True Football Fans Will Never Forget These MVP Seasons

Darren - December 12, 2022

True Football Fans Will Never Forget These MVP Seasons

Darren - December 12, 2022

The NFL’s MVP award is the greatest recognition of an individual’s consistent brilliance across a regular season. This doesn’t guarantee that they’ll win a Super Bowl (far from it), but they’ve still had 16 (now 17) superb games. So today, we’ll be looking at some of the most iconic MVP seasons that fans will never forget.

We’ve seen players like Tom Brady and Joe Montana lead unstoppable dynasties with multiple Super Bowl wins. Meanwhile, some stars had an excellent individual year against the odds. Then there were elite players like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers who won multiple MVP awards but never achieved the same Super Bowl success. Check them out below.

Sporting News

Steve McNair – 2003

It’s amazing that McNair missed two games in 2003 but still won the MVP award. That shows how important he was for the Titans who made it to the playoffs. They were a decent team but McNair was an elite star and made a huge difference. Technically, he shared the award with Peyton Manning, but his performances earned it.

Sports Illustrated

McNair had the best passer rating in the league and threw for over 3,200 yards with 24 touchdowns. This may not seem to be the highest number by today’s lofty standards. However, the game has evolved over the past 20 years and McNair was one of the best of his day (via USA Today Sports).

Detroit Free Press

Barry Sanders – 1997

The Detroit Lions rarely enjoy any kind of success but for many seasons they had the league’s best running back in Sanders. He won the MVP award after an electrifying season in 1997. Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards with 11 rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, he scored another three receiving touchdowns and showed a complete game.

Sky Sports

The dysfunctional Lions didn’t deserve Sanders’ talents because he was an outstanding player. This was also the second year that he won the Offensive Player of the Year award after achieving his first in 1994. Sanders delivered consistently for Detroit and stayed loyal to them throughout his career (via Yardbreaker).

New York Upstate

Thurman Thomas – 1991

There was a time when running backs had a genuine chance of winning the MVP award. It feels like a long time ago now because quarterbacks dominated the past decade. Thomas had an amazing year in 1991 as Jim Kelly provided the ammunition. Meanwhile, the Bills made it to the Super Bowl but fell agonizingly short of victory.

Buffalo Bills

Nonetheless, this was the best season of Thomas’s decorated career. It was magnificent even by his lofty standards as he led the league in rushing yards. He also won the Offensive Player of the Year award as he set the world alight. That’s why people rightfully regard him as one of the greatest of all time (via SBNation).

Pioneer Press

Terrell Davis – 1998

It remains beyond belief that Davis fell all of the ways to the sixth round of the 1995 NFL draft. Everybody else’s loss was Denver’s gain because he proved to be one of the greatest running backs ever. In 1998, Davis broke out as one of the best players in the NFL as he led the league in every metric for a running back.

Bleacher Report

The two-time Super Bowl champion terrified opposition defenses and set records across the board. These days voters favor quarterbacks but Davis’s outstanding year would likely have seen him the award in the current decade. This was a mesmerizing season that fans will never forget (via Bleacher Report).

Sports Illustrated

Rich Gannon – 2002

Fans will never forget Gannon’s wretched Super Bowl performance in 2003. He picked a terrible time to have the worst game of his season. However, the Raiders quarterback deserves more credit because he was brilliant until then. Nobody will say that he was the best but he provided stability like Matt Stafford did for the Rams in 2021.

NBC Sports

Gannon passed for almost 4,600 yards with 26 touchdowns. He also had the highest passing average per game in the league as he helped Oakland reach the playoffs. It’s too bad that everybody remembers their implosion against Tampa Bay. Gannon had a shocking Super Bowl final but a great regular season (via Sporting News).

The Ringer

Matt Ryan – 2016

Ryan is another player who enjoyed an emphatic regular season but didn’t seal it with a ring. However, he did achieve widespread recognition in an MVP year. The quarterback helped fans to forget about Michael Vick and quickly became one of the league’s most consistent QBs (via Football Outsiders).

The Falcons quarterback narrowly won the award over Tom Brady by a four-vote margin. But he demonstrated his staunch reliability as he never threw more than one interception in a game. Meanwhile, he racked up 4,994 passing yards and found receivers with ease. Fans will never forget this season because of Atlanta’s Super Bowl implosion but Ryan was superb in 2016.


Walter Payton – 1977

It’s funny that running backs don’t earn as much money as wide receivers but have a better chance of winning an MVP award. That’s because quarterbacks take all of the shine of their receivers but running backs have more work to do. Payton proved this in 1977 with a series of dominant performances.

