NFL Z-Score All-Decade Team: 1960s
Missed out on the first part of this series? Check out our review of the 1950s.
The 60’s brought us the most innovative decade the game had ever seen. The AFL was born and despite many attempts by other leagues, the AFL actually rivaled the NFL for the entire decade. The games last true two way player, Chuck Bednarik, retired. The Pro Football Hall of fame in Canton opens its doors. The inaugural class included Sammy Baugh, Bert Bell, Red Grange, George Halas, Curly Lambeau, Bronco Nagurski and Jim Thorpe.
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Four new franchises were born into the NFL in the 60’s. They are the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. The Chicago Cardinals moved to St. Louis.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle struck a two year deal with CBS for $9.3M to broadcast NFL games nationwide, rather than teams making their own television deals like the other three major sports still do today. That $9.3M adjusted for inflation is $66.7M today. The most recent television deals are skyward of three-billion dollars, with a “b”, per year.
Rozelle also made headlines when he suspended two of the game’s biggest names indefinitely, Lions DT Alex Karras and Packers RB Paul Hornung, for gambling on games in 1963. They would be re-instated the following year.
While we here in Baltimore hold the Ravens inaugural draft in high regard when Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis were taken with the first two picks, the Bears in 1965 had an impressive one as well. With the first two picks, Chicago selected Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus.
Head coaches John Madden and Chuck Knoll coached their first games as well, and Vince Lombardi would leave his beloved Packers for the Washington Redskins.
A great decade in the NFL history for sure, but it wouldn’t be complete without the greatest contribution of the decade. The birth of this little event called the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl was part of the AFL/NFL merger that started in 1966 and completed in 1970. The nine teams in the AFL would pay the NFL $18M over the next 20 years to join the league and during the years leading up to 1970, the teams would play separate schedules in their leagues with the two top teams meeting for the championship. The 60’s came to a close with the AFL getting the last laugh, with the New York Jets upsetting the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs over the Minnesota Vikings in SB IV.
Three Baltimore Colts made the NFLs 1960’s All-Decade team. They are Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, and Bobby Boyd.
Those are the best of the best from the 1960s. But does Z-Score and our sRBZ metric agree? Z-Score is a measure of how far above or below the average something is. For a full explanation on Z-Score, refer to this article. Of the #1 ranked most above average players in a season according to Z-Score, The United Press International (UPI) got it right twice with Jim Brown in 1963 and 1965. The AP agreed with Brown in 65’ and Jim Taylor in 62’.
There were 706 qualifying seasons in the decade of the 60s. Let us take a look at the top-10 seasons of the 1960s according to this sRBZ, and see who could have made an argument for most valuable.
10 best seasons of the 1960s according to sRBZ
10. Y.A. Tittle, QB, New York Giants, 1963 – sRBZ: 2.2833 – Tittle was the only QB to crack the 60% completion rate barrier in 63’ (League average was 52.2%). His 8.6 Y/A also set the pace. Perhaps the most impressive mark is his 38 TDs (league average is 20 in 63’). Nine more than second place Charley Johnson. His 36 passing TDs tied him with George Blanda in 1961 for most in a season, a mark that stood until Dan Marino threw 48 TDs in 1984, some 23 years later. He only turned the ball over 19 times as well. Most players in this age had more turnovers than TDs, while Tittle had two TDs per turnover. Tittle was the Aps vote for MVP, but the UPI chose Jim Brown who also set some long standing records in 63’.
9. Milt Plum, QB, Cleveland Browns, 1960 – sRBZ: 2.3624 – Plum was as efficient as it gets for quarterbacks in this era. 60.4% (League average 52.3%), 9.2 Y/A (League average 7.4), 23 total TDs was two shy of Johnny Unitas’ league leading 25, but the staggering number is just the seven turnovers he committed. Johnny Unitas, 32 turnovers in 1960. League MVP Norm Van Brocklin had 24 of them. Van Brocklin had just 174 more passing yards and one more TD than plum, but in 34 more attempts. More than a whole games worth.
