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Throwback Thursday: Earl Morrall's 1968 Season

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In 1968, the Colts became the second team to produce two different players winning back-to-back MVP awards. This time, it was journeyman Earl Morrall stepping in for an injured John Unitas. Morrall led the Colts to the best record in the NFL and a Super Bowl appearance.

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Throwback Thursday looked at John Unitas' 1967 season in which he won his third, and final, MVP award. This week, we're only jumping one year ahead to 1968.

For the second time in NFL history, a team produced two different MVPs in back-to-back seasons. There are four total instances of this happening in NFL history.

However, Unitas' 1967 MVP and Earl Morrall's 1968 MVP is the only time two different quarterbacks from the same team have won the award in back-to-back years.

When Unitas was injured in the pre-season, Morrall was thrust into action as the team's starting QB. Morrall was a journeyman quarterback, and I'm sure many hoped he would simply keep the ship afloat as Tom Matte had done a few years prior.

Morrall did more than keep the ship afloat. He led the second best offense in the league, led the Colts to a 13-1 regular season record, and was named NFL MVP.

Let's take a look at this numbers.

Morrall led the NFL in passer efficiency with a 93.2 rating, which was five points higher than the second highest, Don Meredith.

He was fifth in attempts, almost 100 attempts behind John Brodie, but was third in completions. As you might guess, Brodie led the way in that category as well. Morrall would leap up to second in passing percentage, finishing only .2% behind Brodie.

With so many more passes, you can (correctly) assume that Brodie led the league in passing with just over 3,000 yards. Morrall was second, though, only about 100 yards short of being tops in the league. The big number here, though, is that Morrall averaged 9.2 yards per attempt, a full yard more than the next closest QB.

Possibly more importantly, Morrall led the NFL in touchdowns with 26, four more than Brodie who was second on the list. However, he did toss 17 interceptions which (looking at the statistics) was slightly higher than average for QBs that year, but about normal.

I think it's very clear that Morrall was the most dominant QB in 1968. Does it help having the best defense in the NFL? Of course it does. Still, no other QB would have been as deserving of MVP as Morrall.

But what about running backs?

Much like in 1967, Leroy Kelly of the Browns was the top rusher, and it wasn't close. Kelly ran for over 1,200 yards (with a 5 yard per carry average) and 16 touchdowns. The Browns also finished 10-4, won their division, and advanced to the NFL Title Game (where they got squashed by the Colts).

A case could certainly be made for Kelly to win the MVP in 1968. Especially considering the Colts' only loss was to Cleveland.

I'm sure it's my homerism coming through again, but I would still give the award to Morrall. A back-up QB dominating the league on the NFL's best team is too much to pass up.

As always, we'll look at how the Colts did in the season itself. However, we all know how the year ended, so I won't dwell too long.

All season the Colts were dominant. The defense gave up an average of 10 points per game, and the offense was second best in the league. The Colts rolled to a 13-1 record and were hands down the best team in the NFL.

In the playoffs, the Colts beat the Vikings in the first round, and decimated the Browns in the title game. Next up was the Jets in the third Super Bowl.

But let's not talk about that.

While this was the only MVP Morrall would win, he still would play a significant role for the Colts. Specifically in Super Bowl V, when Unitas was injured and Morrall came in and led the Colts to a (sloppy) victory.

Only two years later, he would fill in for an injured Bob Griese and lead the Dolphins to an unbeaten regular season.

For my money, Morrall is the best back-up QB in the history of NFL.

Next week, we'll leave behind the 1960s and the four MVPs the Colts players won in the decade. We'll head to the 70s, which saw a third Colts QB bring home some hardware.

As always, all statistics courtesy of Pro-Football Reference.