Two Step Forwards, Two Steps Back

Reading about Reggie Wayne’s injury, I was moved to look at his page on Pro Football Reference, and noticed something funny: he has four carries lifetime, for a net rushing yardage of 0. (His carries are a loss of 4 in 2004, gain of 4 in 2007, a loss of 5 last year, and a gain of 5 this year in Week 3.) This led me to wonder: who’s the player in the NFL history with the most carries with exactly 0 yards gained? (Look at the list over at PFR.)

The answer, coincidentally, is Wayne’s old teammate Jim Sorgi, best remembered as the guy who would play occasionally late in the season when Peyton Manning’s Colts had locked in their playoff seed. His numbers (including kneeldowns and sacks) give him a pretty hefty 31 carries over his 16 games played. Somewhat poignantly, his last ever game, his first carry went for 12 yards, and he had four subsequent 1 yard kneeldowns to get to exactly 0.

Number two is Tony Bova, who played end and back before you needed modifiers with those positions for a few teams in the 1940s and clocked 21 carries for no net gain. Two other things make Tony a historical outlier: he played for two scab teams created from the flotsam of various ailing franchises, and he was blind in one eye (per Wiki), joining Jim Abbott, Pete Gray, Lance Armstrong, and Zach Hodskins on the list of notable athletes missing one body part that usually comes in pairs.

Skipping a few spots, tied for sixth all time is active leader Shane Lechler, with 6, though checking his game log suggests there might be some irregularities with how punter fumbles are counted. Regardless, given his status as one of the more accomplished specialists currently playing, it’s sort of fitting that he’d have a weird distinction to his name.

It turns out Wayne is tied for ninth and is (along with Dez Bryant) one of the two active players with four. Bryant, however, appears to actually get carries (four in 3+ years), so I can’t imagine he’ll stay on this list very long.

This is a pretty silly topic, and is in the same vein as everyone’s favorite pieces of trivia about Stan Musial, namely that he had the same number of hits at home on the road. It does raise at least one interesting question to me: how does one come up with a theoretical model to handle this? What odds should I get if I wanted to bet that Bryant (or Wayne) finishes his career with exactly 0 rushing yards? It seems like a pretty extreme form of random walk, but given the number of variables involved I don’t know how to rigorously model it. Perhaps something for a stochastic processes class. Ideas, anyone?


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