MELISSA BLOCK, host:
It was freezing and snowy in Pittsburgh yesterday, and NFL history was made when the Steelers beat the San Diego Chargers 11-10. It was the first time in NFL history that a game has been decided by that score. And to help us understand why this 11-10 is such a rare score, we're going to talk now with Peter Hirdt, vice president of The Elias Sports Bureau. That's the official statistician for the NFL and other major sports leagues. Thanks for being with us.
Mr. PETER HIRDT (Vice President, Elias Sports Bureau): Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: And if I have this right, there have been 12,837 games in NFL history and never an 11-10 score. Why not?
Mr. HIRDT: Well, football is an unusual sport because in most sports you increase your score one at a time, or one or two at a time. Football is different. Football you score in multiples. You get three points for a field goal. You get six or seven points for a touchdown, depending on whether you add the extra point. And because of that, there are certain scores that are common in football and some that are uncommon or rare. And 11 is just one of those combinations that doesn't come up.
BLOCK: So, it's the 11 part of the score that's the strange one here?
Mr. HIRDT: Oh yeah. Eleven alone is a very unusual score in football. It's about a 400 to one chance that a team will score 11 points in a football game.
BLOCK: Well, let's walk through how the Steelers ended up with 11 points. It's a little bit fluky, right? They recorded a safety. They tackled the chargers in their own end zone. That's two points, right?
Mr. HIRDT: Yeah. And that in itself was why the score ended up, as you say, fluky. The safety, which is a play that I would say occurs maybe once every two weeks in the NFL over the course of a season, or once every 30 games - and I'm just guessing - that was the play that caused sort of like a non-standard score to happen. And the fact they scored no touchdowns kept the score low as well.
BLOCK: OK. So, two points plus three field goals at three points apiece. So 11 total.
Mr. HIRDT: Yeah.
BLOCK: You know, for folks in your line of work, following sports numbers throughout history, is a game like yesterday's Steelers starters game, is it a great day that something has happened that hasn't happened in almost 13,000 games?
Mr. HIRDT: You know, one of our roles - and this is in all sports - is to identify events that make a particular game unusual or unique. So in a sense this just made our job very easy. In some cases, you have to look really hard to try and find things that distinguish a particular game. I'll give you an example. Last night, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Washington Redskins, and it was the 10th time in their history that the Redskins had played on November 16. And they've lost all 10 of those.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HIRDT: Now this is not an important event as far as NFL history goes, but it's something that made that particular game different than all others because no team in NFL history has lost all 10 games it's played or that many games on a particular date.
BLOCK: This 11-10 score, unprecedented in NFL history. Have we seen that score in college football?
Mr. HIRDT: Yeah. There have been - not a lot - but there have been some college football games decided by that score. The most recent one was in 1999 between Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Vanderbilt defeated South Carolina 11-10. But that was the only one of those in 25 years. And that represents a universe of about 15,000 games. So that, you know - it's happened at about the same rate as the NFL would suggest, once in roughly 13,000. I was trying to think of what other things happen about once in 13,000 tries, and someone here mentioned that those are the odds that are usually associated with the chance that an average golfer will hit a hole in one sometime during that round of golf. So watching an 11-10 score in football is sort of like going out and hitting a hole in one, and I would guess that most golfers would rather hit the hole in one, but...
BLOCK: Yeah, probably, unless they're Steelers fans.
Mr. HIRDT: Yeah. That's true.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Well, Peter Hirdt, thanks for talking with us.
Mr. HIRDT: Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: Peter Hirdt is vice president of The Elias Sports Bureau, the official statisticians for the NFL and other major sports leagues, in New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.