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Stumbling On Wins in Football: Two Economists Expose the Pitfalls on the Road to Victory in Professional Sports by Martin B. Schmidt, David J. Berri

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5. Inefficient on the Field

Let’s go back to Super Bowl XVII. Trailing the Miami Dolphins 17-13 with just over 10 minutes left, Joe Gibbs, head coach of the Washington Redskins, faced a fourth and 1 on Miami’s 43-yard line. With Mark Moseley as their kicker, trying a 60-yard field goal was out of the question,1 leaving Gibbs with a choice between punting and going for it. Gibbs went for it, and the result was Miami’s cornerback Don McNeal trying desperately to hang on to John Riggins’s jersey as he turned the corner for what would end up being a 43-yard touchdown run. For NFL fans—especially for fans of Washington—this is one of the classic images in sports.

Given perfect hindsight, one might think that Gibbs’s decision was obviously correct, ...

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