State Your Case: John Brodie

The 1970 NFL MVP

(Published July 2015)

In 1970, the AFL and NFL officially merged, blending their 26 teams.

There were 1,040 players in the league that season — and John Brodie was selected the best of the bunch.

Brodie was voted the NFL’s most valuable player after winning his first passing crown and leading the San Francisco 49ers to the first division title in their 21-year history. Brodie led the league with his 2,941 passing yards and 24 touchdowns and his 49ers reached the NFC title game.

Brodie played for 17 years, all with the 49ers, and retired after the 1973 season. Only two quarterbacks had passed for more yards than Brodie at the time he walked away — Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton. Both are in the Hall of Fame. Brodie has never even been discussed as a finalist.

If you are considered the very best player in the league in any given season, shouldn’t you merit 15 minutes of discussion to determine where you rank among the best players of all time? Brodie was selected a better quarterback in 1970 than Unitas, Tarkenton, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Sonny Jurgensen and Joe Namath. Only Brodie of the nine is not enshrined in Canton.

Brodie is one of 11 quarterbacks selected as an NFL MVP who do not have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is joined by Ken Anderson, Charlie Conerly, Boomer Esiason, Roman Gabriel, Bert Jones, Earl Morrall, Brian Sipe, Ken Stabler, Joe Theismann and Kurt Warner. But at least Anderson, Conerly, Stabler and Warner have all been finalists and subject to that discussion.

Brodie has been eligible for election for 37 years now without his name ever coming up. He’s been in the senior pool for the last 12 years where again his name hasn’t generated any momentum.

And that’s a shame.

Maybe Brodie isn’t Hall of Fame quality. Maybe he belongs in the Hall of Very Good. But he deserves discussion from the Hall of Fame selection committee to make that final determination. A player is not a candidate for the Hall of Fame until he becomes a finalist. John Brodie is still waiting.

Brodie needs to make no apologies for his career. He played during a Golden Age of quarterbacking. Eleven of the 23 modern-era quarterbacks enshrined in Canton played during the 1960s. Yet Brodie led the NFL in passing yards three times and in touchdowns twice.

Brodie’s problem was talent. Not his but his team’s. These weren’t the Bill Walsh-Joe Montana 49ers. These 49ers didn’t win. Brodie played for four different coaches during his career as the 49ers kept shuffling a deck that could never produce a winning hand (and few winning seasons). He didn’t take a snap in a playoff game until his 14th season in 1970.

Brodie played the bulk of his career during an era when there weren’t eight division champions and four wild cards. There was one team to beat in each conference back then and San Francisco could never beat them. The 49ers chased the Baltimore Colts unsuccessfully in the late 1950s and the Green Bay Packers throughout the 1960s.

When the 49ers finally fielded a team that could compete for championships, Brodie quarterbacked San Francisco to back-to-back division titles and back-to-back NFC title games in 1970-71. But both times the 49ers fell to the Cowboys in a pair of low-scoring games (17-10 in 1970, 14-3 in 1971). Had the 49ers won either of those games, my guess is Brodie’s name would have already been in the room for discussion.

Brodie now ranks 37th on the all-time passing list with his 31,548 yards. Dawson, Bradshaw, Namath, Griese, Starr and Roger Staubach are all enshrined in Canton with fewer passing yards. But all of them won championships. Brodie didn’t. So he waits. And waits. And waits.


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