American Football

‘This has never happened before’ – What is NFL Scorigami?

By Emile Avanessian

Published: 21:32, 1 December 2021

On 21 November 2021, with 6:44 remaining in a Week 11 contest in Buffalo, Indianapolis Colts kicker Michael Badgley stepped up and nailed a field goal. In so doing, he made history. 

Anyone who watched that Sunday afternoon contest between the Colts and the Buffalo Bills will note that, thanks to a dominant five-touchdown performance by running back Jonathan Taylor, the game had long-since ended as a competition by the time Badgley’s attempt sailed through the uprights. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the kick – it was basically an extra-point – nor did it push Badgley past some milestone. It simply extended an already-commanding 38-15 lead.

The score line held until the game’s final whistle, at which point, for the first time in the 101-year-plus history of professional football in United States, a game ended 41-15. Over the past half-decade, among a growing subset of fans, this has come to be known, affectionately, as Scorigami.

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That Colts-Bills result was the 1,070th instance of Scorigami – simply put, it was the 1,070th unique final score in the history of professional American football. The 1,069th such occurrence came two weeks prior, on Thursday Night Football. That night, it was the Jets’ Johnson and Johnson duo – quarterback Josh and running back Ty – and kicker Matt Ammendola who linked up to make history. Fascinatingly, the Jets’ opposite numbers on the night were… the Colts! And, as in Buffalo, Indy was in command when the scoreboard veered into uncharted territory. 

That night in New Jersey, by the time the Johnson boys hooked up for the 22-yard consolation touchdown, the Colts already held a 45-23 lead. When Ty Johnson crossed the goal line with 3:44 remaining to cut the Colts’ lead to 45-29, the stage was set for Scorigami. Moments later, Ammendola stepped up and booted through the extra point, to bring the score to 45-30. Thankfully for fans of statistical anomaly, like 45-29, 45-30 was also a score line on which no previous NFL game had ended.

Three of the previous 1,069 Scorigami have come in the Super Bowl – fascinatingly, with the Denver Broncos losing, rather emphatically, each time! The first came in January 1987, in Super Bowl XXI, when the Broncos fell to the Giants, 39-20. Nearly three years to the day later, in Super Bowl XXIV, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and the 49ers dished out perhaps the most brutal beating in the Big Game’s history. However, it was an early missed extra point by Niners kicker Mike Cofer that secured the 55-10 Scorigami. Finally, in 2014, in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks pounced immediately on Peyton Manning, and never relented in a 43-8 route.

Where did Scorigami come from?

Scorigami is a phenomenon observed by Jon Bois, a hugely popular sports writer, video producer (and now creative director) with US-based sports blogging network SB Nation. In 2016, via the comprehensive and extremely entertaining video below, Bois began introduced the art of seeking out final scores never before seen in NFL history.

Due to the unique nature of how points are scored in American football – in increments of two (safety), three (field goal), six (touchdown, with no successful extra point or two-point conversion), seven (touchdown, plus a successful extra point), eight (touchdown, plus a successful two-point conversion), a great many score lines that are possible have simply never happened. (It’s worth noting as the video above does, that, thanks to a loophole in the NFL rulebook, in a very specific instance, a team can score a single point in a game. However, the odds of this are so outlandishly long that it is effectively treated as an impossibility.)

In the years since, Bois’ work has been continued and expanded upon by avid NFL fan, Jon Bois reader and mathematics degree holder Dave Mattingly. When we spoke recently, Mattingly described his fascination with Scorigami, bringing Scorigami to the masses, the mushrooming subculture among NFL fans, some scores to watch for, and more.

How it is that Scorigami has evolved, from a Jon Bois brainchild, to a Twitter novelty, to what it is today?

DM: Back in 2016, John posted the original video about Scorigami on SB Nation, talking about what it is and the history behind it. I’d been a big fan of Jon’s for years, so I obviously watched it, and thought it was great. I’m personally a big fan of statistics in sports, especially weird quirky stuff like this.

I have a math degree and a math background, so I figured that I could create some tools to capture both the history of Scorigami, and track it going forward. Initially, I compiled the scores of all games in NFL history, and calculated the number of times each particular score line had occurred and, of course, which ones had not occurred.

