Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas, who led the league in combined yardage for the third straight year, was selected yesterday as The Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player. Thomas had 39 votes, easily outdistancing Bills teammate Jim Kelly and college teammate Barry Sanders.
Earlier this week, Thomas was voted Offensive Player of the Year.
Thomas felt the awards were vindication for all the smaller players in the league. Thomas is 5 feet 11 and 198 pounds.
"I was always one of those kids, hey, you dare me to do something -- dare me to jump over a barbed wire fence -- I'd try," he says. "I was one of those kids, because of my size, I knew I couldn't back down from anything, or I wouldn't get that opportunity to play with the bigger kids."
Thomas won the AFC rushing title, even though he sat out the final game -- against Detroit and Sanders -- with an ankle injury.
Kelly wound up second in the balloting with 18 of the 82 votes cast by media members, followed by Sanders of Detroit with 16. Washington quarterback Mark Rypien had eight votes.
* DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Pat Swilling was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Swilling, who led the NFL with 17 sacks and had 60 tackles, six fumbles forced and two recovered, intercepted a pass and knocked down four, received 27 votes. That easily beat Philadelphia's Seth Joyner (18) and Reggie White (16). Swilling is the first Saint to win the honor.
* BUCCANEERS: Former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, who coached that team to the playoffs three times but was fired when he supposedly kept them from the Super Bowl, called Hugh Culverhouse to express his interest in coaching the team.
* PACKERS: Green Bay shifted to a hurry-up offense in its search for a new coach.
Packers general manager Ron Wolf spent last week saying he would take his time in the search for a new coach. But he changed his mind when Bill Parcells rejected a five-year, $6.5 million offer from Tampa Bay.
"It could happen quickly," Wolf told The Milwaukee Journal.
* BEARS: Mike Ditka, upset with his team's loss to the Dallas Cowboys, said he hasn't been tough enough and doesn't want to be in the playoffs again unless the Bears can follow through with a championship.
"I did mellow too far," Ditka said. He said the players needed more discipline because "the inmates will never run this asylum."
* STEELERS: Pittsburgh received permission to interview Mike Holmgren, offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, as Pittsburgh seeks a replacement for the retired Chuck Noll.
* CHIEFS: Linebacker Chris Martin underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is lost for the season.
AP NFL MVPs
The NFL Most Valuable Players named by The Associated Press:
1957: Jim Brown, Cleveland
1958: Gino Marchetti, Baltimore
1959: Charley Conerly, N.Y. Giants
1960: Norm Van Brocklin, Phil.
' Joe Schmidt, Detroit 1961: Paul Hornung, Green Bay
1962: Jim Taylor, Green Bay
1963: Y.A. Tittle, New York Giants
1964: John Unitas, Baltimore
1965: Jim Brown, Cleveland
1966: Bart Starr, Green Bay
1967: John Unitas, Baltimore
1968: Earl Morrall, Baltimore
1969: Roman Gabriel, L.A. Rams
1970: John Brodie, San Francisco
1971: Alan Page, Minnesota
1972: Larry Brown, Washington
1973: O.J. Simpson, Buffalo
1974: Ken Stabler, Oakland
1975: Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota
1976: Bert Jones, Baltimore
1977: Walter Payton, Chicago
1978: Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh
1979: Earl Campbell, Houston
1980: Brian Sipe, Cleveland
1981: Ken Anderson, Cincinnati
1982: Mark Moseley, Washington
1983: Joe Theismann, Washington
1984: Dan Marino, Miami
1985: Marcus Allen, L.A. Raiders
1986: Lawrence Taylor, N.Y. Giants
1987: John Elway, Denver
1988: Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati
1989: Joe Montana, San Francisco
1990: Joe Montana, San Francisco
1991: Thurman Thomas, Buffalo