChicago Bears1
1921NFLFritz PollardAkron Pros1
1922NFLJimmy ConzelmanRock Island Independents/Milwaukee Badgers1
1923NFLPaddy DriscollChicago Cardinals1
1924NFLCurly LambeauGreen Bay Packers1
1925NFLTex HamerFrankford Yellow Jackets1
1926NFLErnie NeversDuluth1
1927NFLCharley RogersFrankford Yellow Jackets1
1928NFLEddie KotalGreen Bay Packers1
1929NFLBenny FriedmanNew York Giants1
1930NFLVerne LewellenGreen Bay Packers1
1931NFLJohnny BloodGreen Bay Packers1
1932NFLCal HubbardGreen Bay Packers1
1933NFLBronko NagurskiChicago Bears1
1934NFLBronko NagurskiChicago Bears2
1935NFLMel HeinNew York Giants1
1936NFLDutch ClarkDetroit Lions1
1937NFLTurk EdwardsBoston1
1938NFLMel HeinNew York Giants2
1939NFLJoe StydaharChicago Bears1
1940NFLAce ParkerBrooklyn Dodgers1
1941NFLDon HutsonGreen Bay Packers1
1942NFLDon HutsonGreen Bay Packers2
1943NFLSid LuckmanChicago Bears1
1944NFLBulldog TurnerChicago Bears1
1945NFLSammy BaughWashington1
1946NFLBill DudleyPittsburgh Steelers1
1946AAFCOtto GrahamCleveland Browns1
1947NFLSteve Van BurenPhiladelphia Eagles1
1947AAFCSpec SandersNew York Yankees1
1948NFLCharley TrippiChicago Cardinals1
1948AAFCMarion MotleyCleveland Browns1
1949NFLSteve Van BurenPhiladelphia Eagles2
1949AAFCBill WillisCleveland Browns1
1950NFLGeorge ConnorChicago Bears1
1951NFLElroy HirschLos Angeles Rams1
1952NFLHugh McElhennySan Francisco 49ers1
1953NFLChuck BednarikPhiladelphia Eagles1
1954NFLOllie MatsonChicago Cardinals1
1955NFLEmlen TunnellNew York Giants1
1956NFLYale LaryDetroit Lions1
1957NFLGino MarchettiBaltimore Colts1
1958NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns1
1959NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns2
1960NFLJim ParkerBaltimore Colts1
1960AFLRon MixLos Angeles Chargers1
1961NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns3
1961AFLGeorge BlandaHouston Oilers1
1962NFLForrest GreggGreen Bay Packers1
1962AFLCookie GilchristBuffalo Bills1
1963NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns4
1963AFLLance AlworthSan Diego Chargers1
1964NFLBob LillyDallas Cowboys1
1964AFLGino CappellettiBoston Patriots1
1965NFLWillie DavisGreen Bay Packers1
1965AFLEarl FaisonSan Diego Chargers1
1966NFLMerlin OlsenLos Angeles Rams1
1966AFLJim NanceBoston Patriots1
1967NFLDeacon JonesLos Angeles Rams1
1967AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders1
1968NFLDeacon JonesLos Angeles Rams2
1968AFLBobby BellKansas City Chiefs1
1969NFLJimmy JohnsonSan Francisco 49ers1
1969AFLRich JacksonDenver Broncos1
1970NFLDick ButkusChicago Bears1
1971NFLAlan PageMinnesota Vikings1
1972NFLJoe GreenePittsburgh Steelers1
1973NFLO.J. SimpsonBuffalo Bills1
1974NFLJoe GreenePittsburgh Steelers2
1975NFLMel BlountPittsburgh Steelers1
1976NFLJack LambertPittsburgh Steelers1
1977NFLWalter PaytonChicago Bears1
1978NFLJohn HannahNew England Patriots1
1979NFLMike WebsterPittsburgh Steelers1
1980NFLEarl CampbellHouston Oilers1
1981NFLKellen WinslowSan Diego Chargers1
1982NFLLawrence TaylorNew York Giants1
1983NFLJoe JacobyWashington1
1984NFLDan MarinoMiami Dolphins1
1985NFLDwight StephensonMiami Dolphins1
1986NFLLawrence TaylorNew York Giants2
1987NFLJerry RiceSan Francisco 49ers1
1988NFLAnthony MunozCincinnati Bengals1
1989NFLKeith MillardMinnesota Vikings1
1990NFLBruce SmithBuffalo Bills1
1991NFLReggie WhitePhiladelphia Eagles1
1992NFLCortez KennedySeattle Seahawks1
1993NFLRod WoodsonPittsburgh Steelers1
1994NFLDeion SandersSan Francisco 49ers1
1995NFLEmmitt SmithDallas Cowboys1
1996NFLBryant YoungSan Francisco 49ers1
1997NFLBarry SandersDetroit Lions1
1998NFLRandy MossMinnesota Vikings1
1999NFLTony BoselliJacksonville Jaguars1
2000NFLLarry AllenDallas Cowboys1
2001NFLMarshall FaulkSt. Louis Rams1
2002NFLDerrick BrooksTampa Bay Buccaneers1
2003NFLJonathan OgdenBaltimore Ravens1
2004NFLPeyton ManningIndianapolis Colts1
2005NFLWalter JonesSeattle Seahawks1
2006NFLLaDainian TomlinsonSan Diego Chargers1
2007NFLTom BradyNew England Patriots1
2008NFLNnamdi AsomughaOakland Raiders1
2009NFLDarrelle RevisNew York Jets1
2010NFLJustin SmithSan Francisco 49ers1
2011NFLAaron RodgersGreen Bay Packers1
2012NFLJ.J. WattHouston Texans1
2013NFLJ.J. WattHouston Texans2
2014NFLJ.J. WattHouston Texans3
2015NFLRob GronkowskiNew England Patriots1
2016NFLAaron DonaldLos Angeles Rams1
2017NFLAaron DonaldLos Angeles Rams2

