When I first saw the notion of James White being deserving of Super Bowl MVP online this morning, I dismissed it as sort of a trolly, click-bait kind of idea. In a world where winning quarterbacks get MVP honors if they even perform above average, how could one deny Tom Brady? Yet the more I look into this and reflect on it, the more I think the New England running back indeed should have been the Super Bowl 51 MVP.
White’s 14 catches were a Super Bowl record and they went for 110 yards. He scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. He also converted the first two-point conversion in the Patriot comeback. There was never any doubt in my mind he had least delivered a performance that was MVP-caliber?
But how to compare it to Brady, going 43/62 for 466 yards and being nothing short of unstoppable in the game’s most crucial moments? Brady also authored the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history when his best receiver…well, it was James White.
I’m not disrespecting White. I follow the Wisconsin Badgers in college and loved White when he played in Madison. I even had running arguments with a friend, when I repeatedly said White should get more carries than the more heralded MonteeBall in 2011 and that White would be the better pro. Be assured I was reminding people of my insight yesterday.
But even on the college level, Wisconsin isn’t exactly known for throwing the ball and its backs certainly not known for their receiving prowess. Even when I was extolling White’s talent, I would have assumed that any team that relied on him as their top target was in a lot of trouble. So it’s with no malice whatsoever that an essential part of the case for Brady is the mere existence of White as his primary weapon in a desperate situation.
Here’s the flip side though—this is just about a one-game MVP performance and consider White’s prominence in the overall passing game. While Brady did spread the ball around, he clearly targeted White over and above everyone else. The running back accounted for nearly a third of Patriot completions and his fourteen catches were nearly twice as many as any other receiver.
That’s why, in this case, I give the nod to the White in the circular debate about whether the quarterback or receiver deserves primary credit.
Moreover, those catches, like most passes to a running back, depended on the back being able to make a play after a basic, room-service throw. Any quarterback in the NFL completes the passes Brady threw to White. That’s not disrespecting the greatest QB of all-time. It’s simply stating an obvious football fact regarding the nature of the dumpoff pass to a back.
White’s touchdowns weren’t exactly easy either. On the first, late in the third quarter, he made to make a nice cut back to the inside and dive into the end zone. On the overtime score, he had to either carry tacklers or run through them to just barely find the goal line.
We’ll never see the likes of Tom Brady again on a football field and last night was a reminder why. But the MVP trophy should have gone to James White—as Brady himself said in the press conference this morning picking up the trophy.