The 2016 NFL season didn’t always treat us to quality football, but we saw more than a handful of records broken. Dak Prescott set a new record for rookie passer rating (104.9); Sam Bradford’s 71.6 completion percentage stands alone; and Matthew Stafford’s new reputation of comeback kid is the consequence of his NFL record eight fourth-quarter comebacks. These are just a few of the remarkable individual accomplishments.
Was the 2016 season an extraordinary one? No. I’m sure more records will fall next season, as well. As they say, “records are made to be broken.” But were all records made to be broken? Are there any out there that pose to steep of a mountain to climb?
The short answer is yes. The NFL record books contain some truly inimitable, sui generis feats. I’ve compiled the seven most unbreakable records, below, along with the odds they ever fall.
Let me be clear, this isn’t a list of records that can’t be mathematically defeated. (For example, Gary Anderson’s 100-percent field-goal conversion rate from 1998 will never be topped, but it has been matched, and probably will be again.) These records could potentially be knocked off; they just won’t be, as the odds show.
1. Most Interceptions Thrown in a Season
George Blanda – 42
If you’re looking for some support for your argument that football is better now than it was in the 60s, look no further than this record. In spite of throwing 42 interceptions in a 14-game regular season, Blanda quarterbacked the Houston Oilers to an 11-3 record. Continuing his stellar season, the Oiler pivot threw five more picks in the championship game against the Dallas Texans, a game they narrowly lost 20-17.
Vinny Testaverde took a good run at Blanda’s record in 1988 with the Bucs, but only managed to throw 35 passes to the other team. Since Testaverde’s awful season, no quarterback has reached 30 interceptions in a season. This record will never be broken because the quarterback would be benched well before he came close.
Of all Blanda’s records, it is the one he’s least proud of that will never be broken.
Odds of being broken: 150/1
2. Most Consecutive Regular Season Starts
Brett Favre – 297
Good luck. The next closest is Jim Marshall with 270, but that came back in the 60s and 70s. Football is a much different game now. Injuries are far more common and longevity in the league has dramatically decreased. Eli Manning possesses the longest active streak at 199, which leaves him a little over six full seasons away from matching the ultimate iron-man record; he’s 36 now.
What Favre accomplished is nothing short of incredible, and I don’t expect anyone to ever come close to his 297 consecutive starts.
Odds of being broken: 100/1
3. Most Career Interceptions
Paul Krause – 81
If you remove Emlen Tunnell, who held the record before Krause, the next closest is Rod Woodson, who snagged 71 interceptions in his storied career. Looking to other greats, you see how unbreakable Krause’s mark really is: Dick Lane recorded 68; Ed Reed had 64; Deion Sanders managed 53; and Champ Bailey finished with 52. Today’s greatest corners have no chance at this record because they are just avoided; and even the best ball-hawking safeties have come up well shy of Krause’s 81.
I already lauded the modern day NFL, so why not do it again: the quarterbacking is far superior to what it was when Krause played.
Odds of being broken: 99/1
4. Most Consecutive Losses
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 26
In their first season in the NFL (1976), the Bucs went 0-14. It took QB Steve Spurrier three weeks to get the franchise on the scoreboard, and he posted an 18.6 passer rating through the first two games. The Bucs were shutout five times that season and were only within 16 points in four games. Tampa Bay would then go on to lose their first 12 games of the ’77 season, as well.
This was an expansion team that entered a league with no salary cap and very little parity. No fan base will go through this kind of horror again. Even the 0-16 Lions, the only team to lose 16 games in a season, fell well short of the record, losing 19 straight games.
Odds of being broken: 50/1
5. Most Career Rushing Attempts
Emmitt Smith – 4,409
There were a couple Emmitt Smith records I could have used, but this is the one I feel will be the most difficult to best. The next highest man on the list is Walter Payton with 3,838 career rushing attempts, and the active leader is Frank Gore with 2,965 carries.
During Smith’s six-year prime, from 1991-96, the Cowboy’s workhorse carried the ball a whopping 349 times per season. (Side note: I’m not saying Smith wasn’t still great after his prime; settle down Dallas fans.) His 4,409 career carries works out to an average of just under 294 carries per year. Looking to the two closest active players, Gore has only carried the rock more than 300 times in a season once, and averaged just 254 carries per season during his six-year prime; Adrian Peterson did average 299 carries per season during his best six-year window, but has been slowed by injuries recently. Neither of these two will last long enough to come close to Smith’s mark.
While the record is impressive enough on its own, it should be noted that Emmitt toted the rock 267 times in his final season in the NFL. The man is the true definition of a workhorse. Today’s running backs almost all fall off around age 30; the ones that prolong their effectiveness do so by not carrying the ball too often.
Odds of being broken: 33/1
6. Most Career Receiving Yards/Touchdowns
Jerry Rice – 22,895/197
I know I chose just one record for the aforementioned players, but I couldn’t decide here. The greatest receiver of all-time accumulated 22,895 receiving yards in 20 seasons in the NFL, which is almost 700 yards more than Terrell Owens, who sits second on the list. Larry Fitzgerald poses the greatest threat right now, coming in at 14,389, but Fitz doesn’t have many seasons left in the tank. The only player who I believe has any resemblance of a shot here is Julio Jones, who is the all-time leader for receiving yards per game (96.3). But the Falcon would have to play nearly nine more seasons at that pace without missing a game.
Randy Moss came the closest to Rice’s TD mark (197), hauling in 156 touchdowns during his illustrious career. The active leader is Antonio Gates with 111; he’ll be lucky to reach 120. Rob Gronkowski and Dez Bryant have caught 68 and 67, respectively, in their seven seasons in the league, but they’d have to play 20 full seasons at their current pace to dethrone Mr. Rice.
It’s not happening.
Odds of being broken: 30/1
7. Most Career Coaching Wins
Don Shula – 347
George Halas ranks second on this list with 324 career wins. The active leader is Bill Belichick with 260. Belichick will turn 65 before the start of the next NFL season, and he is due to lose Tom Brady within the next few years. NFL owners today are quite trigger-happy and don’t need much of a reason to fire a coach. The parity the league enjoys also makes it tough to sustain success for too long.
What makes this record even more impressive is that Shula spent nearly half of his career coaching 14-game seasons.
Odds of being broken: 25/1
Photo Credit: kyleburning (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/]