The NFL’s Big Data complex, including Next Gen Stats and Pro Football Focus, would have you believe that numbers don’t lie, but the truth is that numbers can be untrustworthy little digits. They don’t explicitly generate faux stats, but accurate statistics can be framed deceptively. For instance, on Christmas Day, Jalen Hurts was carried into the end zone for his 15th rushing touchdown of the season, surpassing the record Cam Newton’s tallied as a rookie.
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However, Hurts’ fugazi numbers obscure what’s been a wildly inconsistent season from him. After battling Patrick Mahomes for supremacy throughout 2022 and for four quarters in Super Bowl LVII, he’s doubled his interception rate and his deep ball accuracy has regressed. tallying an NFL-record 11 rushing touchdowns from the 1-yard-line. Hurts owes De’Andre Swift an apology everytime he trots out there. The Eagles tailback should be in the midst of a career-year, but has been vultured out of a dozen goal line scores. Running backs are being phased out of even the most basic duties.
Hurts’ no leg days off routine deserves credit too, but a compilation of the 15 plays he logged rushing touchdowns could be edited into a 20-second clip. A quick analysis of every touchdown Newton scored in 2011 reveals that Newton scored from the 1 only three times.
The degree of difficulty was higher and the total yardage Newton covered behind the line of scrimmage and weaving around tacklers en route to his 14 rushing touchdowns were significantly higher. Even as he cashed in on goal line scores, Carolina featured Newton in the shotgun, giving him a runway to pick up steam and launch himself over the trenches into the end zone. Not all asterisks are as harmless as Hurts’ touchdown milestone, though.
During the height of the Cold War, the USSR and the United States’ antipathy for one another extended into the sports realm. The Petty Wars culminated in bedlam during the final seconds of their 1972 gold medal basketball game at the Munich Olympics. What the USSR would generously describe as their Miracle in Lake Placid, is viewed in the Western Hemisphere as the disgraceful shamockery in Olympic history.
After being given three chances to replay their final possession in a gold medal match against the United States due to a malfunctioning clock, Alexander Belov reeled in a full-court pass from inbounder Ivan Edeshko on the third attempt and deposited a game winning lay-up as time expired to gift the USSR with a 51-50 win. In protest, the ‘72 U.S. men’s national team became the only Olympic team in any sport to refuse their medals. The U.S. team’s unanimous rejection of their silver medals over half a century later underscores the antipathy that still exists after the game. Not all asterisks are as egregious.
Two decades later, it’s hard to believe Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record has never been surpassed. You’d think that the increased volume of dropbacks, scrambling quarterbacks and the 17-game schedule would have resulted in it being eclipsed by now, but TJ Watts matching the mark in 2021 is the closest anyone has come.
The only reason Watt doesn’t own the mark outright is because of Brett Favre rolling out of play action and into the path of Strahan and going limp in the final seconds of the 2002 regular season finale. After taking the sack, Favre seemed all too giddy over Strahan’s record adding even more suspicion. But even Watt’s record is considered short of the actual record despite playing in 17 games. During the NFL’s first 16-game schedule in 1978, Detroit Lions rookie Al “Bubba” Baker had 23.5 sacks. Unfortunately, Baker’s name was lost to history because he painted his pass rushing masterpiece four years before the NFL began officially tracking quarterback sacks.
The grainy, black and white scoreboard images depicting undefeated Georgia Tech’s lopsided 225-0 victory over Cumberland is still cited as the ultimate desecration of a program in college football history. But it’s also a sham. There was no Cumberland football team in 1916. The year prior, they had disbanded its program a year earlier to focus on athletics, but had to follow through with their matchup against Georgia Tech to collect a $500 “money game” check. The administration tasked their baseball captain with recruiting students so they could field a football team for one game. Cumberland was the original Bishop Sycamore.
John Heisman’s Tech squad played like one of the top college football teams in the country and scored a touchdown on every drive against a conglomeration of law school students, frat boys and baseball players. The next year Tech won the national title while Cumberland football was etched into ignominy. If it weren’t for Cumberland trying to pull a fast one, Penn State’s 81-0 shutout of Cincinnati during the 1991 season would be the largest margin of victory ever documented at the highest level of college football.
The late Hank Aaron’s records are mostly above reproach. Hammerin’ Hank is still widely recognized as the home run king by a large contingent of the baseball community who rightfully consider Barry Bonds’ 762 as tarnished due to his association with steroids. Count me among them. Bonds should be in Cooperstown, but his crown is built on a throne of lies. However, Aaron has an asterisk on his own resume.
The quintessential slugger of an integrated MLB retired as the career home run leader and still clings to records for most career RBIs, extra base hits and MLB All-Star Games 25. There’s just one problem with his 25 All-Star Games. The math doesn’t add up because he played in only 22 seasons. During four seasons between 1959 and 1962, MLB hosted two All-Star Games. To Aaron’s credit, he was a participant in the Midsummer Classic for 21 of his 23 seasons in the majors, which would still be the record.
As a matter of record, asterisks can be ignored. They’re the parentheticals of history books. They merely exist to provide context. There’s no higher sports court that exists to take records to arbitration. Ultimately, Hurts’ season will be defined by how he responds in the postseason and not by the uproar over the Tush Push as a gimmick or loophole. It’s in the eyes of the beholder.