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Throwback Thursday: John Unitas' 1959 Season

This new series in Throwback Thursday will look at each MVP season had by Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts players. The Colts have had nine league MVPs, which leads the league. First up is Unitas' 1959 season.

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I concluded my Throwback Thursday series where I looked at each decade in Colts history.

This new series will focus entirely on Colts quarterbacks as I will be looking at each specific MVP season had by Colts quarterbacks. This means we'll be focusing on three seasons from John Unitas, one from Earl Morrall, one from Bert Jones, and four from Peyton Manning.

Each article will focus on the individual accomplishments by the player, but also on how the team did in the season. It will also look at other players in the league that year who may have had a case to be MVP.

First up: Unitas' 1959 NFL season.

In 1959, the Colts were the defending world champions. Unitas had built his legend in the Championship Game by leading the Colts on the two-minute drill to tie the game, and then an overtime drive to win the game.

The title defense started at home against the Lions. This was actually the only game of the entire season where the Colts did not turn the ball over.

Baltimore would finish the season with a 9-3 record. Only two of their victories came by single digits, and the Colts' three losses were by a combined 15 points.

Unitas was the engine that kept the Colts moving. The offense ranked first in points, yards, first downs, passing attempts, yards, and touchdowns. The only positive category the Colts didn't lead the league in was all of the rushing categories.

In a running league, the Colts were a passing team.

Unitas led the league in passing attempts and completions, which was good enough for a 53% competition rate. The completion rate did not lead the league, in fact it was fifth.

Back to Unitas. He completed only two more passes than Van Brocklin, but threw for 282 yards more. Needless to say, Unitas' 2,899 passing yards led the NFL that year as well.

However, many would consider touchdowns to be one of, if not the most, important statistical categories for quarterbacks. Unitas threw 32 touchdowns in 1959. Bobby Layne, the next closest, threw 20. To me, 32 touchdown passes, and 12 more than the next closest player is amazing.

Unitas also finished second in Passer Rating, with a 92, behind only Charlie Conerly.

When diving into the "per game" statistics, Unitas is even more impressive. Unitas averaged 7.9 yards per pass and 15 yards per completion, both second in the league to Conerly. However, Unitas did lead the league in passes per game and yards per game.

He was also the only quarterback to lead a game winning drive on the season.

Unitas ranked at or near the top in every statistical category for quarterbacks. There really isn't an argument for any other quarterback to win the MVP in 1959.

However, as a fun fact, according to the Associated Press and the NFL Fact Book, Conerly was named MVP in 1959. Every other resource has Unitas listed as MVP.

But since the NFL was a running league, what about running backs?

In 1959, the cream of the crop was Jim Brown. Brown ran for 1,329 yards and 14 touchdowns in the 12 game slate. He also averaged 4.9 yards a carry and was the only player to average more than 100 yards per game.

The argument could be made for Brown as the MVP.

What takes away from him, though, is that his impressive touchdowns scored number doesn't lead the league. Raymond Berry also had 14 touchdowns, and guess who threw those to him? Unitas.

To put Unitas' numbers in perspective, had he played a 16 game schedule like the NFL does now, he would have thrown for 3,866 yards and 43 touchdowns. Those are MVP type numbers.

Unitas' MVP season culminated in the Colts defending their title against Conerly and the New York Giants. The Colts won 31-16 and Unitas threw for 284 yards and two scores with no interceptions. He also ran in a touchdown. Conerly, on the other hand, threw for 250 yards, one score, and three interceptions (one of which was returned for a score).

All statistics are from Pro Football Reference.