The top performers from the 2019 football season came together in Kansas City on Saturday night as part of the 50th annual 101 Awards, marking the golden anniversary of the longest-running awards event dedicated exclusively to the NFL.
Six first-time award recipients were honored at the event, which has taken place following every full football season since the AFL-NFL merger. Following the national awards, two members of the Kansas City Chiefs were also recognized with team award honors in addition to the presentation of the 13th annual Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football.
The event is always a top-notch way to conclude the football season, but this year was particularly significant considering the hometown Chiefs' victory in Super Bowl LIV.
"This is always a special night because we get to honor the best in the National Football League, but we also get to honor the best team, and that's the Kansas City Chiefs," said Chiefs Chairman & CEO Clark Hunt. "This is the 50th anniversary of the 101 Awards just like it was the 50th anniversary of our Super Bowl IV win, so there are a whole lot of things coming together tonight."
The event was presented by CommunityAmerica Credit Union and, for a fifth-straight year, benefitted The University of Kansas Health System's Sports Medicine & Performance Center, which strives to prevent injury and improve the health and wellness of student-athletes throughout the region.
Here's a rundown of the night's honorees, beginning with the Chiefs' two team awards.
Derrick Thomas Most Valuable Player Award – Safety Tyrann Mathieu
Named for Pro Football Hall of Famer and franchise legend Derrick Thomas, this award is voted on by the Chiefs' locker room and recognizes the team's top performer. This season's honoree was safety Tyrann Mathieu, who put together an All-Pro performance during his first campaign in Kansas City as the spark plug of the Chiefs' re-made defense.
"This [award] is top of the line, especially when you realize that you're on the same team as a guy who's probably going to be the greatest ever," Mathieu said, referencing Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. "I'm really blessed to be working with the coaches that we have and to be around our players – they make my job a lot easier. Just to be able to come to work every day and be myself, I think a lot of those guys embrace that. I'm very fortunate that I'm one of the guys who helped push us forward."
Mack Lee Hill Award (Top First-Year Player) – Wide receiver Mecole Hardman
Hardman was electric on both offense and special teams throughout his rookie season, earning Pro Bowl honors as a return man while also averaging a league-best 20.7 yards-per-catch offensively and hauling in six touchdowns through the air.
"This is very special," Hardman said. "I respect everybody on the team, and for them to put my name up here to win this award – we have a lot of rookies who made an impact this year - means a lot."
Now, let's take a look at the national award recipients.
AFC Coach of the Year – John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Harbaugh led the Ravens to a league-best 14-2 record in 2019, which included a 12-game winning streak to wrap up the regular season. Harbaugh earned a reputation for gambling on fourth downs and calling big plays, which ultimately paid off with the AFC North title and top seed in the AFC playoff bracket. Offensively dominant, Harbaugh's Ravens set an all-time franchise record for team rushing yards in a season and produced 12 Pro Bowlers and five first-team All-Pro selections.
NFC Coach of the Year – Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
Shanahan led the 49ers to a remarkable worst-to-first turnaround in just his third season as head coach, engineering an NFC-best 13-3 record while earning San Francisco's first division title since 2012. The son of former two-time AFC Coach of the Year Mike Shanahan, Kyle and his dad are just the second father-son tandem to win 101 awards in the event's 50-year history, joining Jim Mora and Jim, Jr.
AFC Offensive Player of the Year – Quarterback Lamer Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Jackson led the Ravens to a league-best 14-2 record, shattering the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,206 yards on the ground. In what was his first full season as a starter, Jackson added another 3,127 yards through the air to become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. He also tossed a league-high 36 touchdown passes.
NFC Offensive Player of the Year – Wide receiver Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Thomas put together the most prolific receiving year in league history, smashing Marvin Harrison's NFL single-season receptions record with 149 regular-season catches. Thomas, who finished the regular season with a league-leading 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns, earned unanimous first-team All-Pro honors following the campaign. He also set the NFL record for receptions by a player through his first four seasons as a professional with 470.
AFC Defensive Player of the Year – Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
Dominating opposing receivers throughout the season, Gilmore helped New England to a 12-4 record while leading the NFL in passes defensed (20) and tying for the league-lead in interceptions (6). He anchored a Patriots' defense that ranked first in the NFL in total defense, scoring defense and turnover differential. Gilmore also captured his second consecutive All-Pro recognition in 2019, earning a unanimous first-team selection.
NFC Defensive Player of the Year – Linebacker Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals
Jones turned in a dominating year with 19.0 sacks, notching double-digit sacks for the sixth time in his eight-season career. A force in the league since the Patriots drafted him with the No. 21 pick in 2012, Jones also co-led the league in forced fumbles with eight and notched a career-high five passes defended in 2019. Named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for December after totaling 6.5 sacks in just five games, Jones was named to his third Pro Bowl and earned his second first-team All-Pro selection following the year.
The Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football – Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr
The banquet concluded with the evening's most prestigious award: the Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football. Named in honor of the Chiefs' late founder in 2007, this award seeks to recognize a person or group that significantly contributed to the NFL and its status as the preeminent professional sports league in the country.
The late Starr certainly qualified, embodying the characteristics of the award's namesake both on the field, as one of the great quarterbacks of all-time, and off the field, as a man of integrity. Starr is one of the most respected players of a generation and remains the only quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to five league titles in the same decade, which included three consecutive championships from 1965-67. His wife, Cherry Starr, accepted the award to wrap up the festivities on Saturday night.
It was a powerful conclusion to a special evening as once again, the best of the best gathered in Kansas City to celebrate what makes this game so special.