Last Saturday, the National Football League (NFL) held their annual awards ceremony for the 2019-2020 season, acting as a lead-in to the Super Bowl.
The League uses this event to celebrate all types of players and coaches, including honors like Coach of the Year and the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which is given to the player that exhibits excellence both on the field and in the community.
The most important award that recognizes on the field performance came at the end of the night, in the form of the NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
Usually, there is a level of intrigue about which player wins the award; however, the MVP race had been virtually wrapped up since week 13 of the regular season. At the end of the night, it was announced what many already knew well before: that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was the most valuable player in the entire NFL.
As Jackson reached the mountaintop of individual performance in football, he made a fair amount of history. He received all 50 votes from media members to become only the second player to be unanimously named the NFL MVP, joining Tom Brady from his 2010 season.
The dominating nature in which he won the award was not the only manner in which he joined the record books.
At 22 years, 356 days old at the end of the regular season, Jackson became the third-youngest player to win the award.
In fact, Jackson is younger than the Heisman winner Joe Burrow, who was named the best player in college football. Only Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown achieved this feat at a younger age, as he won NFL MVP in 1957 and 1958.
Obviously shown by the unanimous nature of his victory, Jackson had a season for the ages. For anyone who doubted Lamar’s talent and capability to succeed as an NFL quarterback, his second year — and first full year as a starter — served to silence the criticism that plagued him before.
His detractors were loud and public. Before the 2018 NFL Draft, Hall of Fame General Manager Bill Polian railed against Jackson’s accuracy and insinuated that he should switch his position to wide receiver in an interview on ESPN. On top of that, ESPN’s resident draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. slandered Jackson for inaccurate passing because of a below average career completion percentage in college (57 percent).
And before these criticisms, in 2017, an unnamed Atlantic Coast Conference coach told Sports Illustrated that Jackson simply “can’t make the throws and can’t read coverages.”
Lamar’s 2019 performance silenced all of the criticisms about his passing acumen. Jackson was ninth in passer completion percentage (66.1 percent) placing him among the likes of Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan.
He led the NFL in passing touchdowns (36) and touchdown percentage (9.0 percent). He was the beacon of efficiency from the pocket by using his arm, which was viewed as a weakness in his game.
Jackson held a higher on-target pass percentage than respected passers Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Carson Wentz. He was the second quarterback since 1950 to post a perfect passer rating twice in the same season. Lamar spent the entire season proving to the NFL’s defenses that he deserved to be respected as a passer.
His improved passing ability combined with his athletic ability and his aptitude as a runner — the very thing that allowed critics to doubt his arm — allowed Jackson to have a season of epic proportions.
Lamar became the first player in NFL history to produce over 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing in a single season.
In fact, he had the greatest rushing season for a quarterback of all time, setting the record with 1,206 rushing yards.
He was the perfect image of a dual-threat quarterback, surpassing the effectiveness of his idol Michael Vick. But because of Jackson, the term mobile quarterback comes not as a slur but as a goal.
He was at the helm of the most successful offense and the best regular season team in the NFL, displaying the evidence that a quarterback with running ability is able to lead an offense to success.
It was not just Lamar’s success that was amazing, it was the manner in which he achieved it.
Every game, possession and play was must watch television as Lamar became a human highlight reel. He spent the entire season delivering down field bombs — the 83-yard strike to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in the season opener — and leaving the ankles of defenders in the dust — the 47-yard touchdown run in Cincinnati that left a wake of defenders crumpled behind him.
Lamar’s historic season was special not just because of the numbers that he put up, but also because of the figure he was.
Throughout the history of the NFL, the quarterback position was populated by the same archetype character: tall, white, “stand-up guy,” a leader of men (whatever that means). By looking at Lamar, he represents the antithesis of the stereotypical successful NFL quarterback.
Jackson is not simply just “not white.” He’s outwardly black in a way that is beautifully refreshing. He does not code switch for the white media in post-game interviews, retaining the same vocabulary as he always does.
Throughout the season, he switched between a wild afro and tight cornrows. After games, Jackson would hop on Instagram live bumping Kodak Black. He was almost always found wearing an iced-out Sniper Gang chain, repping Kodak’s south Florida collective.
I don’t think you understand how insane that is. I cannot see Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr wearing a Roc Nation chain or Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins donning the iconic Gucci Mane, ice cream cone piece.
His natural personality and blackness was more of a superpower than a disadvantage.
Scouts wondered if he would be able to “communicate” with his offense and the media once he got into the NFL, but he quickly squashed those doubts as the Ravens offensive stars rallied around him and he navigated every press conference with ease. They quickly became the closest offensive unit in the League with Jackson at the helm, sparking the viral catchphrase “Big Truss” to capture sentiments surrounding him.
Coincidentally, Jackson’s unapologetic blackness, combined with his football prowess, made him the perfect quarterback for the city of Baltimore.
The black residents of the city, who make up 63.7 percent of the population (2010 Census), loved Lamar from the jump. A generation of little boys and girls get to see a hero who looks like them and talks like them lead their favorite team to victory.
He is the epitome of staying true to oneself while reaching the highest levels of success, showing that there is no need to change to fit into the mold of quarterbacks of old. And now, at just 23 years old, Lamar Jackson holds the football world in his hands and the adoration of a city on his shoulders.