New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) after the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43-22. (USA TODAY Sports: David Butler II)
In its array of dutiful, postseason honors announcements this week, the fraternal order of Pro Football Writers of America on Wednesday named Denver quarterback Peyton Manning as the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year for 2013.
St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who led the NFC with 19 sacks and topped the NFL with 145 yards in sacks, was named the Defensive Player of the Year.
But was Manning really the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in the 2013 season? How about Tom Brady? Back to that later.
Manning’s selection as MVP was as surprising as Wednesday’s sunrise. After all, he did set NFL records in both passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55) and the Broncos are in this week’s AFC Championship Game.
And Manning’s staccato, pre-snap screaming seared the word “Omaha” into the minds of many NFL fans who may not recall the larger historic significance of the word Omaha was as a code name and a beach front for one of the five groups of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.
So, for opening the way to that history lesson alone in a business that casually intermingles terminologies between mortal combat and sport, Manning allowed us to reflect on the real difference between a game and a war.
But Most Valuable?
During five decades of covering football, and pairing players with honors at the end of each season, this ritual has been a perplexing one, because it was always absent one critical factor — a definition.
What is a Most Valuable Player? Valuable to whom? To what? How can this value be measured? By yards? Touchdowns? Some other intangible impact? For that matter, what defines the honors Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year?
There is no doubt Manning has long been among the NFL’s most valuable chattel, first at Indianapolis and now in Denver. With his charming, wry humor, Manning is the ubiquitous and likable face of the NFL in commercials of all sorts.
And as a quarterback, his command of the game, demands of his teammates, respect from opponents and efficiency running complicated game plans make him one of, if not the, best example of an omniscient quarterback in the history of the game.
But does that make his Most Valuable for 2013?
In a futile search for sanity in this annual ritual, the vote for MVP from here has gone to the single player whose presence and play made the biggest difference — hence the most valuable — on his team, that year. Hell, against that backdrop it could be justifiable selecting Manning every year. But the selection should also help reflect something unique about that season.
In 2007, Brady set a lot of the records that Manning broke in a remarkably prolific show with the help of incredible playmates, such as wide receiver Randy Moss, who caught 23 of his 50 touchdowns as the Patriots were 16-0, about two games better than preseason predictions for that awesome roster. Of course, Brady won all the honors possible, including MVP. Still, New England fans whined that he failed to get one of the 50 votes on the Associated Press ballot.
That vote, that time, from here, went to Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers. The simple consideration — which became a defense against a rabid assault from the Northeast — was that while Brady was an impressive component of a marvelous Patriots machine, Favre was the only discernible reason why the Packers, expected to be no better than .500 as the youngest team in the NFL, were 13-3 that season.
So history will note that this season the Broncos continued to build talent to surround Manning in his second season at Denver. There were setbacks through injuries, suspensions, but that’s part of the deal these days for every team. The Broncos were 13-3 in 2012 and 13-3 again in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Patriots went into the season with five of their top receivers elsewhere, most notably jail, but also injured, or shuffled off to other teams. The rest of the roster was in similar disarray. By the end of the season, Brady’s No. 6 receiver from 2012 was No. 1 in 2013, Julian Edelman. Regardless, the Patriots, like the Broncos, maintained their same impressive record (12-4) from 2012 to 2013, albeit admittedly in an inferior division.
And, as in 2007 when Favre seemed the only reason for the Packers great record, then Brady certainly seems to be major driving force behind the Patriots as they stay atop their division. That’s not counting the Bill Belichick factor, which is huge, but not part of the equation when considering player honors.
So, for consistency and sanity, just as in 2007 when the vote from here was Brady as Offensive Player of the Year and Favre as MVP, this year’s call here is for Manning as Offensive Player of the Year and Brady as MVP.
Must mention Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy, whose 1,607 rushing yards helped the Eagles to a 10-6 mark, was the second choice here. The difference was that Brady held the team together, while McCoy was more of a major part of the offensive pyrotechnics.
But the choice of hundreds of esteemed PFWA members of Manning as MVP certainly has merit, as it would in any season Manning is healthy and playing and going through those hypnotic, pre-snap gyrations.
Now, about the definition of Offensive Player of the Year. Wonder if anybody voted for Miami’s Richie Incognito?
No doubt about it, these honors need to come with understandable definitions.
— The Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) is the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams on a daily basis.