The Clarion-Ledger

Some MVP seasons are better than others but this was up there with the greatest. He exceeded O.J. Simpson’s achievements a few years prior as he set new records for scrimmage yards. Payton also rushed for over 1,800 yards as he proved to be a juggernaut for the Chicago Bears (via 247 Sports).


Tom Brady – 2007

Brady won his first MVP award in 2007 after years of success with the Patriots. It was a long time coming but he deserved it for his clinical consistency. Randy Moss was a game-changer for the quarterback because Brady had an elite wide receiver. Remarkably many people thought that the wideout was a faded force before this season.


New England’s quarterback threw for over 4,800 yards as he posted elite numbers. He also threw a stunning 50 touchdown passes as he set a new NFL record. This was a season that fans will never forget because the Patriots went 16-0. But they suffered a shock loss to Eli Manning’s Giants in the Super Bowl (via FOX News).

The Spun

Aaron Rodgers – 2011

Rodgers had an excellent 2011 season even if the Packers didn’t win the Super Bowl. They fell short against the Giants in the playoffs. But they were fantastic before this game and their quarterback typically played a crucial role. Once again, it was all about consistency and he delivered every week.

CBS Sports

He threw for almost 4,700 passing yards with a 122.5 passer rating. Meanwhile, the Packers went into every game with their guns blazing as they blew opponents away. They scored at least 42 points in six games that season as they set an NFL record. They wouldn’t have achieved this without Rodgers’ excellence (via BBC).

CBS Sports

Dan Marino – 1984

Marino is arguably the greatest player in NFL history without a Super Bowl. He achieved everything else that was possible in the sport. He also had a cameo in ‘Ace Ventura’ and was a mainstream celebrity throughout the decade. He won the MVP award in 1984 after a brilliant season for the Dolphins.


Miami’s sole MVP winner threw for over 5,000 yards with a league-high 48 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Dolphins enjoyed a 14-2 regular season record and many people tipped them for the Super Bowl. But they wasted the best opportunity of Marino’s career, and that’s a shame (via Sportskeeda).

Bleacher Report

Patrick Mahomes – 2018

It’s fair to say that Kansas City handled Mahomes perfectly by effectively giving him a redshirt for the 2017 season. He started the final game before assuming the role full-time in 2018. Then he emerged as one of the most devastating quarterbacks that the league had ever seen (via Athlon Sports).

Sky Sports

NFL fans will never forget his breakout season because he was magnificent. The MVP winner threw for over 5,000 yards as the Chiefs blew rivals away. Unfortunately, Andy Reid hadn’t assembled a Super Bowl-ready defense but they still cruised to the postseason. Mahomes’ problem was that the media immediately held him to crazy standards.

Dallas Cowboys

Emmitt Smith – 1993

Smith is another NFL legend who won everything in his path. The three-time Super Bowl champion claimed his sole MVP award in 1993 but he earned it. This was a brilliant season that America’s Team will never forget. Remarkably, Smith didn’t even play in Dallas’s first couple of games because of a contract holdout.


But this proved his value to the franchise because he returned with vengeance in his heart. Unsurprisingly, he led the league in rushing and scrimmage yards as he delivered on the field. The new contract inspired him to do greater things and he emerged as one of the best players of the decade (via Deseret News).

New York Times

Mark Moseley

Moseley has a special place on this list because he remains the only special teams player in history to win the AP MVP award. This was a season that fans will never forget for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it was the strike-shortened year so every win mattered even more. That’s when Moseley stepped up to the plate (via Grantland).

Sports Illustrated

The placekicker scored 76 points for the Redskins from 23 field goal attempts. He also set a new record for accuracy as he kicked with drone-like accuracy. It was a remarkable year and one that we’ll never see the likes of again. Quarterbacks and running backs dominate the MVP award but other positions can be very influential.

Sky Sports

Peyton Manning  – 2009

The Colts lost Super Bowl XLIV but their journey to the promised land was a special one. Manning was a five-time MVP winner and features several times on this list. 2009 was an outstanding year as he exploded in every metric. He passed for over 4,500 yards with 33 touchdown passes and just 16 interceptions.


Unsurprisingly the younger generation doesn’t understand how good Manning was because they didn’t see him at his peak. However, he was arguably the most gifted quarterback of his era and it’s a shame he only won two rings. Nonetheless, this was an excellent year for the signal-caller (via


Joe Montana – 1990

Nobody knew that they’d only see Montana play once for the Niners again after 1990. He won his second consecutive MVP award as he performed at the peak of his powers. They went all of the way to the NFC Championship but didn’t win that game. However, Montana was excellent throughout the regular season.

