There were reasons why the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award -- the Pete Rozelle Trophy -- was granted to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady following his team's 34-28 overtime win against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 on Sunday. Brady broke SB records for passing yards (466), for passes attempted and completed (62 and 43, respectively) and passing first downs (26). But he also had the benefit of being a quarterback, historically the most-awarded position when it comes to the game's MVP.
The Super Bowl MVP award was given to a quarterback for the 28th time, compared to 23 for all other positions combined. It has been given to a running back seven times, a receiver six times, linebacker four times, defensive ends and safeties twice apiece and cornerbacks, defensive tackles and kick/punt returners each once.
It makes sense: Quarterback is the position that gets the most credit for wins and the most responsibility for losses, whether it is warranted are not. And Brady's eye-popping numbers in Sunday's win certainly make a compelling argument for his MVP nod. But there's another Patriot who deserved similar consideration, to the point that he can stake a claim of his own to the Rozelle Trophy: Running back James White, he of the three-touchdown performance.
It's easy to discount White. The 2014 fourth-round pick has done very little at his position of distinction, with only 70 career rushes for 260 yards and two scores over three regular seasons. But White has been a reliable, third-down and pass-catching back for New England. In that same three-year span, he also caught 105 passes on 145 targets for 984 yards and nine scores. 60 of those catches for 551 yards and five scores came in the 2016 season alone.
But this isn't about whether White is the the NFL's season-long MVP, or even if he's the Patriots' MVP. The singular joy about the Super Bowl MVP is that it is distilled down to the one player, in the one game, who made the biggest impact in his team's winning effort. And that's why it should not be considered a foregone conclusion that Brady was the only choice, full stop.
True to form, White didn't generate a ton of yardage in the run game, with six carries yielding just 29 yards. But three of those yards led to two touchdowns -- a one-yard score to tie the game at 28 apiece with less than a minute to go, and then a two-yard score to win the game and the Brady-Bill Belichick Patriots' fifth Lombardi Trophy. White also helped dig the Patriots out of their 21-0 and 28-3 deficits, not only with his five-yard receiving score but also by being New England's top receiver of the game. His 14 catches -- a Super Bowl record itself -- on 16 targets for 110 yards led the Patriots on Sunday night. Brady once again took advantage of White's yards-after-the-catch skills, where he led the Patriots all season with a total of 515 yards post-reception.
Even Brady himself believes that White was the game's true MVP, saying plainly at Monday's press conference, "I think James White deserves it. It'd be nice for him." He went on to praise White's mastery of the pass-catching back role that he was drafted to play. While Brady's (record) fourth Rozelle Trophy is another record set in what was one of the most historically-significant Super Bowls of all time, it's also not a surprise.
Brady winning MVP doesn't break from tradition. It again emphasizes the quarterback's performance over that of his teammates. And, most importantly, in this instance, it does not recognize the player who ultimately scored the touchdowns that brought the Patriots back in contention and then to a win.
Brady's numbers -- and the number on the back of his jersey -- certainly explain why he's Super Bowl MVP for the fourth time. But White's performance makes a stronger argument for why he should have been the first running back since Terrell Davis in 1998 to win the award.