Winning the NFL MVP award is the league's highest individual honor, and rack up at least one of these and you might find yourself on a fast track toward eventually making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of the 41 MVP winners that are currently retired, 28 are in the Hall of Fame and it will be 29 once Peyton Manning joins them in Canton next year (an astonishing 70.7%). Of the current MVPs that are still playing, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson are essentially locks for the Hall of Fame, while Cam Newton and Matt Ryan still are up in the air and have years on their career to play out. Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are two of the youngest MVP winners ever and have their whole careers ahead of them (although Mahomes is on a blistering hall of Fame pace after three seasons).
There have been 48 winners of the MVP award, but we are focusing on the 13 players that won the league's highest individual honor that didn't make the Hall of Fame after retirement. What happened to these forgotten men? Let's take a walk down memory lane and explore their careers, why they missed the cut and more.
Shaun Alexander (2005)
Alexander set the NFL single-season record for touchdowns with 28 in his MVP campaign, rushing for a league-high 1,880 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns -- recording an astonishing 5.1 yards per carry. Alexander was the spark toward the Seattle Seahawks making their first Super Bowl appearance. The 1,880 rushing yards were the eighth-most in NFL history at the time (now 11th) and the 28 touchdowns are second-most in a season in NFL history.
Why Alexander isn't in the HOF: Alexander's legs wore off after that incredible 2005 season, never recording another 1,000-yard season and another Pro Bowl appearance. He averaged under 3.5 yards per carry in his final three seasons, finishing with 9,453 yards and 100 rushing touchdowns in nine seasons. Of players with 100 career rushing touchdowns, Alexander is the only one not in the Hall of Fame (Peterson will join them when he retires). Alexander finished his career with 112 touchdowns and is the only retired player with over 100 touchdowns that is not in the Hall of Fame.
Steve McNair (2003)
McNair was the league's co-MVP with Peyton Manning, with each quarterback receiving 16 votes. McNair led the NFL in yards per attempt (8.0), yards per completion (12.9), and quarterback rating (100.4). He threw for 3,215 yards and 24 touchdowns to just seven interceptions while rushing for four touchdowns as the Tennessee Titans went 10-4 in his starts. In a less pass-happy era of football back in 2003, these numbers were off the charts.
Why McNair didn't make the HOF: McNair has never made it to the semifinals of the ballot. He threw for 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns in his 13 seasons. The yards are behind John Brodie and Ken Anderson, also former MVPs that played in the different era. McNair's 3,590 rushing yards and 37 rushing touchdowns weren't enough to sway the voters either.
Rich Gannon (2002)
Gannon won league MVP at the age of 37, leading the league with 4,689 passing yards as the Oakland Raiders went 11-5 in his starts (he took Oakland to the franchise's first Super Bowl since 1983). Gannon completed 67.6% of his passes and threw 26 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions (97.3 rating). He finished fifth in the league in passing touchdowns and second in passer rating.
Why Gannon didn't make the HOF: Gannon was a backup quarterback and spot starter for the majority of his career before earning a starting job with the Kansas City Chiefs at the age of 32. His career took off when Jon Gruden signed him to be his quarterback in 1999, the first of four consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in his mid-30s. Gannon's career just took off too late as he finished with 28,743 passing yards and 180 touchdowns in 17 seasons.
Boomer Esiason (1988)
Coming off a subpar 1987 campaign, Esiason reestablished himself as one of the game's top quarterbacks with his best season in 1988 -- leading the league in yards per attempt (9.2), fourth-quarter comebacks (three) and passer rating (97.4). Esiason threw for 3,572 yards and 28 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions., leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a 12-4 record and an appearance in Super Bowl XXIII.
Why Esiason didn't make the HOF: The 1988 season was the closest Esiason got to a Super Bowl, as he won just one playoff game for the rest of his career. Esiason did make four Pro Bowls and was ninth in league history in passing yards (37,920) and 10th in passing touchdowns (247) when he retired in 1997. Seven of the eight quarterbacks ahead of Esiason in passing yards made the Hall of Fame, but Esiason was never a finalist. The 80-93 record and three playoff wins were the downfalls of his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Joe Theismann (1983)
Theismann led the Washington Redskins to a 14-2 record and an appearance in Super Bowl XVIII in 1983, one year after capturing the championship with the Redskins. He completed 60.1% of his passes for 3,914 yards with career-high 29 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions (career-high 97.0 passer rating). Theismann led the NFL in game-winning drives (four) and was second in passing touchdowns.
Why Theismann didn't make the HOF: Theismann was just 25th all-time in passing touchdowns (160) and 21st in passing yards (25,206) by the time he was forced to retire due to a broken leg in 1985. Even though Theismann won a Super Bowl as a starting quarterback and league MVP, he's the only quarterback to capture both honors and not make the Hall of Fame.
Mark Moseley (1982)
Somehow a kicker won NFL MVP, and Moseley is the only one to accomplish the task. Moseley hit an impressive 95.2% of his field goals that season, an NFL record for any kicker with more than 20 attempts -- even if it was a strike-shortened season. Moseley was just 4 for 8 in the postseason but won a Super Bowl with Washington.
Why Moseley didn't make the HOF: There are only two kickers in the Hall of Fame. Moseley had a good career, but his credentials needed to be exceptional just for consideration.
