The 1982 NFL MVP award holds a distinction for strangeness. In a year ripped apart by a strike there were only nine games played and the honor went to Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley. I’m a Redskins fan and I hold Moseley in high regard, but this was…well, it was stupid. It’s time to set the record straight.
There were three more viable candidates for 1982 NFL MVP. Dan Fouts of the San Diego Chargers was the 1st-team All-Pro quarterback, while the best running backs in the league were Los Angeles Raiders rookie Marcus Allen and the versatile Freeman McNeil of the New York Jets. Here’s the case for each one of them…
*Fouts led the league in passing yardage and touchdowns while overseeing the high-powered “Air Coryell” offense of head coach Don Coryell. The Chargers were notoriously poor on defense in this era, the reason they never made a Super Bowl in the 1979-82 high point.
While Fouts threw 11 interceptions, there were more INTs as a whole thrown in this time period when offenses challenged downfield more frequently. If you look at interceptions as a percentage of passes thrown, Fouts was still eighth in the league. San Diego finished the season 6-3 and was the 5-seed in the AFC playoffs.
*McNeil led the league in rushing with 745 yards and he did it with efficiency, with a 5.2 yards-per-attempt average that was also the best in the NFL. He was a pretty good receiver, with 16 catches out of the backfield and recalling his skill set you can argue he was under-utilized in this area. In today’s game, with every offense requiring its backs to be better receivers, McNeil’s numbers likely shoot up. The Jets finished 6-3 and were the 6-seed in the AFC playoffs.
*Allen’s 697 rush yards put him fourth in the league and he averaged 4.4 yards-per-attempt, which ranked seventh. Even though his rushing numbers don’t measure up to McNeil, Allen was ahead of his time as a great receiver out of the backfield. He caught 38 passes and was the second-leading receiver on a Raider team that lacked talent at the wideout position.
Allen and tight end Todd Christensen had to carry the load as receivers, and the offense in general had to carry a defense that ranked 22nd in the NFL. How far did they carry the Raiders? How about to an 8-1 record and the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
I’d have voted for Marcus Allen. He had less offensive talent around him than Fouts and was a more productive receiver than McNeil. The case for McNeil is also hurt by the fact his team’s defense was pretty good, while Allen and Fouts had more pressure on them. If you wait until after the playoffs to vote, it might be a different story—McNeil outplayed Allen in an AFC divisional playoff game and the Jets upset the Raiders.
But we have to base this on regular season production. It’s time to right a historical wrong and acknowledge Marcus Allen as the true MVP of the strange 1982 NFL season.