clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Re: Is There A Football Equivalent Of A Perfect Game?

"Last night, Roy Halladay made history by being the 20th major leaguer ever to throw a perfect game. No hits, no walks, no runs, no errors.

It got me thinking... is there a football equivalent to an historic feat like a perfect game? I considered a couple possibilities..."

-- Bleeding Green Nation

BGN suggests shutouts, perfect QB ratings, and 500-yard passing days as possible perfect game equivalents, acknowledging that all of these fall short. Let's dig in. Two key pieces to the perfect game mystique are in play:

1. It's the only single-player performance in North American team sports that 100% guarantees victory.

As far as the effect on the outcome of the game goes, there is no football equivalent. There is no performance a single football player could pull off that would guarantee victory for his team -- a 45/45, 600-yard passing performance could be undone by fumbles, bad defense, penalties, bad kickoff coverage, missed field goals, Chris Houston, and so on. Theoretically a team could play a game that could not possibly lose, but there's nothing a single player can do to absolutely guarantee victory.

Even if Michael Turner scores a touchdown on the first play of every drive, his team could still lose due to a blocked extra point. Even if Sam Baker shuts down all four defensive linemen all by himself for the entire game, his team could still lose due to Mike Mularkey end-arounds. (RELATED: we need to come up with an official term and drinking game event for the Mike Mularkey end-around. I say we call it The 285, as it's basically a standstill-paced-yet-life-gambling swoop all the way around Atlanta. Take a shot, run one lap around the house, take another shot.)

In college, David Klingler once passed for over 700 yards, and his team only won by 12 points. I'm sure there's a perfect example of an unbelievable individual performance as part of a loss instead of just a surprisingly close game, but that's the only one that comes to mind.

2. Rarity. MLB pitchers have only thrown 20 perfect games, and only 18 since 1900. 

The MLB season features about ten times more games per year than the NFL's does. By my two minutes of calculations using CSVs from and, there have been 194,766 MLB games played, and only 13,901 NFL games played (those numbers might be slightly off, or they might not. Again, two minutes). So a perfect game is even rarer than it appears to be -- it happens only once every 9,738 games. It'll happen about every 4 years from here on out, assuming 162 games per team and 30 teams.

The NFL equivalent of a once-every-9,738-games event would only happen once every 38 years -- and that's assuming we're talking 16-game seasons stocked with 32 teams. Since (A) the league hovered around only 20 teams until the early 1960s and (B) each team played only 10 to 14 games for all but 32 of the NFL's 89 seasons, the football equivalent of a perfect game would literally have to have been a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Once every 9,738 games means it's happened once and won't happen again until 2026, when Matt Ryan will be skipping training camp to film Wrangler 2.0 Jeans commercials. (Yes, at the league's current size, this perfect-game-equivalent will likely happen twice a lifetime from now on. Set your Tivos for 2064!) In other words, the sole greatest single-player performance in NFL history is the only acceptable equivalent of the perfect pitching performance, mathematically speaking. And it still falls short of perfect-game status as it did not guarantee victory.

So... the sole greatest single-player performance in NFL history... any idea which one that is?