Sports Illustrated

He set career bests across some metrics but fans will never forget this because it was his last year as San Francisco’s starter. Montana injured himself in the 1991 preseason and missed the entire year. Then the 49ers opted to replace him with Steve Young after he made a single appearance in 1992 (via Yardbreaker).

Baltimore Sun

Lamar Jackson – 2019

Jackson’s critics say that he’s an overblown running back but they miss the point of his brilliance. Fans will never forget this season because he delivered outstanding numbers for the Ravens. First, he set the record for rushing yards by a quarterback and he lit up the league (via Baltimore Ravens).

Baltimore Sun

But he also threw for over 3,000 passing yards and demonstrated great accuracy for Baltimore. This was his first full season as a starter, proving he was up to the task. Many people focus on his legs because he is a brilliant rusher. But he’s far more well-rounded than analysts give him credit.

Cincinatti Bengals

Boomer Esiason – 1988

The Bengals went 4-11 in 1987 and nobody expected them to show much improvement the following season. But Esiason inspired them to a brilliant regular season and they improved to a 12-4 record. His consistent performances were enough to merit an MVP win. This was also the second time a Bengals player won the coveted award.


It was a close-run thing because Randall Cunningham narrowly lost out. Meanwhile, it was vindication for Esiason who had a turbulent relationship with fans the previous years. Many of them wanted him to lose his place as the starting quarterback. But he rebounded in style as he proved himself in front of the world (via Stat Muse).


Tom Brady – 2010

Brady had an unbelievable 2010 regular season in an MVP year that fans will never forget. The Patriots quarterback only threw four picks all year as he demonstrated freakish accuracy. Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez operated a duel threat Patriots fans thought would last for a decade.


The seven-time Super Bowl winner completed 3,900 passing yards with a lofty 111.0 passer rating. Meanwhile, the Patriots went 14-2 and became favorites to go all of the ways. But they suffered a shock divisional round loss to the Jets. An MVP win doesn’t guarantee success at the business end of the season (via CBS News).

Las Vegas Chronicle

Marcus Allen – 1985

Allen was one of the greatest NFL athletes ever and completed every achievement that was available to him. He famously won a national championship and a Heisman in college. Then he won a Super Bowl ring and the game’s MVP award as the only player in history to claim them all.

Sports Illustrated

Meanwhile, Allen’s 1985 season was magnificent because he set the league on fire. The Raiders star led the NFL in most categories including rushing yards. Furthermore, he set career numbers with highs across the board. Allen was a unique talent and would hold up well in the modern game (via Sportskeeda).

Sports Illustrated

Johnny Unitas – 1967

The legendary Unitas won three MVP awards across his glittering career. The first came in 1959 but arguably the greatest individual season was in 1967. He threw 34 touchdown passes as the Colts took the league by storm. Many people regard Unitas as the first great modern quarterback and this season proves why.

Sports Illustrated

Perhaps his passing stats don’t correspond with the modern sport. But many analysts and NFL historians rate him as the best pure passer the sport has ever seen. He famously accumulated an amazing touchdown pass streak that lasted for 49 games. This was unfathomable at the time (via Medium).


Earl Campbell – 1979

Campbell’s seminal year came in 1979 when he outshone his fellow running backs. He played for the Houston Oilers and emerged as one of the best players in the NFL. Furthermore, fans will never forget his MVP-winning season as he led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns (via

Bettman Archive

He only won a single MVP award but he was a three-time Offensive Player of the Year. Campbell posed a dangerous threat to opposition teams who struggled to deal with his power and tenacity. The running back put his body on the line during games as he showed no fear on the playing field.

New York Post

Aaron Rodgers – 2014

The Packers won the NFC North in 2014 after a shaky start to the season. This didn’t please their fanbase but it didn’t worry Rodgers who infamously told them to relax. But he justified his condescending words by exploding into life. Green Bay won their remaining games of the regular season in a year that fans will never forget.

Sky Sports

Rodgers achieved a 112.2 passer rating with a 65.6% completion rating. Meanwhile, he completed almost 4,400 passing yards and led his team to the postseason. Typically the Packers fell short again but fans shouldn’t hold this against him. This was a great year, even by his lofty standards (via Green Bay).


Tom Brady – 2017

In 2017, Brady became the oldest player to win an MVP award at the ripe age of 40. It was the latest in a series of brilliant achievements by the Patriots quarterback. The craziest aspect was that he was aging like a fine wine as he improved. Brady played like he was 10 years younger as he proved that age was just a number.

CBS Sports

Analysts observed that he never had the pace to lose so he maintained his abilities better than rushing quarterbacks. The future Bucs QB led the league in pass attempts and threw for over 4,500 yards. It was an excellent regular season for the seven-time Super Bowl winner and one that fans will never forget (via Bleacher Report).

