The 2020–21 NFL Octopus Awards and Year in Review

NFL RedZone’s Scott Hanson stops by to help hand out this year’s awards for our favorite made-up scoring stat.
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It’s that time of year again. Welcome back to The MMQB’s most self-indulgent, what-we-can-now-call-yearly honors: the Second Annual Octopus Awards.

For those of you who are new around here, we should play a bit of catch-up. In 2019, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the NFL’s adoption of the two-point conversion, I introduced the octopus. As I’ve written previously—and will spend the rest of my life copying and pasting—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 be the one who secures the ball in the end zone on both plays.

octopus-randy-moss-todd-gurley

I suggest reading the original column from 2019, which includes all kinds of fun facts and historical nuggets from an era before anyone started tracking such things. You can follow that up with last year’s awards column, which lays out the story of how the octopus went from a thing I tweeted about once to a thing Caesars had “high six-figures” riding on during Super Bowl LIV.

Great, now that you’ve done your summer reading, let’s once again look back at some great moments in recent—by which I mean the 2020 season—octopus history. And stay till the end, because before we finish with an update of the all-time individual and team leader boards, I have a surprise. (Spoiler alert: I spoke to the player who won Octopus of the Year. That’s the surprise. I talked to him about the octopus. Please get to the bottom to see what he said, but let me tease this out and build to the payoff.)


Coming into the 2020 season, I had hoped someone would mention the octopus on TV. Tens of millions of people watch football on television every week, whereas considerably fewer are aware of how I’ve chosen to spend my life. So I thought if someone—maybe even someone famous—simply mentioned the octopus on TV, that would probably be pretty good for awareness purposes.

It didn’t take very long.

Let’s rewind to Week 1 of the 2020 season. The Panthers trail the Raiders by five points midway through the fourth quarter and take over the ball at their own 23. On the second play of the drive, Teddy Bridgewater connects with Robby Anderson deep down the right sideline for a 75-yard catch-and-run—it would go down as Carolina’s longest touchdown of the year. The Panthers line up to go for two, putting them under the watchful eye of one Scott Hanson, host of NFL RedZone. As the feed cuts to Charlotte, he knows exactly what is on the line.

(Video credit: NFL RedZone/NFL Network)

Well, he mostly knows. Here’s the now iconic call: “… in the back of the end zone, Robby Anderson. That one …” then Hanson cuts himself off and pivots. “I’ve heard this called the ... I think that they call it the … octopus? Because you score the touchdown and the two-point conversion,” he stammers.

“Robby Anderson, eight points, the octopus,” he then says much more declaratively the second time, sticking the landing.

“We like it!” Hanson told me when I called him for this story, offering the octopus’s most high-profile endorsement yet. “I like calling it out.”

The octopus, let’s say, appeared* on Hanson’s radar late in the 2019 season. (*Did I ask Albert Breer to text him an article about it? Does that sound like something I’d do?)

Hanson says he brought it up in his crew’s regular two-hour meeting before going live one Sunday. He also credited Tim Guilanians, “one of my right-hand men,” in the studio, for helping him keep track. Hanson calls Guilanians a savant who keeps track of everything, and even prepped Hanson with memorable octopi before our phone call.

Hanson continued to spread the octopus gospel after Week 1. “Some people are cool with it,” he says. “Other people are like, ‘Don’t force a nickname.’ But I think it’s good.”

Hanson says the only reason the scenario sometimes causes trepidation is because of the tricky nature of his job. His show often has game action on a slight delay, and sometimes cuts to a Fox or CBS telecast showing its own replay. So if the touchdown comes from close to the goal line, his main concern is making sure the two-point conversion is actually a two-point conversion and not a replay of the touchdown. On scoring plays from in close, with so many things happening so quickly, he doesn’t want to get tripped up. But he’s not going to stop calling out an octopus when he sees one.

“Because on NFL RedZone, we want the audience to understand we are watching everything that can possibly be watched,” he says. “It doesn’t affect the outcome of the game if it’s the same guy who scored the touchdown and the two-point conversion. But it might affect someone’s enjoyment of watching the show. Like, ‘Oh wow, yeah, he got the touchdown; he got the two-point conversion. O.K., octopus.’