When the 2017 season started to come around, I thought to myself, ‘we have the video introducing the idea, I’ve got these tools, and more Scorigami games are inevitably going to happen…’ it was a perfect moment in time to try something out.

So, I created a Twitter account (@NFL_Scorigami) where I’d track the scores of NFL games, and alert people to any new occasion of Scorigami. The original plan was to just post the score of each game, and say whether or not it’s a Scorigami.

From there, though, I figured it would be really cool to track this while games were going on, and maybe even estimate the chances of winding up on certain scores. I did some modeling on that, and wound up with results that, while not 100% accurate, are pretty good – for entertainment purposes, of course, as they might say in the betting industry. I added these estimates to the Twitter feed, and threw it out there, with the expectation that no one would ever see it.

All of a sudden, people started following it, tweeting about it, retweeting it… It just kept going and going, into 2018, 2019… And people kept following it and sharing it!

It’s gotten to the point now where the account has roughly 275,000 followers and, before the season started, ESPN did a profile on it, which was amazing. Now it seems like everyone knows what Scorigami is, and even NFL media people are talking about it. It’s amazing. This silly and weird little thing that I contributed to is taking over! It’s great!

What are some of the most common, or likeliest Scorigami that have not been hit?

DM: There’s still scores that, even after literally 100 years of playing, they have not reached, that really surprise me. The classic one right now – as the most likely Scorigami that’s never happened – is 36-23. They’re both totally conceivable scores, and neither too low nor too high. But it’s just never happened to happen. At this point, a small buzz has sprung up around this score, and any time a game is, for example, 30-23, there’s a lot of activity on Twitter, with people posting memes and rooting for it, and things like that.

There’s also 8-7, which comes up a lot. You know, it would have to be a serious defensive battle, with a team scoring late and choosing to go for two, rather than try their luck in overtime… I could see that happening.

There are a couple of others that you’d be surprised haven’t happened yet. 40-31, for example, is one that seems doable, but hasn’t been done. Similarly, 18-9 is another one that you’d figure we’d have seen, in a game where no one can find the end zone, that devolves into a field goal battle.

What is the typical rate of frequency of Scorigami?

DM: We typically get about eight Scorigami per season. That, to me, seems about perfect, because it’s rare enough to be notable, but not so rare as to be out of mind and forgotten. Last season we actually had 12, which was completely crazy.

This season we had we didn’t have any to start out the season, for six weeks (in Week 6 the Rams beat the Giants 38-11). That’s kind of crazy the other way, because you expect to at least see some. We’ve now got four (the three mentioned above, plus a 31-5 win by the Arizona Cardinals over the Houston Texans in Week 7), so things have reverted back to normal.

We’ve still got a ways to go before we start running out of them and start seeing them really slow down, to maybe one or two a season. At this point, my best guess is that we’ve got probably about 200 scores that I still consider to be feasible.

Not sure if you’ve noted this, but what are a couple of the least likely scores that have happened?

DM: That’s a good question. I mean, the most anyone has scored in a game is 73 – it was 73-0 in the 1940 NFL championship game. I figure that this is sort of the upper limit of how many points you can expect any team to score.

Beyond that, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually broken out the most unlikely scores to happen. I do recall, though, my weirdest Scorigami scenario. It was a Monday night game in 2018 between the Rams and the Chiefs. It was just absolutely a shootout – the score wound up 54-51 for the Rams. The wild thing from my perspective was that I hadn’t factored a losing score in the 50s into my model. So I had to jump into action and do some coding while it was going on, because that game really could have wound up anywhere.

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The NFL was the original Scorigami brainchild. However, in recent years, sites have popped up that similarly track Scorigami for NBA basketball and Major League Baseball. Have you have you ever spoken with the people who’ve launched those sites or done similar work?

DM: I don’t personally know the folks who’ve done that, though I have spoken to some people who’ve done it for college football, which, of course, is more correlated to this project.

For me, there are some things about the NFL game that make it unique and particularly conducive for Scorigami. First, there are very few games that happen in a season – traditionally only 16 (now 17) in the regular season, versus 162 for Major League Baseball, and 82 apiece for the NBA and the NHL (National Hockey League). There aren’t too many chances for it to happen, but enough to keep things interesting.

