Sweetness Awards 1920-2017

Named after the most well-rounded offensive weapon in history, Walter Payton, the Sweetness Award is presented to the top offensive player in the league each year. The the chagrin of some, this is going to focus pretty heavily on statistical production, which often limits the chances of the big fellas up front from getting their deserved recognition. Sweetness Awards from 1920 to 1931 rely on spotty records and a mountain of hagiography. We can’t know for sure if Benny Friedman really led the league with 564 rushing yards in 1928, but we can be reasonably certain he led all passers with 1677 yards the following year (because research shows runner-up Wild Bill Kelly trailed by a thousand yards). For those years, I went with the limited information available to me, because I wanted to have a winner for those seasons. For the era running from 1932 to 1944, official statistics exist, but game footage is hard to come by. Consider those awards more meaningful than the ones from the previous era but less meaningful than subsequent awards. For the seasons in which I was able to view ample footage, you may see more winners who diverge from the picks by major publications. This is especially true in seasons when I think an offensive lineman was the best offensive player in the game.1

Sweetness Award Winners

The table below lists every Sweetness Award winner since 1920. Read it thus: in 1920, playing in the NFL, Al Mahrt of the Triangles won his first Sweetness Award.

1920NFLAl MahrtDayton Triangles1
1921NFLFritz PollardAkron Pros1
1922NFLJimmy ConzelmanRock Island Independents/Milwaukee Badgers1
1923NFLCurly LambeauGreen Bay Packers1
1924NFLCurly LambeauGreen Bay Packers2
1925NFLBarney WentzPottsville Maroons1
1926NFLErnie NeversDuluth1
1927NFLCharley RogersFrankford Yellow Jackets1
1928NFLBenny FriedmanDetroit Wolverines1
1929NFLBenny FriedmanNew York Giants2
1930NFLBenny FriedmanNew York Giants3
1931NFLJohnny BloodGreen Bay Packers1
1932NFLBronko NagurskiChicago Bears1
1933NFLGlenn PresnellPortsmouth Spartans1
1934NFLBeattie FeathersChicago Bears1
1935NFLErnie CaddelDetroit Lions1
1936NFLDutch ClarkDetroit Lions1
1937NFLCliff BattlesWashington1
1938NFLMel HeinNew York Giants1
1939NFLJoe StydaharChicago Bears1
1940NFLAce ParkerBrooklyn Dodgers1
1941NFLDon HutsonGreen Bay Packers1
1942NFLDon HutsonGreen Bay Packers2
1943NFLSid LuckmanChicago Bears1
1944NFLDon HutsonGreen Bay Packers3
1945NFLSammy BaughWashington1
1946NFLJim BentonLos Angeles Rams1
1946AAFCOtto GrahamCleveland Browns1
1947NFLSammy BaughWashington2
1947AAFCSpec SandersNew York Yankees1
1948NFLSteve Van BurenPhiladelphia Eagles1
1948AAFCChet MutrynBuffalo Bills1
1949NFLGene RobertsNew York Giants1
1949AAFCOtto GrahamCleveland Browns2
1950NFLMarion MotleyCleveland Browns1
1951NFLElroy HirschLos Angeles Rams1
1952NFLHugh McElhennySan Francisco 49ers1
1953NFLOtto GrahamCleveland Browns3
1954NFLJoe PerrySan Francisco 49ers1
1955NFLAlan AmecheBaltimore Colts1
1956NFLTobin RoteGreen Bay Packers1
1957NFLLenny MooreBaltimore Colts1
1958NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns1
1959NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns2
1960NFLJim ParkerBaltimore Colts1
1960AFLAbner HaynesDallas Texans1
1961NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns3
1961AFLCharley HenniganHouston Oilers1
1962NFLForrest GreggGreen Bay Packers1
1962AFLAbner HaynesDallas Texans2
1963NFLY.A. TittleNew York Giants1
1963AFLRon MixSan Diego Chargers1
1964NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns4
1964AFLClem DanielsOakland Raiders1
1965NFLJim BrownCleveland Browns5
1965AFLLance AlworthSan Diego Chargers1
1966NFLGale SayersChicago Bears1
1966AFLJim NanceBoston Patriots1
1967NFLHomer JonesNew York Giants1
1967AFLDon MaynardNew York Jets1
1968NFLLeroy KellyCleveland Browns1
1968AFLJim OttoOakland Raiders1
1969NFLTom MatteBaltimore Colts1
1969AFLJim TyrerKansas City Chiefs1
1970NFLJohn BrodieSan Francisco 49ers1
1971NFLPaul WarfieldMiami Dolphins1
1972NFLLarry BrownWashington1
1973NFLO.J. SimpsonBuffalo Bills1
1974NFLOtis ArmstrongDenver Broncos1
1975NFLO.J. SimpsonBuffalo Bills2
1976NFLO.J. SimpsonBuffalo Bills3
1977NFLWalter PaytonChicago Bears1
1978NFLJohn HannahNew England Patriots1
1979NFLDan FoutsSan Diego Chargers1
1980NFLEarl CampbellHouston Oilers1
1981NFLKellen WinslowSan Diego Chargers1
1982NFLWes ChandlerSan Diego Chargers1
1983NFLEric DickersonLos Angeles Rams1
1984NFLDan MarinoMiami Dolphins1
1985NFLMarcus AllenLos Angeles Raiders1
1986NFLDan MarinoMiami Dolphins2
1987NFLJerry RiceSan Francisco 49ers1
1988NFLAnthony MunozCincinnati Bengals1
1989NFLThurman ThomasBuffalo Bills1
1990NFLRandall CunninghamPhiladelphia Eagles1
1991NFLBarry SandersDetroit Lions1
1992NFLSteve YoungSan Francisco 49ers1
1993NFLJerry RiceSan Francisco 49ers2
1994NFLBarry SandersDetroit Lions2
1995NFLEmmitt SmithDallas Cowboys1
1996NFLTerrell DavisDenver Broncos1
1997NFLBarry SandersDetroit Lions3
1998NFLTerrell DavisDenver Broncos2
1999NFLMarshall FaulkSt. Louis Rams1
2000NFLEdgerrin JamesIndianapolis Colts1
2001NFLMarshall FaulkSt. Louis Rams2
2002NFLPriest HolmesKansas City Chiefs1
2003NFLRandy MossMinnesota Vikings1
2004NFLPeyton ManningIndianapolis Colts1
2005NFLWalter JonesSeattle Seahawks1
2006NFLLaDainian TomlinsonSan Diego Chargers1
2007NFLRandy MossNew England Patriots2
2008NFLDrew BreesNew Orleans Saints1
2009NFLChris JohnsonTennessee Titans1
2010NFLTom BradyNew England Patriots1
2011NFLDrew BreesNew Orleans Saints2
2012NFLAdrian PetersonMinnesota Vikings1
2013NFLPeyton ManningDenver Broncos2
2014NFLLe'Veon BellPittsburgh Steelers1
2015NFLJulio JonesAtlanta Falcons1
2016NFLDavid JohnsonArizona Cardinals1
2017NFLTodd GurleyLos Angeles Rams1