8. Lenny Moore, RB, Baltimore Colts, 1960 – sRBZ: 2.4787 – Like Morrison, Moore wasn’t near the top of the league in carries (91) but it’s what he did with his 136 touches that counts. 9.6 yards per touch was the best by a long way. The next best was 7.3 Y/T and league average was 5.0. Moore was also third in yards per game (109.7) second in TDs with 13 (Paul Hornung led with 15) You would have to think that Moore would have a few league MVPs, and league rushing records had he gotten more touches.
7. Raymond Berry, WR, Baltimore Colts, 1960 – sRBZ: 2.5069 – Berry makes his second appearance on our top ten’s (#10 of the 50s, 1959). He led the league in receptions (74), far and away in yards (1298, no one had more than 1000), his yards per game was double the league average (108.1 vs. 54.3 avg.). His 10 TDs tied him for third for the season. A few more scores and he probably would have finished with one of the best seasons of all time.
6. Joe Morrison, RB, New York Giants, 1969 – sRBZ: 2.564 – Morrison barely qualified for our rankings in 69’, carrying the ball just 107 times. But his 44 receptions are fourth most among the RBs. Despite the small amount of touches, he’s just one of nine backs to rack up 1,000+ scrimmage yards. His 6.8 yard per touch led the league (league average 4.7 Y/T in 69’). Baltimore Colt Tom Matte led the backs with 13 TDs, but Morrison was second with 11. Roman Gabriel took home the MVP in 69’, but by our metric wasn’t even the best QB. We ranked him third behind Craig Morton(DAL) and Sonny Jurgensen(WAS). Gabriel was third in completion percentage, and his 6.4 Y/A was well below league average (7.2 Y/A). He did lead the league with 29 TDs, but half of the QBs posted over 20 TDs. (League average 19.4 TDs).
5. Mel Farr, RB, Detroit Lions, 1968 – sRBZ: 2.6422 – Farr had a season that mirrored Gale Sayers for the most part. Both hag 6.3 yards per touch, boht had 108 scrimmage yards per game. But Farr found the end zone five more times than Sayers (7) and only fumbled twice on the year. The only downfall is the Farr was limited to just nine games in the 68’ season. If he had kept up his pace for the whole season, he would have had 2,504 yards from scrimmage.
4. Lenny Moore, RB, Baltimore Colts, 1961 – sRBZ: 2.8234 – Moore now makes his third appearance in our top ten’s(#5 of the 50s, 1958, #8 of the 60s, 1960). The most of any player yet (Raymond Berry, Harlon Hill, Billy Howton and Spoiler alert…. Jim Brown all have two appearances). How did Lenny Moore not get more touches! Moore received just 141 touches in 1961 to go along with 132 in 58’ and 136 in 60’. 9.7 yards per touch (11.4 in 58’, 9.6 in 60’). 7.0 yards per carry, 1376 scrimmage yards is third best in 61’, and 15 TDs are second best, one shy of first place, despite about half the touches of the league leaders. Paul Hornung took home the MVP, and I can’t figure out why. Hornung was right on average with 5.3 yards per touch, 61.8 yards per game is below league average (66.1), and 10 TDs put him in a three way tie for third. Jim Taylor led with 16, and Moore with his 15 ahead of him. Moore and Hornung only fumbled once on the year, in an era where turnovers were more commonplace. Hornung was our fifth best RB by this metric in 61’.
3. Leroy Kelly, RB, Cleveland Browns, 1968 – sRBZ: 2.8857 – Kelly is the man who picked up where the legendary Jim Brown left off. Kelly was the only back to crack 1,000 rushing yards in 68’ (1239). Only he and Gale Sayers amassed over 100 scrimmage yards per game (league average was 62.8) Where Kelly really set himself apart was with 20 total TDs. Only three players even had double digit scores, the Vikings Bill Brown was second with 14 TDs and the Colts Tom Matte with 10. Kelly fell short to eventual MVP Earl Morrall (BAL), who led the league in passing TDs, and his 9.2 Y/A was well above league average (7.1 Y/A). Morrall was our best QB in 68’ by this metric.
