Behind The Scenes

‘Redskins Rule’: MNF’s Hirdt on intersection of football & politics

The “Redskins Rule” has become a lasting legacy for Monday Night Football’s Steve Hirdt.
(Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

It’s long been said that Washington, D.C., is a city with two passions: politics and the Redskins.

During the U.S. Presidential Election every four years, these passions remarkably intersect through a phenomenon known as the “Redskins Rule.”

Steve Hirdt, the executive vice-president of Elias Sports Bureau, who has worked on Monday Night Football longer than any other person — 31 seasons as the show’s Director of Information — discovered this unique statistical occurrence, which correlates the outcome of the most recent Washington Redskins home game to the U.S. Presidential Election.

Hirdt was in a D.C. hotel room on this very day, Oct. 30, in 2000 preparing for ABC’s MNF game between the host Redskins and Tennessee Titans, when he uncovered the rule. It was the last home game in the nation’s capital before that year’s election (on Nov. 7). Hirdt hoped to find an election-related note for commentator Dennis Miller to use during the broadcast.

“I started looking through the Redskins’ press guide where they list all the scores in the back,” Hirdt recalls. “I was making a list of the last home game before the election because that was the game we were covering. I tried to align it with the Democrats or the Republicans and then looked at the incumbents.

“I was shocked to see it lined up exactly right, that whenever the Redskins won their last home game prior to the presidential election, the incumbent party retained the White House, and whenever the Redskins lost their last home game prior to the election, the out-of-power party won the White House.”

Amazingly, the “Redskins Rule” held true for all 15 presidential elections from 1940-1996, following the team’s move to Washington from Boston in 1937.

Hirdt informed play-by-play man Al Michaels and they convinced producer Don Ohlmeyer to use the information on-air that night as a two-page, full-screen graphic.

The next day, Hirdt checked his messages and quickly learned the “Redskins Rule” had received a lot of interest, and that was just the beginning.

The Titans beat the Redskins, 27-21, in the 2000 game. According to the “Redskins Rule,” that signaled a change of party in the White House. In this case, Republican George W. Bush would defeat Democrat Al Gore. It ultimately took 37 days and a Supreme Court ruling to determine the election winner — and continue the Redskins Rule.

Four years later, Bush, the incumbent, won his re-election campaign but the Redskins lost 28-14 to the Green Bay Packers. It looked like the end of the “Redskins Rule”, but Hirdt authored a revision.

“I went back and studied the ‘Redskins Rule’ data and what happened in 2004 was explained in 2000,” notes Hirdt. “Because Al Gore actually won the popular vote in 2000 — but lost in the Electoral College – it reversed the polarity of the subsequent election. The opposite of the usual ‘Redskins Rule’ was true.

“Redskins Rule 2.0 established that when the popular vote winner does not win the election, the impact of the Redskins game on the subsequent presidential election gets flipped. So, with that, the Redskins’ loss in 2004 signaled that the incumbent would remain in the White House.”

In 2008, the standard definition of the “Redskins Rule” returned as Washington lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers on ESPN’s MNF on the eve of the election. A day later, the Democrats took back the White House as Barack Obama defeated John McCain.

Now, with the “Redskins Rule” 18 for 18 in terms of predicting the presidential elections since 1940, a Redskins’ victory this Sunday over the Carolina Panthers would seem to indicate another term in office for Obama, while a Panthers win would bode well for Mitt Romney and the Republicans.

As if Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton didn’t already have enough pressure!

As for how Hirdt views the famed “Redskins Rule” in context of his career body of work: “Everybody likes coincidences and streaks, especially in the sports world. It’s been fun to talk about and I’m glad I found it.

“I’m kind of resigned to the fact that the ‘Redskins Rule’ will probably be on the second or third paragraph of my obituary,” he says, “whenever that may be.”

Year Presidential Election Redskins game Redskins
White House
2012 Obama (D) vs. Romney (R) Redskins vs. Panthers TBD TBD
2008 Obama (D) defeats McCain (R) Steelers def. Redskins,
Lose Lose
2004 Bush (R) def. Kerry (D) Packers def. Redskins,
Lose Keep *
2000 Bush (R) def. Gore (D) Titans def. Redskins,
Lose Lose
1996 Clinton (D) def. Dole (R) Redskins def. Colts,
Win Keep
1992 Clinton (D) def. Bush (R) Giants def. Redskins,
Lose Lose
1988 Bush (R) def. Dukakis (D) Redskins def. Saints,
Win Keep
1984 Reagan (R) def. Mondale (D) Redskins def. Falcons,
Win Keep
1980 Reagan (R) def. Carter (D) Vikings def. Redskins,
Lose Lose
1976 Carter (D) def. Ford (R) Cowboys def. Redskins,
Lose Lose
1972 Nixon (R) def. McGovern (D) Redskins def. Cowboys,
Win Keep
1968 Nixon (R) def. Humphrey (D) Giants def. Redskins,
Lose Lose
1964 Johnson (D) def. Goldwater (R) Redskins def. Bears,
Win Keep
1960 Kennedy (D) def. Nixon (R) Browns def. Redskins,
Lose Lose
1956 Eisenhower (R) def. Stevenson (D) Redskins def. Browns,
Win Keep
1952 Eisenhower (R) def. Stevenson (D) Steelers def. Redskins,
Lose Lose
1948 Truman (D) def. Dewey (R) Redskins def. Boston Yanks,
Win Keep
1944 Roosevelt (D) def. Dewey (R) Redskins def. Rams,
Win Keep
1940 Roosevelt (D) def. Willkie (R) Redskins def. Steelers,
Win Keep

* Though the incumbent party (Republican) won the election, which would break the rule, the incumbent party had not won the popular vote in the previous election (2000), thereby generating an alternate variant of the rule.


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