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Redskins Rule: Obama victory tackles presidential predictor for its first loss

By Rob Manker, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO—The creator of the so-called Redskins Rule isn’t saddened to see its perfect streak come to an end.

Steve Hirdt, executive vice president at the Elias Sports Bureau and director of information for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” is credited with discovering the famous statistical quirk used to predict presidential victors. It was finally disproved Tuesday for the first time in 19 occasions, dating to 1940.

The Redskins Rule, you may recall, says that if the Washington Redskins win their last home game played before a U.S. presidential election, the party that won the popular vote four years prior will claim the presidency. Conversely, the rule states, if the Redskins lose that game, the party that lost the popular vote four years prior will win the election.

The rule held true in 18 of 18 cases before Tuesday’s vote, which, per the Redskins’ 21-13 loss at home to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, should have been a victory for Mitt Romney. It was not.

“I’m actually not too melancholy. This might be a good way to pour dirt over it for good,” Hirdt said. “I think the rule has run its course.”

The rule, which Hirdt said probably attracted more attention this year than in any other, has roots that belie Hirdt’s role at a high-tech sports statistics firm.

“I sat down armed with nothing more than the Redskins media guide,” Hirdt recalled of the morning before Washington’s home game against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 30, 2000. Looking for an election-related graphic to supply to that night’s broadcast of “Monday Night Football,” Hirdt discovered the pattern.

“So then I had it checked, called it back to my office, talked to our play-by-play guy, Al Michaels, and our producer, Don Ohlmeyer, and we used it on TV that night with a big full-screen graphic.”

At that time, the rule stated that a Redskins victory favored the incumbent party, and a Redskins loss favored the challenging party. But later, after President George W. Bush retained office despite the Redskins’ loss in their final home game before the 2004 election, Hirdt amended the rule. Because Bush actually lost the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000, Hirdt reasoned, the rule still applied — with modified language.

“With tongue firmly in cheek, wink wink,” Hirdt said, “just as scientists are constantly studying data on earthquake prediction, making them more accurate and more pristine, so too we are with the Redskins Rule.”

This time, though, no modification seems readily at hand to keep the perfect streak alive, though its creator does defend it as the most accurate such predictor of its kind.

“It was invented as sort of a one-shot thing,” Hirdt said. “We used it on air that night, got some chuckles and went back to the game.

“I’ve been in the sports statistics business my entire adult life, and this will probably be in the second or third (paragraph) of my obit, whenever that happens.”

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