The 17 Most Magical Fairy Tale Seasons in NFL History
A magical season by a player is one in which he dominates the league, often winning the Most Valuable Player award (or at least receiving votes).
And he has to lead his team to a Super Bowl title (or championship in the pre-Super Bowl era) for the season to be truly considered magical.
Peyton Manning's 2004 season? Incredible, but not magical without a Super Bowl title. Same with Dan Marino in 1984.
And Tom Brady in 2001, 2003 or 2004? All championship seasons but he was never dominant in the regular season.
I'm talking about a player who has that complete season, both in the regular season and the postseason. And if he doesn't dominate in the regular season, he better have changed the game's history.
The fairytale ride includes the following 17 guys, and yes, they are mostly quarterbacks. They are in reverse chronological order.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers, 2010
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Rodgers threw for 28 touchdowns, just 11 interceptions, and posted a 101.2 passer rating. He also rushed for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
He led the Packers from an 8-6 record into the final spot in the NFC postseason, where they steamrolled over the Eagles, Falcons, and Bears on the road. In the Super Bowl, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes and earned MVP honors as the Packers won 31-25 over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints, 2009
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After coming within 15 yards of breaking Dan Marino's record for single-season passing yards in 2008, Drew Brees dominated like few quarterbacks in history in a tremendous 2009 season.
He broke the record for single-season completion percentage (70.6 percent), led the NFL with a 109.6 passer rating, and threw for 4388 yards and 34 touchdowns. The Saints jumped out to a 13-0 record and coasted to home-field advantage in the postseason.
In the playoffs, Brees led the Saints to victories over the Cardinals and Vikings before earning MVP honors against the Colts in the Super Bowl, when he completed 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. His magical postseason ride included victories over Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
Derrick Brooks, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002
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Linebacker Derrick Brooks scored a ridiculous four touchdowns in the 2002 season. He intercepted five passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns, and added an 11-yard fumble return.
He collected 117 tackles and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The Bucs won 12 games and allowed just 196 points as a defense. In the postseason, they rolled over the 49ers 31-6 and the Eagles 27-10. In the Super Bowl, Brooks added an incredible sixth touchdown (on a 44-yard interception return) and the Bucs crushed the Raiders 48-21.
Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens, 2000
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The 2000 Baltimore Ravens turned in the single most dominant defense in the history of the National Football League, surrendering just 165 points all season, including four shutouts.
Linebacker Ray Lewis led the attack, with 137 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions, and collected Defensive Player of the Year honors.
The Ravens won 12 games but earned just a wild-card berth. It didn't matter. In four postseason games, the team allowed just 23 points (only 16 by the defense). They annihilated the New York Giants 34-7 in the Super Bowl, collecting four interceptions off Kerry Collins. Lewis's seven tackles earned him game MVP honors.
Kurt Warner, QB, St. Louis Rams, 1999
Kurt Warner had never thrown a touchdown pass before the 1999 season. He was only the starting quarterback because Trent Green suffered a season-ending injury in preseason.
Yet Warner turned in the greatest rookie season by any athlete in history. He threw for 4353 yards and 41 touchdowns. His 109.2 passer rating led the league.
The Rams won 13 games and scored 526 points. In the postseason, they put up 49 points against the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round, behind Warner's five touchdown passes. Warner threw a late touchdown to lead the Rams past the Bucs in the NFC championship game.
And in the Super Bowl, Warner threw for 414 yards and two touchdowns. His final pass was a game-winning, 73-yard touchdown to Isaac Bruce with just 1:54 remaining. He earned regular season and Super Bowl MVP honors.
Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay Packers, 1996
Brett Favre turned in the most complete season of his future Hall-of-Fame career in 1996, as he won the second of three consecutive Most Valuable Player awards.
Favre threw for 3899 yards and 39 touchdowns while leading the Packers to 13 victories and the NFL's top-ranked offense.
In the postseason, the Packers collected their third Super Bowl title, defeating the Patriots 35-21, behind Favre's 246 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas Cowboys, 1995
The greatest season of the NFL's all-time leading rusher came in 1995 as Emmitt Smith rushed for 1773 yards and a then-record 25 touchdowns. He led the league with 377 carries, and also caught 62 passes for 375 yards. Emmitt easily earned the regular season MVP award.
The Cowboys won 12 games and established themselves as an NFL dynasty by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, their third title in the past four seasons. In the victory, Smith rushed for two touchdowns.
Steve Young, QB, San Francisco 49ers, 1994
Young turned in one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history in 1994 when he completed 70.3 percent of his passes, threw for 3969 yards and 35 touchdowns, and posted a then-record 112.8 passer rating. He also rushed for 293 yards and seven touchdowns.
The 49ers scored an NFL-best 505 points and won 13 games. In the postseason, Young led them to 44 and 38 points in consecutive postseason victories, including a victory over the hated Dallas Cowboys in the NFC championship game for the first time in three opportunities.
