Ahead of the Big Game

Analyzing every score in the Big Game

Every year since 1967, the NFL season has culminated with a championship that pits the league’s conference champions against each other. The popularity of the game has exploded over the years. For example, during the initial game broadcast, a 30 second TV commercial cost $42K. For this year’s game, the price tag is $5 million. As we start the countdown to the kickoff of this year’s game, I thought it would be interesting to look back to see how every point was scored in each of the first 52 big games.

As is always the case, data is the key. I went to my favorite source for football data pro-football reference.com and I combed through the box score for each game and created a file that includes game number, quarter, scoring team, type of score, scoring player, passer (for passing scores), yardage (where available), and points awarded for the score. According to the data, there have been a total of 698 scores. These include touchdowns (Offensive/Defensive/ Special Teams), extra points, field goals, 2-point conversions, safeties, etc.

In analyzing the data, I came across some interesting stats regarding the big game. Below is an example of some my discoveries.

Total Points Scored

Tom Brady (110 pts) has accounted for the most points scored in the big game. He is credited with 18 passing touchdowns and a two-point conversion. For the Rams, Kurt Warner leads all Rams (STL/LA) in big game scoring with 24 points. Warner is credited with 3 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown.

Interesting fact: Kicker Adam Vinatieri rounds out the top 10 scoring accumulating 34 points.

Passing TD Combos

The leading passing touchdown combo in big game history is Joe Montana to Jerry Rice. The pair hooked up a total of 4 times. There are 6 QB-WR combinations that have connected 3 times over their careers in the big game. One of those QB-WR combos is the Patriots Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. In the Rams previous 3 appearances in the big game, no QB-WR combo has connected more than one time. One unlikely combo was actually a RB-WR combo of Lawrence McCutcheon to Ron Smith in the 1980 big game versus the Steelers.

Interesting fact: Jerry Rice appears in top 4 of this list twice, at #1 with his 4 touchdown catches from Joe Montana and at #4 with his 3 touchdowns from Steve Young.

Passing Distribution

Tom Brady tops the list with 13 different receivers catching touchdown passes from him. Roger Staubach (7) and Joe Montana (6) round out the top three.

Interesting fact: Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel caught 2 touchdown passes from Tom Brady in the big game.

Overall Scoring Stats

Scoring by Type

In the history of the big game, not surprisingly, extra points are the most common scoring type (254), followed by Passing TD (158), field goals (136), and Rush TD (97). There have also been 15 interception returns and 10 kickoff returns.

Interesting fact: Once in big game history was there ever more than one kickoff return in a single game. It was big game 35 where the Giants Ron Dixon returned a kickoff 97 yards to be quickly followed up by the Ravens Jermaine Lewis who took the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown.

Scores by Game and Type

It was game number 29 which saw the highest number of scores (21). Game 29 also saw the most touchdowns scored (10). There were 7 Passing TDs, 2 Rushing TDs, and a kickoff TD.

Interesting Fact: Only 3 games did not have a Rushing TD (10, 15, 23) while 4 games did not include a Passing TD (3, 8, 28, 50)

Some additional interesting facts:

  • Longest TD: Jacoby Jones (108 yards) kickoff return in the 3rd quarter of game 47.
  • Longest TD Run: Willie Parker (75 yards) in the 3rd quarter of game 40.
  • Longest TD Pass: Mushin Muhammad / Jake Delhomme (85 yards) in the 4th quarter of game 38.
  • Longest Interception Return TD: James Harrison (100 yards) in the 2nd quarter of game 43.
  • Longest Fumble Return TD: Mike Bass (49 yards) in the 4th quarter of game 7.
  • Longest Field Goal: Steve Christie (54 yards) in the 1st quarter of game 28.
  • Most Rush TD: Emmitt Smith (5) in games 27 (1), 28 (2), and 30 (2).
  • Most Receiving TD: Jerry Rice (8) in games 23 (1), 24 (3), 29 (3), and 37 (1)
  • Most Passing TD: Tom Brady (18) in games 36 (1), 38 (3), 39 (2), 42 (1), 46 (2), 49 (4) , 51 (2), 52 (3)
  • Passing TD Distribution: Tom Brady (13 different receivers)
  • Receiving TD Distribution: Jerry Rice (3 different quarterbacks)
  • Most Active Scoring Quarter: 2nd quarter (205 scores)
  • Most Scores by Type: Extra Point (254 times)
  • Most Scores in a single game: San Francisco 49ers vs San Diego Chargers (21 scores) in game 29.

As you can see, there are so many angles that you can analyze within the data. Feel free to use these interesting facts to impress your friends and family on game day.My team and I have also created this cool web app that summarizes the big game from both a performance and fun facts views.

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