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NFL MVP race reminiscent of '41 -- when DiMaggio edged Williams in AL

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Brees finishing second to Rodgers would be similar to Williams' runner-up to Joltin' Joe in '41. (Getty Images)  
Brees finishing second to Rodgers would be similar to Williams' runner-up to Joltin' Joe in '41. (Getty Images)  

This is a story about the 2011 NFL season, but it starts in 1941. With the American League. That's a baseball league, you know. But did you know this? Did you know that in 1941, Ted Williams hit .406 and led the American League with 37 home runs and a record .557 on-base percentage -- and that Ted Williams did not win MVP?

Impossible, but true. And I'm reminded of that baseball story now, late in this football season, because MVP votes are in -- the deadline was Tuesday -- and it occurs to me that people will be shocked 70 years from now when they look back on the 2011 NFL season and realize Drew Brees didn't win the MVP. Or Aaron Rodgers didn't win it. They can't both win it, unless Associated Press voters take the weenie route for the third time since 1997 and split the trophy down the middle. Which is stupid, when you think about it. The word "most" implies one winner. It's not the Almost Valuable Player, or the Mostly Valuable Player. At least not yet.

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But imagine the thing not being awarded to Drew Brees. The Saints are 13-3, and he didn't merely break Dan Marino's 27-year-old record for passing yards in a season -- he obliterated it. Marino threw for 5,084 yards in 16 games in 1984. Brees surpassed that total in 15 games, then went nuts in Game 16 to finish with 5,476 yards (and 46 TDs, fourth all-time).

But Brees isn't going to win MVP. Probably. You never know with voters -- I still can't believe Michael Vick didn't win the Heisman in 1999 -- but the obvious choice for MVP this season is Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. He led the Packers to a 15-1 14-1 record and set the NFL mark for single-season passer rating at 122.5. Also: 4,643 yards, 68.3 completion percentage, 45 touchdowns, only six interceptions.

Those numbers are just silly. If this were baseball, that would be like hitting .406 with an on-base percentage of .557. But that would make Aaron Rodgers the Ted Williams of this story, and he's not. Rodgers is going to be Joe DiMaggio, seeing how DiMaggio won the MVP over Ted Williams in 1941. That was the season DiMaggio hit .357 with 30 home runs and 125 RBI, and struck out just 13 times in 621 plate appearances -- and hit in 56 consecutive games.

That's why DiMaggio won the MVP, and with good reason. Do something crazy like hit in 56 consecutive games -- smashing the old mark of 44, which would be like lowering the 100-meter dash record from a 12-flat to 9.43 seconds -- and you get the MVP. Doesn't matter that Ted Williams became the first hitter in 17 years to top .400, or that he led the league in home runs. Set a record like DiMaggio set, and you get the MVP. It's a rule, or should be.

Or maybe not, because that rule would be broken this year, seeing how Rodgers set one esteemed record while Brees set another. And for perspective, understand that those are MVP-type records. The last guy to set the single-season passing yardage mark, Marino in 1984, won the MVP. But the last three guys to set the passer-rating mark -- Joe Montana (1989), Steve Young ('94), Peyton Manning (2004) -- won MVP.

So what we have here is an irresistible force against an immovable object. Or two guys with cartoon numbers at the same position, and in the same season, and with similar team results. Green Bay is 15-1. New Orleans is 13-3.

A time like this makes me sad that Tim Tebow's star fell from the sky, then clear off the face of the Earth. Last month Tebow had led the Broncos, who were 1-4 with him on the bench, to seven wins in eight starts. Imagine if that had continued. Had the Broncos finished with three more wins, or even two in their final three games, Tebow would have made for a nice compromise candidate -- the 2011 MVP, presented by Ross Perot -- what with a 9-2 or 10-1 record as a starter.

But that's a story for another day.

Today the story is Brees or Rodgers. MVP votes are in, and while the winner won't be announced until Super Bowl week, it'll be Rodgers. Unless it's Brees.

Then again, Tom Brady put up some silly numbers too ...


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. More importantly, he is 4-0 as an amateur boxer, with three knockouts. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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