2. Jim Brown, RB, Cleveland Browns, 1965 – sRBZ: 2.8997 – This was Jim Browns final season in a career that ended too soon as he walked away at age 29 as the game’s all-time leading rusher. 1965 was a season dominated by Brown and Gale Sayers, but Brown had the upper hand with a remarkable 133.7 scrimmage yards per game and a league best 21 TDs. Brown was a workhorse back, totaling 82 more carries(289) than the next running back, the Packers Jim Taylor(207). Brown undoubtedly was league MVP in 65’
1. Jim Brown, RB, Cleveland Browns, 1963 – sRBZ: 3.2425 – The Cleveland Browns franchise rushing record for yards in a season is still held by Jim Brown and his 1863 yards in 1963. He broke his own record set in 1961 for scrimmage yards with the first 2,000 yard season the game had ever seen, 2,131 yards. His record stood for the next 12 years. 152.2 yards per game led second best on the season, Timmy Brown of the Eagles….by 57.4 yards!!! No one was close to his 15 TDs as well. He was named the MVP by UPI, but the AP gave the honor to Y.A. Tittle in 63’ (See #7 on this list). Both men set all-time records at their positions, but Brown was that much more dominant across the board than Tittle was.
Quickly, the ten worst seasons of the 1960s
10. Zeke Bratowski, QB, Los Angeles Rams, 1962, sRBZ: – 1.778
9. Jim Gibbons, WR, Detroit Lions, 1962, sRBZ: – 1.8284
8. Johnny Roland, RB, St. Louis Cardinals, 1968, sRBZ: – 1.8448
7. Lamar McHan, QB, San Francisco 49ers, 1963, sRBZ: – 1.8911
6. Jim Gibbons, WR, Detroit Lions, 1963, sRBZ: – 1.9806
5. Willis Crenshaw, RB, St. Louis Cardinals, 1966, sRBZ: – 1.9871
4. Monty Stickles, TE, San Francisco 49ers, 1965, sRBZ: – 2.0428
3. Altie Taylor, RB, Detroit Lions, 1969, sRBZ: – 2.0977
2. Dick Shiner, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1969, sRBZ: – 2.1529
1. Ralph Guglielmi, RB, Washington Redskins, 1960, sRBZ: – 2.3182
What does the worst season of the decade look like for Guglielmi? 11 games, 79 rushes, no catches, 3.1 yards per carry, zero TDs, six fumbles.
The most average season of the 1960s:
Paul Flatley, WR, Minnesota Vikings, 1966, sRBZ: 0.0018. 13 games, 50 receptions, 777 yards, three TDs.
In 1963, it’s interesting to note that Paul Flatley was the Rookie of the Year, but our score shows that Baltimore Colts tight end, John Mackey, had a better season. You be the judge.
Flatley (WR): 51 rec, 867 yards, 17 y/rec, 4 TDs, sRBZ: -0.1147
Mackey (TE): 35 rec, 726 yards, 20.7 y/rec, 7 TDs, sRBZ: 0.0429
Another interesting note: Either Lenny Moore or Raymond Berry of the Baltimore Colts was the best player in football according to our rank from 1957-1961.
20 years into our rankings, the Baltimore Colts players have five of the best seasons. The Cleveland Browns have six. While the Bears, Packers, and Giants all have two.
Harlon Hill in 1954 is the youngest player to earn a player of the year by our sRBZ ranks (22 years old). Otto Graham in 1955 is the oldest at 34, Pete Pihos in 1953 at age 30 and Joe Morrsion in 1969 at age 32 are the only other players over the age of 30 to earn our player of the year thus far.
You can also tell by the lack of quarterbacks to make our player of the year list thus far, how important they were in this era of football. There wasn’t a huge gap in level of play between the best and worst QBs like there is in today’s game.
Up next, its the 1970s.