“So I think it has caught on. When I say it, millions of people are hearing it, and those are hardcore football fans. And those are the fans that might be most likely to go, ‘Huh, that’s interesting. That’s kind of a cool nickname.’ ”

Scott, you don’t have to give me the hard sell.

As fate would have it, those who were new to this particular box score oddity had plenty of opportunities to spot them. Later that day, Dalvin Cook picked up the second of the season, then Adam Thielen joined him, making them the first pair of teammates ever to record octopi in the same game. It was also the second time in NFL history that we saw three octopi on the same day (the other was Dec. 4, 1994, courtesy of Jerome Bettis, Jeff Blake and Willie Davis). Remember: This was Week 1.

The following week, Noah Fant added to the tally. Then Dalvin Cook registered his second in as many weeks.

NFL Network’s Colleen Wolfe had already started getting into the spirit when an illegal formation penalty on the two-point conversion wiped away an Alvin Kamara octopus on Monday Night Football that week.

colleen-wolfe-octopus-tweets-screenshots

In Week 6, Justin Jefferson picked up the Vikings’ fourth in six weeks. In Week 7, James Robinson made it back-to-back weeks rookies accomplished the feat.

And then: Week 8. The Colts were visiting the Lions, with Andrew Catalon in the booth for CBS. Let’s hear the call:

(Video credit: NFL RedZone/NFL Network)

“[Jordan] Wilkins, can he get in the end zone again? He can! Wilkins does it all.” You see where this is going.

“… I believe,” Catalon said, with that familiar hesitancy we saw from Hanson in Week 1, “I believe that’s called an octopus.”

“They called out the octopus,” Hanson echoed on RedZone, after Catalon became the first TV broadcaster calling a live game to note one in front of him in person for the viewing public.

“I follow The MMQB on Twitter. … So I just remembered that I’d seen MMQB retweet you, or I’d seen it on my Twitter timeline,” Catalon tells me, in an explanation that will only embolden me to tweet about it more.

“You consume so much in the course of a week or a season,” he continues. “I think that when you’re a play-by-play guy, you’ve gotta have some kind of a decent memory. And things just stick in my head. And this really stuck in my head because it was such a cool idea that you came up with.”

Catalon was aware of it, but that still put him in the minority. Truthfully, one of the best parts of the clip is how color man James Lofton’s Oh! makes it quite clear he was hearing this term for the first time.

But Catalon appreciates his place in octopus lore. “When it happened, I just kinda spit it out,” he says. “The light bulb went off as soon as he took it in. And I was like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, they call this the octopus.’ You consume so much; it’s amazing what actually sticks in your brain.”

Truly.

“I think it’s catchy,” he says. “I was happy to help promote it and give it some steam.”

We weren’t done.

J.K. Dobbins did it in Week 11. Mohamed Sanu did it on Thanksgiving Day.

There were … more tweets.

Then came the playoffs. Last year, Deshaun Watson earned Octopus of the Year honors with the fourth eight-pointer in playoff history. The odds of a playoff octopus went up last season with the postseason’s expansion from 12 teams to 14. And in one of those bonus games, Jack Doyle of the seventh-seeded Colts obliged.

The people noticed, in English and German.

We were on a roll, but we saved the best for last.


The following week, the Packers and Rams met in the divisional round. If you’ll recall, Rams QB Jared Goff was recovering from thumb surgery at the time. Backup John Wolford had started the wild-card win over the Seahawks the week before, but his own injury forced a compromised Goff into duty.

As the Rams tried to stay competitive in what would prove to be Goff’s last game with L.A., rookie running back Cam Akers handled a few snaps out of the wildcat formation.

With the Rams down 15 late in the third quarter, they pulled out the wildcat from the 7-yard line.

Behold what followed:

Sean McVay looked at his play sheet and called for the fancy play (with a good story behind it), which Goff, receiver Van Jefferson and Akers ran to perfection.

It was much-needed, cutting a 15-point deficit to seven—a major swing in the game at the time, though the Rams ultimately lost 32–18.