Another – maybe the main thing – is the way that points are scored in the NFL. In other sports, scoring comes far more frequently, and usually in increments of one, two or three at time, which removes a lot of potentially weird quirks. In the NFL, points come in twos (rarely), threes, sixes, sevens and eights, which both creates and closes off opportunities in kind of fun ways. The only other sport I could think of that could work similarly is rugby union. I don’t know if anyone’s done it, but with five points for a try and two points for a conversion, rugby union seems similarly suited. 

Of course, the other sports still have weird outliers where one team goes completely nuts on a given night, which is still really interesting, but it just don’t happen as often or, for me, in as interesting a variety of ways as in the NFL.

What is your plan for Scorigami going forward? Is there an intention to perhaps turn it into a business? Is there a plan?

DM: I’ve always thought of Scorigami as Jon Bois’ idea, his baby. Everything that I’ve done on this was intended to help build on his work. I’ve never tried to monetize it. That said, I have been approached by a couple of gaming companies about possible partnerships. I didn’t feel like it was worthwhile it at that moment, and still don’t.

Plus, I keep waiting for it just sort of level out, and for people to start getting tired of it. But that hasn’t happened, which is really exciting.

Again, turning it into a business isn’t something I’ve ever thought about. I say that not to occupy some sort of high ground abut ‘not selling out’. I am, fortunately, in a position where I don’t need to turn this into a source of income. If things were different, I might feel differently. But, right now, I’m happy to just let it go as it is. I like statistical quirks. I like weird stuff. I particularly am a big fan of this particular niche thing that’s got entertainment value for people, and provides extra enjoyment while they watch games. 

I have otherwise seen sports books offer Scorigami as a Super Bowl prop bet – because they will offer anything as a Super Bowl prop bet, right? And I do know that there are some other prediction markets that offer it on a small scale for wagering. I think that as gambling becomes more mainstream (in the U.S.), that naturally will happen. Whether or not I, personally, am a part of it, may or may not even be up to me.

Why the NFL?

Dave’s right, of course.  

In basketball, scores are high enough to bring more possible combinations into play. However, with those larger score lines and, again, points coming in increments of 1,2, 3 and, on rare occasions, 4, the majority of games fall within a reasonably wide, but still relatively predictable range. Plus, with so many games played (30 teams, playing 82 times each), are larger proportion of combinations are reached. Also, because the ‘reasonable’ range for basketball scores is so large, no one combination, outside of extreme highs and lows, is particularly ‘weird’ and fun.

On the flip-side, in  baseball, hockey and European football are not as saturated with scoring events, and typically have score lines far smaller than those in American football, let alone basketball. Additionally, scoring in these sports tends to come in smaller increments, ‘dripping in’ in increments of one (or, in the case of baseball, also) two, three, or four. Over enough games – whether contested by 92 professional sides in England, or by 32 baseball teams each playing 162 times per season – virtually all non-ridiculous combinations have been hit. For instance, baseball’s last Scorigami came in September 2020, when the Atlanta Braves defeated the Miami Marlins by a 29-9 score. It had been over 20 years since the previous one.

Even college football – the exact same sport, at a different level – offers certain challenges. For starters, the college game’s top tier features 130 teams across ten conferences, each of whom plays 12 regular season games. In a fair number of cases, college football matchups can be extremely lopsided in terms of talent. This, combined with the sheer number of games, lends itself to a larger breadth of score permutations.

The NFL, meanwhile, is ideally suited to Scorigami. Thirty-two teams, playing 17 times each (plus a total of 13 playoff games) offers fans a seemingly optimally-calibrated opportunity to see the unprecedented. That it will be carried out (when it is) spectacularly, by the greatest and most athletic craftsmen of the trade only adds to the excitement. What better way to enjoy it all than as a member of our own, ‘in the know’ club?

Watch the NFL and keep an eye out for Scorigami every Thursday night at 1.20am and every Sunday from 6pm on Sky Sports NFL and NFL Game Pass, and on Monday nights at 1.15am on Channel 5 and NFL Game Pass!

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