Cleveland Browns

Jim Brown – 1965

Brown was a three-time MVP award winner with the Cleveland Browns and one of the best players of his generation. He famously claimed his final award in the last season of his career. This meant that he retired as the reigning MVP as he bowed out in style. That’s the best way to leave the sport because he held his head high.


Perhaps Aaron Rodgers should have emulated the legendary running back because he won the award in 2021. Then he suffered an immediate stark decline the following season. Most players endure a downturn before they realize that it’s time to hang up their cleats (via Cleveland 101).

Shaun Alexander – 2005

Alexander became the second of three running backs to win the MVP award in the 2000s. This was a season that fans will never forget because he was excellent in Seattle. He had an outstanding 28 touchdowns as he set a new NFL record. Furthermore, his brilliance inspired the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl appearance.

Seattle Times

Furthermore, Alexander rushed for almost 1,900 yards and ran like his life depended on it. He endured mixed postseason success with an excellent performance in the NFC Championship game. But Seattle didn’t have a good day in the main event and Alexander failed to win a ring (via The Sports Rush).


Steve Young – 1994

Young had the unenviable task of replacing Joe Montana but he exceeded expectations. In the end, fans regarded him as one of the Niners’ greatest-ever quarterbacks. He even won two MVP awards across his career. The first came in 1992 but arguably his most impressive victory was two years later.

San Francisco Chronicle

The signal-caller had an outstanding 70.3% pass completion rate. Meanwhile, he threw for almost 4,000 yards with 42 touchdowns. Amazingly, Young showed no signs of becoming an elite quarterback before he broke out in San Francisco. It’s one of the great comeback stories in NFL history (via UPI).


Brett Favre – 1995

Favre’s career shares a lot of similarities with his Packers replacement Aaron Rodgers. The pair only won a single Super Bowl each with their franchise but had a handful of MVP awards. Favre was a three-time winner but his best season came in 1995. This was a year that the Cheeseheads will never forget.

NBC News

Some people think that Emmitt Smith should have won the award over Favre but the quarterback had a great year. He was also the first player to win three consecutive MVP awards and statistically, this was the best. Favre passed for over 4,400 yards with 41 touchdowns as he entered gunslinger mode (via Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).


Joe Montana – 1989

Montana won the first of his two MVP awards in 1989 before repeating the feat the following season. Arguably, this was the most impressive of his two victories. The quarterback passed for 3,512 yards in a total that may not seem impressive to modern fans. But Montana was extremely effective as he threw 29 touchdown passes.

San Francisco 49ers

This was a phenomenal era for San Francisco as they dominated the NFL. There’s a reason why ‘Joe Cool’ became one of the most mythologized athletes in U.S. sports. Many older fans will never forget his great year. Many think that he is the greatest QB ever over the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (via Sky Sports).

Buffalo Bills

O.J. Simpson – 1973

These days most people think of Simpson’s infamous trial and criminal antics. It’s easy to forget that the former Bills star was one of the greatest players of the 1970s. He won the MVP award in 1974 after a scorching campaign with the franchise. He ran through the regular season as though opposition teams wronged him.

Bleacher Report

This was when Simpson became the first player in history to rush for over 2,000 yards. It’s all the more remarkable because he achieved this in just 14 games when player health wasn’t a consideration. Meanwhile, he led the NFL across other metrics including rushing touchdowns (via Sportskeeda).


Peyton Manning – 2004

This was another fantastic season for Manning and his fans. He threw a record 49 touchdown passes as the Colts blitzed through the regular season. Furthermore, this came before the NFL tightened restrictions on defensive backs. This made it one of the most stunning achievements of his career (via Bleacher Report).


The five-time MVP had some fantastic moments but this was up there with the best. He also threw at least five touchdown passes in four games. It’s no surprise that he won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award. Manning threw for over 4,500 yards that season but the Colts fell short in the playoffs.


Lawrence Taylor – 1986

Taylor became the second defensive specialist to win the NFL MVP award when voters chose him in 1986. Remarkably, no other defensive player has won the coveted prize since. Nonetheless, Taylor earned the MVP after a magnificent season with the Giants. The man was like a brick wall and nobody could block him.


He led the league in sacks, notching with an impressive 20 as he demonstrated his attrition. Many analysts believe that Taylor had a better season than Alan Page who was the first defensive player to become an MVP. Meanwhile, the Giants defeated the Broncos in the Super Bowl so he also won a ring (via USA Today Sports).

