The Redskins Rule

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The Redskins Rule was a superstitious phenomenon which seemed to intertwine two of Washington’s greatest passions: the Washington Redskins and politics, in an interesting way. The rule states that during an election year, a win for the Washington Redskins in their last home game means that the incumbent president will retain the seat. On the other hand, a home loss for the Redskins sees the incumbent leave the white house.

The Redskins rule is now largely considered obsolete but most people believe that it held true since 1940 (the first election year since the 1937 relocation of the Redskins from Boston to Washington) to 2012 when it falsely predicted an exit from office for President Obama. Since 1937, the rule has held true in at least 17 elections, depending on the variations in interpretation of the 2004 exception. The Redskins Rule is one of several supposed sports-related predictors of the elections in the United States. Most of the others are related to state and local authority elections.

How did the Redskins Rule Begin?

Steve Hirdt, the longest serving reporter on Monday Night Football, is credited with bringing the Redskins Rule to widespread fame in the year 2000. In October 2000, he was tasked with the job of preparing a report doe ABC for the game between the Redskins and the Tennessee Titans. This was to be the final home game for the Redskins before that year’s elections which were to be held on November 7. Hirdt hoped to find an interesting note relating the game to the election to be used in the broadcast.

When looking through the Redskins’ press guides he discovered an interesting statistical occurrence which correlated the outcome of the Redskins’ last home game to the outcome of the elections. He realized that the Redskins Rule had held for all fifteen elections between 1940 and 1996. Hirdt convinced producer Don Ohlmeyer to use the report that night on a full-screen graphic. When the report aired it drew a lot of excitement and interest from other media sources. The phenomenon was eventually christened the Redskins Rule.

The Redskins Rule through the Years

The 1940 elections was the first national elections in which the Redskins Rule applied. That year, the Redskins beat the Chicago Cardinals 13-10 and Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate beat Republican Wendell Willkie. In 1944, the rule predicted a win for Roosevelt and it came to pass as he beat Thomas Dewey. Over the years, the Redskins Rule was extremely accurate, including accurately predicting one-term presidencies for Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr.

In 2000, with the rule receiving widespread scrutiny for the first time, the Redskins lost 27-21 in the home game on the sunday before the elections. In the elections, George Bush controversially beat Democratic Party candidate Al Gore after a 37-day court battle which saw the Redskins Rule correctly predict a loss for the incumbent party. In 2004, the Redskins lost to the Green Bay Packers in their final home game before the elections.

However, George Bush, the incumbent president would defeat Democrat Senator John Kerry to win the presidential elections, signaling the end of the Redskins Rule for many people. However, Hirdt was at hand to give the phenomenon an extra lease of life. Hirdt authored a revision of the rule, claiming that because Al Gore had won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the Electoral College, the polarity of the rule had been reversed.

As a result, Hirdt asserted, a loss for the Redskins now meant that the incumbent would win the elections as opposed to the earlier state where it prophesied a loss for the incumbent.

By this logic, the Redskins Rule was still intact and would be again scrutinized in 2008 when it was expected to return to its original format. Come 2008, the Pittsburg Steelers beat the Redskin 23-6 which by the rule predicted a win for the out-of-power party.

Indeed, democrat candidate Barrack Obama famously beat Republican John McCain. In 2012, the Carolina Panthers beat the Redskins, which was supposed to mean an outright loss for Obama in that year’s election. However, the incumbent would beat Republican candidate Mitt Romney which effectively spelt a death knell for the Redskins Rule. During the duration it held the Redskins Rule is 9-0 when predicting a win for the incumbent party and 9-1 when predicting a loss.