Our lead NFL writer explains AP’s role in announcing the winners of eight awards — including the most valuable player — that are presented at the NFL Honors show each year.
Each year on the eve of the Super Bowl, the NFL hosts its Honors awards show to recognize top players and coaches from the season. I talked with Barry Wilner, our lead NFL writer, about who decides the winners and how the players feel about the show.
Which awards are announced by The Associated Press?
- Most Valuable Player
- Coach of the Year
- Assistant Coach of the Year
- Offensive Player of the Year
- Defensive Player of the Year
- Offensive Rookie of the Year
- Defensive Rookie of the Year
- Comeback Player of the Year
Who decides the winner of each award?
AP doesn’t decide — we just count the ballots. There are 50 media members from around the country who cover the NFL regularly and do all the voting. Some are writers; others are broadcasters. But they’re all picked because they’re the best in the business in covering the sport. They are totally independent of the league itself — no one works for NFL Network, for example — and have varying degrees of reporting experience.
How does the voting process work?
It’s pretty simple — each of the 50 voters casts a ballot for each award, and the player or coach with the most votes wins. We just began the assistant coach of the year last year, and the comeback player of the year in 1998. All the others date back to the 1950s and ’60s.
Are the voters the same each year?
The majority are the same each year because they are very good at what they do. But we’ll make changes now and again. There are a variety of reasons for why we may change a few voters — someone may drop off the NFL beat, another might retire. But in general, they are consistent.
How long has AP been involved?
Since the 1950s, but I was obviously not involved back then. I think the first year we gave out awards was 1957. There were some awards given out that predate our involvement, but the NFL didn’t really recognize them.
What is your role?
I joined AP in 1976, but didn’t start with the awards until the early 1990s. My job is to line up all the voters, chase down all their votes and then open them. We also select the All-Pro team, which is a little more complicated than the awards process. So I’m in charge of all that, and have been for at least 25 years.
During the season, I also cover the whole league and certain games we see fit for me to go to — though I don’t travel as much as I used to.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
My favorite part is probably discussing with the different voters whom they voted for and why. I like to hear their perspective and their input on the various choices they make. It’s enlightening to me and it helps me with my job.
What are your favorite stadiums and cities to visit?
Cities: San Francisco (site of Super Bowl 50) and Nashville.
Stadiums: Baltimore and Charlotte.
The Associated Press also publishes weekly “Pro32” rankings during the season. What are those?
The Pro32 are power rankings where we have 12 people who actually vote on the awards and the All-Pro team at the end of the year. They rank the teams 1-32 each week and send in their ballots with an explainer on some of the teams and why they rank them there. We’ve been doing the power rankings for four years now.
Why are the Pro32 power rankings the most objective of all the ones out there?
Most of the power rankings during the season are done by one person at various publications. We have 12 people doing it. We don’t do it for advertising; we don’t do it for publicity or marketing purposes. We do it for news. And I think that’s why they have more veracity than any other power rankings would have.
What are other ways fans can keep up with the NFL through AP?
We run stories almost daily on every team throughout the season, starting at the beginning of training camp. We’ll do previews of games during the season, as well as follow-ups after them. We have columns each week; I write two analyses every week — one on Monday and one for the weekend.
We have an NFL personality story that moves most weeks, highlighting something special about somebody involved in pro football. A lot of it focuses on off-the-field stuff. We also do capsules every week on every game — they get a lot of use. We have a notebook for the weekend that gets tremendous use. We never stop.
Finally, how do the players feel about NFL Honors?
The fact that we have NFL Honors now on the night before the Super Bowl is a great thing for our awards and it’s a great thing for the NFL because I think it humanizes the players a little more when they appear at this show. I think people get a look at these guys when they’re not in their armor for a game.
And I know, in fact, that the players take very seriously our All-Pro team and our awards. To them, it’s a true honor when they win these awards. These players will tell us that, and I guarantee you’ll see that at each NFL Honors through the years. They’re absolutely honored to win these awards.
Jake is the text and multimedia product manager at The Associated Press and the former editor of Insights. He previously covered college sports as a reporter for AP and helped design its multi-year strategic plan.