Akers registered the 12th and final octopus of the season, and given both the stakes of the game and the satisfying nature of each score, it took home our official honor as the year’s best. I mean, truly, this whole thing started because two-point conversions are fun and cool and exciting, and what’s more fun and cool and exciting than a team going for two and calling a designed lateral?

That was the last octopus we saw on the field, but it was not the end of the road for octopus news. The octopus was again a Super Bowl prop bet, this year at several shops.

Patrick Everson of Covers.com filmed himself walking into Circa Sports and betting $20 on it.

Patrick tracked it diligently, and he became a topic of conversation.

Rob Miech interviewed me for a piece about it in the Chicago Sun-Times, and the paper put an octopus emoji in the print edition.

But after the Super Bowl passed without one (like every Super Bowl before it), that was it. Akers had scored the final one and left the season’s lasting impression.

There was only one thing left to do: Call Akers and give him the good news.


cam-akers-octopus-sports-illustrated

“It’s a blessing,” Akers says, when I tell him he won the award. “I appreciate you having me in mind for it. I’m sure a lot of people had two-point conversions and touchdowns. Or maybe not. But for me to even be considered, I appreciate that. It’s an honor.”

Last year I said it would be nice to have a black-tie gala with oversized envelopes. We didn’t quite get there in 2021, but Hanson was willing to play emcee. Sort of. “Cam,” Hanson says to me, in a message I promise to relay to Akers, “all octopi are not created equal. And you created the best one we saw in 2020. Congrats.” (Technically January 2021. Whatever.)

Akers walks us through both plays.

I first ask if, as a former high school quarterback, he enjoys being featured in the wildcat. “It’s fun, man. It’ll be more fun when I’m able to throw it.” (If you are partial to the eyeballs emoji, this would be an appropriate place to insert one.) I ask if that’s something the Rams have practiced, that we should anticipate for next season and he says, “If I told you that, it wouldn’t be fun no more. We just gotta see.”

Akers is laughing, but at least a small part of him is mindful not to run afoul of McVay by revealing too much. He politely declines to share the play-call verbiage of the two-point conversion.

He does say it was implemented the previous week, though it stayed in the holster during the wild-card win against Seattle. “It wasn’t as sharp as we wanted it to be,” Akers says. “So we kept working at it. Coach felt comfortable enough to call my number in that game and it worked.”

For the Green Bay game, he just knew it was in the game plan, but he wasn’t told specifically that it would come out for a goal line play, let alone a two-pointer. Now it’s part of octopus history.

Now listen, I’m not here to drum up controversy just to get attention. So we’ll get ahead of the criticism you may be ready to offer. Yes, the Rams still lost. Last year’s choice was a perfect situation: a player cutting a 16-point deficit to eight, in a game his team won in overtime. The Rams’ comeback bid fell short.

The decision was mine alone, but Hanson buys the rationale. “If the octopus absolutely flips the outcome of the game,” Hanson says, “I don’t care what the plays looked like. That’s a monumental accomplishment. But if the octopus is aesthetically pleasing, it doesn’t necessarily bother me if the scoring player’s team did not win the game. Because, vis-à-vis Cam Akers, it’s memorable. It’s notable.”

While we look back on the year that was, we also look ahead and anticipate growth.

Where is Akers willing to take things next year? I ask him if he can see himself caring about this. If he scores a touchdown, would he turn to his new teammate Matthew Stafford and say, “Hey, Matthew Stafford, I’ll take the ball; I’d love another octopus here.”

“Certainly. If the ball’s in my hands, then we’re doing good, in my opinion,” Akers says with another laugh.

One more question. Let’s really stretch the boundaries. After we see that octopus, what are the odds we might see an octopus end-zone celebration?

“Ahh, the odds are likely,” he says. “We’re gonna have fans this year, right? I might turn it up a notch for you, just ’cause you asked. Just be on the lookout.”

Trust me, I will.

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As promised, here are the updated leader boards.

All-time individual octopus leaders, with Cook and Sanu added this year:

2021-individual-octopus-all-time-leaders

All-time team octopus leaders, with the Vikings’ four launching them into a tie for first place:

2021-team-octopus-all-time-leaders

Every octopus in NFL history:

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