In the Super Bowl, Young finally got the monkey off his back by throwing for 325 yards and six touchdowns in a blowout victory over the San Diego Chargers. The NFL's regular season MVP took home the game's MVP award.
Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 49ers, 1989
Montana turned in his finest season at the age of 33 in 1989.
He played in just 13 regular season games, but he completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 3521 yards and 26 touchdowns. His 112.4 passer rating was the highest in league history.
The 49ers won 14 games and easily advanced to the Super Bowl, where Montana threw for five touchdowns in a 55-10 rout of the Denver Broncos. He became the second quarterback to win four Super Bowls, and he did it in tremendous fashion, collecting both the regular season and the Super Bowl MVP awards.
Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York Giants, 1986
The game's greatest defensive player turned in his most dominant season in 1986.
Taylor collected 20.5 sacks, a single-season record for a linebacker, and led the Giants to a 14-2 record.
In the postseason, the Giants crushed the San Francisco 49ers 49-3 and the Washington Redskins 17-0 before blowing out the Denver Broncos 39-20 in the Super Bowl.
Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1978
Bradshaw earned NFL Most Valuable Player honors during the 1978 season, as he threw for 2915 yards and tossed 28 touchdown passes.
The Steelers won 14 games and easily advanced to the Super Bowl, where they faced the mighty Dallas Cowboys.
Bradshaw threw four touchdown passes and led the Steelers to a 35-31 victory. He earned game MVP honors.
Joe Namath, QB, New York Jets, 1968
Joe Namath wasn't statistically spectacular in the 1968 season. He threw for 15 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and posted a 72.1 passer rating.
But he led the Jets to an 11-3 record and an appearance in Super Bowl III, against the mighty Baltimore Colts. Before the game, he famously guaranteed a Jets' victory, and then came out and delivered, throwing for 206 yards and no interceptions, while leading the Jets to a 16-7 victory.
The victory is easily the biggest in AFL history and led to the eventual AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay Packers, 1966
One of the game's most mistake-free quarterbacks turned in his greatest season in 1966.
Packers quarterback Bart Starr led the NFL with a 62.2 completion percentage, 9.0 yards per attempt, a 1.2 interception percentage, and a 105.0 passer rating. He tossed 14 touchdowns and led Green Bay to an 11-2 record.
In the postseason, the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 34-27 in the conference championship behind Starr's four touchdown passes. In the first-ever Super Bowl, Starr led the Packers to an easy 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs by throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns on just 23 passes.
He earned both regular season and Super Bowl MVP honors that season.
Norm Van Brocklin, QB, Philadelphia Eagles, 1960
Van Brocklin actually retired from professional football before the 1960 season, but the Eagles managed to lure him back for one final season.
It was a good move by Van Brocklin, as he threw for 24 touchdowns and posted an 86.5 passer rating, while leading the Eagles to a 10-2 record. Six of the 10 victories came in the fourth quarter.
In the NFL championship game, Van Brocklin led yet another fourth quarter comeback, and the Eagles handed Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi his only career postseason loss.
After the season, the 34-year old Van Brocklin retired for good.
Johnny Unitas, QB, Baltimore Colts, 1958
In just his third NFL season, 25-year-old Johnny Unitas helped transform the NFL into the single most popular sport in the country.
He led the Baltimore Colts to an 8-2 record by leading the league with 19 touchdowns and a 90.0 passer rating.
In the championship game, he led the Colts on a last-minute game-tying drive, sending the game into the first-ever sudden death overtime. In overtime, he famously led the Colts on a game-winning touchdown drive, capped off by fullback Alan Ameche's plunge into the end zone from one yard out to win what is now considered to be the greatest game ever played.
Otto Graham, QB, Cleveland Browns, 1950
In his first four seasons as a professional football player, Otto Graham led the Cleveland Browns to four championships. However, all four seasons came in the AAFC, which was considered to be inferior to the National Football League.
Before the 1950 season, the Browns switched over to the NFL and the football world eagerly waited to see how the Browns would do against some "real" competition. In the Browns' first game, they played the back-to-back defending NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles, and destroyed them 35-10.
Over the season, the Browns won 10, lost just two, and defeated the Los Angeles Rams 30-28 on a last-second field goal in the NFL championship game.
Graham threw for 14 touchdowns in the regular season. In the championship game, he threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed 12 times for 99 yards.
Sid Luckman, QB, Chicago Bears, 1943
Sid Luckman turned in the greatest single-season by a quarterback in NFL history in 1943. He completed 110 of 202 passes for 2194 yards, a mind-boggling 10.9 yards per pass attempt. He threw for 28 touchdowns (one touchdown every four completions) and posted a 107.5 passer rating, more than twice the league average.
In the championship game against the Washington Redskins, he turned in the greatest single-game postseason performance in history. He completed 15 of 26 passes for 286 yards and five touchdowns. He rushed eight times for 64 yards. He intercepted two passes off of Hall-of-Famer Sammy Baugh and returned them for 33 yards. He returned two punts for 32 yards, and he punted three times for 74 yards. The Bears won 41-21, completing Luckman's magical ride.