Sky Sports

Aaron Rodgers – 2021

In 2021, Rodgers became one of the few players to win an MVP award in consecutive years. He claimed it for the second year in a row after a series of brilliant performances for the Packers. Surprisingly, he didn’t win the Offensive Player of the Year award as Cooper Kupp claimed that prize.

Sky Sports

The Green Bay quarterback passed for 4,115 yards with 37 touchdowns. However, some fans sneered at Rodgers after the Packers crashed out of the playoffs in the divisional round. Critics mocked his regular season output compared to his struggles when every game mattered (via Sky Sports).

Kurt Warner – 2001

Warner’s story is one of the most incredible in sports history because he won everything against the odds. The undrafted free agent quarterback played in NFL Europe before he made it in the U.S. Then he led ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to greatness. They won Super Bowls and Warner claimed an MVP award.


He passed for 4,830 yards in 2001 with 36 touchdowns. Meanwhile, he achieved a stunning average of 301 passing yards per game. This was an outstanding year and Warner was at the peak of his powers. In the end, the 14-2 Rams became one of the few teams on this list to seal the deal (via Clutchpoints).

Sports Illustrated

Cam Newton – 2015

It’s a shame that Newton’s career fizzled out like an old balloon because he was brilliant in 2015. Fans will never forget his MVP season as it appeared he was on course for a Hall of Fame career. The Panthers devastated opponents that year and Newton led them to a Super Bowl appearance (via Sky Sports).

AP News

But this is all about his regular season exploits as he threw for over 3,800 passing yards. Remarkably, he achieved this despite losing Carolina’s star receiver in Week One. He threw 45 touchdown passes as he demonstrated his deadly accuracy. Furthermore, he had one of the best running games in the entire NFL.

Bleacher Report

Marshall Faulk – 2000

These days we associate the MVP award with quarterbacks, but there used to be more diversity. Faulk was the first of a string of running backs to win an MVP award in the 2000s. His achievement came in the first year of the decade as he took the league by storm. He won the most votes after a stunning Super Bowl-winning season for the Rams.

Sports Illustrated

Faulk rushed for 1,359 yards and accumulated 830 receiving yards as St. Louis stormed through the regular season. Meanwhile, he scored a combined total of 26 touchdowns as opposition defenses failed to handle him. Faulk was one of the best running backs of his generation and this was an amazing triumph (via Bleacher Report).

New York Times

Peyton Manning – 2013

This was an amazing regular season for Manning because it came against the odds. The Colts reluctantly allowed him to go to Denver because they thought he was past his peak. Most people believed that a debilitating neck injury would slow him down but Manning proved them wrong (via SBNation).

AP News

Manning racked up over 5,500 passing yards and threw a ludicrous 55 touchdowns as the Broncos stormed into the playoffs in a season that fans will never forget. Unfortunately, things went wrong for Manning and co. in the Super Bowl. Nonetheless, this was a majestic season and he won his ring with the Broncos two seasons later.

Minnesota Vikings

Alan Page – 1971

It’s almost unthinkable for a defensive player to win the MVP award because only two have achieved this. Page became the first defensive tackle in history to claim the coveted award after a great year in 1971. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year was a true trailblazer and one of the greatest of all time.


Page set higher numbers the previous year but didn’t win the award. Nonetheless, his consistent excellence saw him achieve what no defensive player had won before. He recorded nine sacks, three fumble recoveries, and two safeties across the season for the Vikings. Page was a player ahead of his time (via Pro Football HOF).

NBC Sports

LaDainian Tomlinson – 2006

Quarterbacks have won the overwhelming majority of MVP awards in the 21st Century. However, some players made their case inarguable because they had elite years. In 2006, Tomlinson lit up the NFL with the Chargers as he scored a record 31 touchdowns. Nobody could handle the amazing running back because he had everything.

Bleacher Report

Meanwhile, Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards with over 506 receiving yards. It’s rare that a running back has a season like this but it was one that fans will never forget. Many people think that Tomlinson was one of the best in his position of all time because of his consistent excellence (via ESPN).

New York Times

Adrian Peterson – 2012

Quarterbacks won the MVP award in every year of the 2010s with a single exception. We’re talking about Peterson’s unreal 2012 season with the Vikings in a year that fans will never forget. The craziest aspect of this was that he returned from a torn ACL and an MCL injury. But nobody would have known because he was phenomenal.

Sky Sports

Nobody could stop him as he rushed for over 2000 yards with 12 rushing touchdowns. Everybody knew that he was Minnesota’s biggest threat but it didn’t matter. His poise and athleticism combined in a lethal package for one of the greatest MVP seasons ever. It’s a shame that he never won a Super Bowl because his career deserved a ring (via