Halftime during the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
In December, the NFL announced that the starting kickers and punters for both the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders had been selected for the Pro Bowl. For the uninitiated, the NFL Pro Bowl pits the best players (as voted on by fans, players, and coaches) from each of the two conferences, the AFC and the NFC, against each other. As readers of our February issue are no doubt aware, having all the kickers voted to the Pro Bowl come from just two teams has never happened before in the 42 years since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Having even one team send both the punter and the kicker for its conference doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it’s only occurred five times: in 1971 (Kansas City), 1991 (Oakland), 1996 (Indianapolis), 1997 (Jacksonville), and 2008 (New York Giants).
This year not only did it happen, but it happened to both Bay Area teams. This struck us as unlikely, so we set out to calculate just how unlikely it was.
Hark back to your high school math classes, and you may recall that to calculate the probability of multiple events occurring, you multiply the probabilities of the single events together. For Pro Bowl voting, fans had the option to vote for any player on an active roster for a given position. As of December, there were a total of 17 placekickers and 16 punters on the active rosters for each conference. So to calculate the probability of Andy Lee, David Akers, Shane Lechler, and Sebastian Janikowski all being chosen, you would do this:
(1/16)(1/17)(1/16)(1/17) = 1/73984
One in 73,984!
Now, this is only a mathematical exercise and does not take into account the many different factors that would affect a more realistic calculation, such as the quality of the kickers, their exposure and popularity among fans, the coach and player votes, etc. But at least now you have a talking point for your Pro Bowl party. (You and your friends are having a Pro Bowl party, right? Right? Hello?)