A lot can happen in one year. Thinking back to what life felt like on that February night when the Chiefs won the Lombardi Trophy in Miami—somehow not even six months ago—that is, perhaps, the understatement of the century. But travel back in time with me a bit here.
Last offseason I published an article introducing the octopus, declaring it The MMQB’s “favorite new statistic.” (I think editors changed it to something less all-encompassing.) Over the next year … well I don’t want to say it took over the internet, but it certainly made a few ripples. And then my silly creation was debated on TV. And then actual human beings who run actual sports books in real casinos were more worried about it during the Super Bowl than they were about the coin toss, the margin of victory or the jersey number of the player who scored the first touchdown.
One year and four months later, welcome to the Inaugural NFL Octopus Awards. Sure, it’s July. But truly there’s no better time for a Year in Review type column. The original publish date of this post was far from the only casualty of the sports calendar this past March, with slightly more important things in the news. And while the news cycle remains unrelenting, with major team sports returning and the NFL making real plans to get players into training camps, we are ready to celebrate some football frivolities as well.
Someday maybe we’ll have a black-tie gala with tuxedos and oversized fancy envelopes, but in these times I guess we’ll just stick with an article. Let’s look back at the best of the octopus from the 2019 NFL season. And spoiler alert: We just might dip into the calendar year 2020.
Let’s start with the basics—like, say, what is an octopus? An octopus is when the same player who scores a touchdown also scores the ensuing two-point conversion. No, being a quarterback and throwing the ball for a TD does not count. You must score all eight points yourself.
If you’re new around here, I recommend last year’s post as a starting point, especially if you want answers to trivia questions like, “Who had the first octopus in the playoffs?” [a Pro Football Hall of Famer!] or “Has anyone ever had two octopi in a single game before?” [actually, yes, because the kicker was hurt!].
Trust me, last year’s post has more info than you really need. But now I’ll dive into what’s new since then, and update some of the all-time leaderboards too.
After the initial article, the octopus movement sat dormant until the first full night of the preseason. On August 8, I put out the call:
A mere 16 minutes later, I got the tweet. “Nick Brosette just did it.” Sweet! Who is Nick Brosette? He was a 1,000-yard rusher as a senior at LSU, then an undrafted free agent on the Patriots. And on this night, with the Pats up 20-0 on Detroit, he scored a touchdown in the third quarter, and then caught a pass in the flat from Jarret Stidham for a two-point conversion that must have made sense to Bill Belichick at the time. It was the first octopus of 2019. And perhaps the most important part: I didn’t even have to watch that game. The octopus gang was on the case, reporting back.
This thing might have legs … err … tentacles.
Fast forward through the rest of the season, 11 NFL octopi later (plus more in college football), and we’re onto the Super Bowl. There’s just something fun about rooting for an octopus. That moment when the offense lines up to go for two and your eyes instinctively look for whoever scored the touchdown. Boy it would be fun to be able to bet on this in the Super Bowl, wouldn’t it? They have props for everything else, so why not this?
Well luckily the fine folks at Caesars agreed, and that was that. They created a prop bet. An actual prop bet. This silly thing that I thought of, crowd-sourced to get a name for and then tweeted about for a few months was on the board. An actual oddsmaker had to sit down and think about what the line should be! Turns out the opening line was +1200 yes (so bet $10 to win $120 if there is an octopus) and -3000 no (so bet $300 to win $10 if there isn’t).
After that, actual human beings with their own free will and money they could have spent on food, shelter, football jerseys or, I don’t know, rare coins, walked up to casino counters and said, “Hi, $20 on the octopus please.”
The hype machine was just beginning. I was not surprised to see the octopus discussed in places like my pal Michael Beller’s podcast for The Athletic. I was surprised when I was sent a screenshot of them debating the octopus on ESPN’s gambling show The Daily Wager. Real gambling analysts talking about my baby the week of the Super Bowl? An illustrated octopus on the screen? Yes to both.
People were not just talking, but betting. Jeff Davis, the Director of Trading at Caesars, told me they got 25 times as many bets on yes as on no. Because of course. Who would want to bet against it, especially at that price? Apparently, people liked the octopus so much Caesars had to move the odds to +950.
And here’s the news we woke up to on Super Bowl morning: Ben Fawkes, the editor of ESPN’s Chalk, reported that Caesars would’ve suffered a “high six-figure loss” if it had hit. Daily Wager host Doug Kezirian reported it was their biggest liability of any bet on the board.
So it’s safe to say they were thinking about it as much as I was.
The story pretty much ends there, for now. There was no octopus in the Super Bowl, but that’s OK. There’s always next year. Because one thing I know for sure: This thing isn’t going away.
And now let’s look back and dish out our 2019-20 Octopus of the Year Awards, and then I’ll update the all-time individual leaders, all-time team leaders and the full list of all 151 octopi since the NFL instituted the two-point conversion in 1994.