Ken Anderson (1981)
Anderson led the league in passing yards and passer rating twice, but his best season was when he took the Cincinnati Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1981. Anderson completed 62.6% of his passes for 3,754 yards and 29 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, leading the league with a 98.4 passer rating. Anderson also led the NFL in touchdown percentage (6.1), interception percentage (2.1), and adjusted net yards gained per pass attempt (8.1).
Why Anderson didn't make the HOF: If there's any player on this list that has a legitimate Hall of Fame candidacy, it's Anderson. Anderson made four Pro Bowls, led the league in completion percentage three times, passer rating four times, and yards per attempt twice. A 2-4 career postseason record hurts, but Anderson was also seventh all-time in passing yards (32,838) and 12th in passing touchdowns when he retired (197). A Super Bowl would likely have Anderson in the Hall of Fame, but he was a very good quarterback for nearly a decade.
Brian Sipe (1980)
Sipe had an outlier 1980 season, throwing for a career-high 4,132 yards and 30 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions, leading the NFL with a 91.4 passer rating and four game-winning drives. The Cleveland Browns recorded an 11-5 record and won the AFC Central thanks to Sipe, who had the second-most passing yards in a season in league history (Dan Fouts set the record that same year with 4,715) as he became just the third quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.
Why Sipe didn't make the HOF: 1980 was Sipe's only All-Pro and Pro Bowl campaign in his 10 seasons. He led the league in touchdown passes (28) in 1979, but also led the league with 26 interceptions. Sipe was just 57-55 in his career and threw for just 23,713 yards and 154 touchdowns to 149 interceptions. Those aren't Hall of Fame numbers in any era.
Bert Jones (1976)
Jones led the NFL with 3,104 passing yards in 1976, winning league MVP at the age of 25. Jones threw 24 touchdowns to nine interceptions, compiling a 102.5 passer rating. The Baltimore Colts won the AFC East with an 11-3 record before bowing out in the AFC divisional playoffs to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Why Jones didn't make the HOF: Injuries cost Jones an opportunity to have a Hall of Fame career, as a shoulder injury limited him to just seven games combined in the 1978 and 1979 seasons and a neck injury forced early retirement at 31. Bill Belichick once called Jones the best "pure passer" he'd ever seen (he coached Jones in 1975 as a special assistant on the Colts).
Larry Brown (1972)
Brown's best season came in 1972 when he led the NFL with 101.3 rushing yards per game and finished with 1,689 yards from scrimmage in just 12 games. He rushed for 1,216 yards and eight touchdowns while catching 32 passes for 473 yards and four touchdowns (totaled 12 touchdowns on the year). The Redskins were 11-1 in Brown's 12 starts as he was the catalyst toward winning the NFC Championship that season, making their first Super Bowl appearance in team history.
Why Brown didn't make the HOF: Numerous injures destroyed Brown's chances at the Hall of Fame. Brown was second to O.J. Simpson in rushing yards (5,037) and tied for first in touchdowns (43) in his first five seasons in the league (1969 to 1973). Brown was arguably the best running back in the game before injuries limited him to just 838 rushing yards the rest of his career (three seasons). The Redskins hasn't issued Brown's No. 43 since he retired.
John Brodie (1970)
Before Joe Montana and Steve Young, Brodie was the star quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. Brodie led the NFL with 2,941 passing yards and 24 touchdowns with a 93.8 passer rating at the age of 35. The 49ers had a surprising 10-3-1 season before losing to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game.
Why Brodie isn't in the HOF: This is a tough case as well. Brodie was eighth all-time in passing touchdowns (214) and fourth in passing yards (31,548) when he retired in 1973. He had just a 74-76-8 record and threw 224 interceptions in 17 seasons, not making a playoff start until he was 35 (the year he won MVP). Brodie has just a 2-3 record in the postseason and was never a semifinalist in Hall of Fame voting.
Roman Gabriel (1969)
Gabriel led the Los Angeles Rams to an 11-3 record in 1969, leading the league with 24 touchdown passes. He threw for 2,549 yards and had just seven interceptions with a career-high 86.8 passer rating. Gabriel was sixth in the NFL in passing yards and third in passer rating.
Why Gabriel didn't make the HOF: Even though Gabriel made the Rams one of the top teams in the NFL and revitalized the franchise, his 29,444 passing yards and 201 touchdowns just didn't stack up when he retired in 1977. He actually held the NFL record with 89 consecutive games started by a quarterback, but knee and elbow injuries hindered his career in the mid-1970s.
Earl Morrall (1968)
Morrall had his best NFL season at 34 years old after years of being a spot starter for several franchises, leading the NFL in touchdown passes (26), yards per attempt (9.2), touchdown percentage (8.2), and yards per completion (16.0). He threw for 2,909 yards and had a 93.2 passer rating as the Baltimore Colts went 13-1 and reached Super Bowl III.
Why Morrell didn't make the HOF: Morrall is one of the best backup quarterbacks in NFL history, only starting more than 10 games as a starter four times in a 22-year career. He took the Dolphins to Super Bowl VII in 1972 after going 9-0 in his nine starts filling in for Bob Griese, including winning the AFC Championship as the starting quarterback (Griese returned in time for Super Bowl VII). Morrall is 4-1 in five postseason starts, with his lone loss coming in Super Bowl III. He has just three touchdown passes to seven interceptions and a 56.5 passer rating in those games. He finished 63-36-3 as a starter, making two Pro Bowls.