Some thoughts.

Jim Brown won four World Awards, and he could have just as easily won four more. He is the most dominant and imposing back I have ever seen, and he seemed to be able to exert his will over his opponents as was his wont. Brown was the greatest running back in the land during an era in which the position still mattered.

J.J. Watt is the only other player with more than two honors. He was the best player in the league from 2012-14 before injuries took their toll on him. That his team won just two games in the middle of his peak is evidence enough of the need to separate the awards for the most outstanding and most valuable players.

Jerry Rice only received one of his namesake award but was a top three player in at least five other seasons (1986, 1989-90, 1993, 1995) and probably a top five player in a 1994.

Bronko Nagurski and Mel Hein won two awards apiece, very long ago. Most of this is based on hearsay and anecdotal accounts of their achievements. I’m fine with that, provided we all understand that awards prior to 1945 are based on little to no film, often incomplete stats, and a whole lot of opinions from contemporaries and historians.

Don Hutson has two World Awards to his name, and he is another player who could have won it in other years. You don’t retire with receiving numbers orders of magnitude greater than anyone else by being merely great.

Steve Van Buren was the first superduperstar running back, and he led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns during his award-winning seasons.

Perhaps it shows some bias that I have given multiple awards to Deacon Jones, Joe Greene, Lawrence Taylor, and Aaron Donald as well. I like defense. I’m not ashamed.

Several great players could have won the award in seasons in which they were overlooked. In 1987, for example, I gave it to Rice, but Reggie White also had a strong claim to earn it. Randy Moss could have taken the award from his quarterback in 2007. Darrelle Revis was phenomenal in 2009, but his teammate Nick Mangold was sublime in his own right. Rob Gronkowski could have had the title in 2011, and Donald could have taken it from him in 2015. Very fine lines separate these things most of the time.