A thought or two.

Jim Brown won five Sweetness Awards, while no one else won more than three. It is hard to say enough good things about his play, so I’ll say some bad things instead. His offensive line was incredible, but it didn’t have a cool nickname like the great Wall, so people don’t mention it like they do when discussing other backs with strong lines. He could block, but he didn’t want to or make much of an effort to. I’m not sure which is worse, not being able to, or having the ability and refusing to employ it. Brown played most of his games against the relatively easier schedule of defenses in the NFL East. His numbers against NFL West teams were still good, but they weren’t as star-spangled awesome as one may expect.

Don Hutson revolutionized the position and dominated the receiving game in a way no player had before or has since. He was most dominant in an era with less competition, had his best seasons during World War II, and never played in an integrated league. His lead over his peers is undeniable, but keep the context of his league in mind.

Otto Graham was the most efficient passer in football for most of his career, and he was a dynamic runner and dangerous goal line threat. While he was obviously great, he also played behind Hall of Fame linemen, handed off to a HOF back who also may be the best blocking back ever, threw to a HOF receiver (and another one who may have been better), and ran the offense of the most influential coach in history. Again, context.

O.J. Simpson and Barry Sanders won three Sweetness Awards apiece. They are similar in that they were dominant and versatile threats who often carried more than their share of the offense. If you take the word of their fans, they played their careers behind incapable lines. It is true they didn’t have the legendary blockers of some of their cohorts, but they had a few great linemen and a few more good ones.

Anthony Munoz and Walter Jones both blocked for MVPs in the years they won the Sweetness Award. In my opinion, Munoz and Jones were clearly superior players to Boomer Esiason and Shaun Alexander, respectively.

Look up the 1978 New England Patriots, and pay specific attention to their rushing prowess. Now look at the guys who carried the ball. How did they do that? John Hannah, that’s how.


  1. You may notice that Mel Hein and Joe Stydahar earned awards in 1938 and 1939, despite the paucity of available tape. My reasoning for this is that Hein won the league MVP trophy, and Stydahar had the acclaim of every imaginable publication, peer, and coach. Both did it in years when there was not a standout player from a “skill” position.