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The Statman Speaks: Fumbleruski

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Leon Lett fumble
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 31: Defensive tackle Leon Lett #78 of the Dallas Cowboys is headed to the endzone with a fumble recovery as wide receiver Don Beebe #82 of the Buffalo Bills pursues him from behind in Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl on January 31, 1993 in Pasadena, California. The Cowboys defeated the Bills 52-17. (Photo by Gin Ellis/Getty Images)

One of my favorite types of turnover is the fumble. Whenever I hear the word fumble, my brain immediately thinks of Leon Lett’s fumble in Super Bowl XXVII (sorry Dallas Cowboy fans for that memory) and Rob Schneider’s character in the movie Necessary Roughness when he says, “Fumble, FUMBALAYA, FUMBLERUSKI!

It happens more than you think, especially when the weather isn’t favorable. It could happen to anybody, even the best players in the NFL.  

I recently read a biography of Walter Payton and even though he is considered one of the best players in the NFL, he had 86 fumbles.  Sometimes, a fumble is created by the center.  He may be daydreaming as the quarterback says give me the football.  


For the player who fumbles, they often have to get right back on the field for the next play or the next possession for their team.  They don’t have time to think about it.  The only people who think about it are the media as they will ask a ton of questions to the player after the game, days later, weeks later, or even years later. As I say often in any type of business, even the NFL, nobody’s perfect as mistakes are made and we learn from them to be better.  

And, as a statistician, I have seen plenty of fumbles go for positive and negative yardage. 

According to profootballhof.com, the longest fumble return for a touchdown was 104 yards; once in 1972 by Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders and also in 2000 by Aeneas Williams of the Arizona Cardinals.  That is an absolutely amazing statistic as the opposing team was about to score a touchdown and in a span of probably less than a minute, a fumble happens, and the other team picks it up and runs the entire length of the football field.  Talk about momentum!  Aeneas is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (class of 2014).  

My big question is why is it so difficult to pick up the football during a fumble? Oh, I know it’s because of the shape, but wouldn’t be easier if the football had a handle on it. No, that is a bad idea.  A handle could do some harm to the intended recipient.  Although my wife suggested a handle that stays connected to the quarterback around the fingers; she is smart.  

When a fumble does happen, most of the players dive for the ball and it ends up being a huge pile of players that the officials must take out one by one.  For the players who didn’t dive for the ball, they are all pointing in the direction of their team’s offense, because they think the player on the bottom of the pile with the football will be their teammate.  I feel bad for that player on the bottom who must hold all those players up; that sure is a lot of weight.  But, when that player finally emerges with the football, they are always super energized with emotion.  

What is your favorite type of turnover?  I want to hear from you. 

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