Because—as you can likely tell—I am completist by nature, I will acknowledge all 11 octopi from last year. They all deserve at least to be mentioned, so consider them noted.
Le’Veon Bell (Jets) Week 1
Ryan Griffin (Jets) Week 8
Dede Westbrook (Jaguars) Week 13
Zach Pascal (Colts) Week 14
Cole Beasley (Bills) Week 14
Honorable Mention Octopi
Christian McCaffrey (Panthers) Week 8: This one is an honorable mention partly because it’s Christian McCaffrey, but mostly because it was a 40-yard touchdown run against the 49ers’ stacked defense. The 49ers only allowed three rushing touchdowns all season of longer than five yards—McCaffrey, a 22-yard Kyler Murray run and an eight-yard Robert Woods run. That’s impossible.
Patrick Laird (Dolphins) Week 13: This deserves distinction for a couple reasons. Not only was this during Miami’s stunning upset over the Eagles, but it happened to be the only touchdown of Laird’s rookie season. Listen, I wish nothing but the best for Laird. I hope he goes on to have a long and prosperous NFL career. Truly. But if he finishes his career with exactly eight points scored and they all came on an octopus. Well… there are worse claims to fame.
Davante Adams (Packers) Week 12: Adams did his in prime time, on Sunday Night Football. (Where are you when I need you, NBC researchers?) He loses some points because it was only a two-yard TD catch and the Packers were blown out 37-8 by the 49ers in a preview of the NFC championship game. But thanks to his octopus on New Year’s Day 2017, Adams became the 24th player with multiple octopi in his career. Honorable indeed.
Octopi of the Year
Third Place: Todd Gurley (Rams) Week 15
To be fair, this is more a lifetime achievement award. With the Rams trailing the Cowboys by 30, Gurley turned an otherwise unremarkable touchdown into an octopus for the record-setting fourth time in his career. When last year’s story was published, Gurley shared the record with Randy Moss and I speculated who would become the Octopus King. We didn’t have to wait long for the answer. For now, Gurley wears the crown.
Second Place: Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos) Week 2
Speaking of games that feel like they were ages ago, this one was before Sanders’s trade to the 49ers and it was a brief moment of jubilation for Broncos starting quarterback Joe Flacco(!). Denver trailed Chicago by seven with 31 seconds left when Sanders made a brilliant toe-tapping catch in the far corner of the end zone. Then things got weird. The Bears were called for an offside penalty on the ensuing extra point, so Vic Fangio decided to go for two and the lead from the one-yard line. Sanders completed the octopus to put the Broncos ahead. It was just the fourth octopus ever that pushed a team from down seven to up one, and it happened in the final minute of the game. Unfortunately for the Broncos, the Bears had those 31 seconds to work with. Aided by a controversial roughing the passer penalty, Mitchell Trubisky led them down the field for a game-winning field goal as time expired. This was so close to being an all-timer, but it’s hard to fault Sanders for the nuttiness that took place outside of his control. It was still a spectacular octopus that held up as the clubhouse leader for most of the season.
2019-20 Octopus of the Year: Deshaun Watson (Texans) Wild-card round
For fans of a particular breed of quirky football games, the Saturday afternoon wild-card affair checked a bunch of boxes. The Bills got off to a fast start and went up 16-0, before Watson put the Texans on his back and Josh Allen suffered a meltdown. The most memorable play of the game was Watson scrambling away from two defenders in overtime to find Taiwan Jones for a long catch-and-run. But before he could even get to that point, he first got them on the board with a 20-yard rushing touchdown on a zone-read play that ended with him plowing through some people bigger than he is to get into the end zone.
The two-point conversion was a little more graceful, with Watson escaping to the outside and diving for the pylon.
You can make an easy case for this octopus, thanks to both the playoff stakes and the game state. The Texans were down 16, needing two touchdowns and two two-pointers, and got both of them. (Plus both sides kicked field goals to make it 19-19.) And then Watson put his athleticism on display with two eventful trips across the goal line. That’s a great octopus—and the best of last season.
And now we’re on to bigger and better things. I’m not quite sure what would top the Super Bowl prop bet, but we’re ready for Scott Hanson and Andrew Siciliano to name drop the octopus on their respective Red Zone channels. We’d love a page at Pro Football Reference so I don’t have to keep updating my spreadsheet manually. It would be fun to hear players talking about it while they’re mic’d up during a game. Let me just speak it into existence that a shout out in the New York Times crossword puzzle would be swell.
But in the meantime, here’s just hoping we get football at all this year. Fingers crossed the NFL and the NFLPA finalize an agreement on health and safety protocols that everyone feels comfortable with, for training camp and beyond. That players, coaches and all the other team and facility staff members who keep things running (and their families!) stay safe and healthy. So that on Sundays this fall we can once again see all the tight spirals, electrifying runs and big hits we all know and love. And, yes, a few more octopi as well.
All-time individual octopus leaders:
All-time team octopus leaders:
Every octopus in NFL history:
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