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Championship Rematches

Posted by Neil Paine on March 1, 2010

In case you've been living under a rock this past week, the U.S. Men's Hockey Team was in the Gold-Medal match of the Olympics yesterday against the pre-tournament favorites, the Canadians. USA had beaten Canada in the round-robin stage of the Olympics, and was undefeated going into the championship game, but Canada avenged their earlier loss by defeating the Americans 3-2 in an overtime thriller.

What does this have to do with football, you ask? Well, this was basically the Super Bowl of these Olympics, and before the game I thought about the fact that it was a rematch, which felt like a bad omen for USA -- I mean, doesn't it seem like every Super Bowl in recent memory involving two teams who had played before during the regular-season ended with the team that lost matchup #1 winning the rematch? More to the point, is this recent trend representative of the entire history of football?

Well, luckily, we have a database of every game in NFL/AFL history, so I looked up every Super Bowl & league championship game of the pre-Super Bowl era that featured two teams that had already faced off during the season. This happened 36 times, starting with the 1933 season:

Season Date Round Home Pts Away Pts Winner
1933 10/29/1933 Regular Season CHI 14 NYG 10 CHI
1933 11/19/1933 Regular Season NYG 3 CHI 0 NYG
1933 12/17/1933 Lg. Championship CHI 23 NYG 21 CHI
1934 11/4/1934 Regular Season CHI 27 NYG 7 CHI
1934 11/18/1934 Regular Season NYG 9 CHI 10 CHI
1934 12/9/1934 Lg. Championship NYG 30 CHI 13 NYG
1936 10/11/1936 Regular Season GNB 31 WAS 2 GNB
1936 11/8/1936 Regular Season WAS 3 GNB 7 GNB
1936 12/13/1936 Lg. Championship GNB* 21 WAS* 6 GNB
1938 11/20/1938 Regular Season NYG 15 GNB 3 NYG
1938 12/11/1938 Lg. Championship NYG 23 GNB 17 NYG
1940 11/17/1940 Regular Season WAS 7 CHI 3 WAS
1940 12/8/1940 Lg. Championship WAS 0 CHI 73 CHI
1943 11/21/1943 Regular Season WAS 21 CHI 7 WAS
1943 12/26/1943 Lg. Championship CHI 41 WAS 21 CHI
1944 11/19/1944 Regular Season NYG 24 GNB 0 NYG
1944 12/17/1944 Lg. Championship NYG 7 GNB 14 GNB
1946 9/29/1946 Regular Season CLE 24 NAA 7 CLE
1946 10/12/1946 Regular Season NAA 0 CLE 7 CLE
1946 12/22/1946 Lg. Championship CLE 14 NAA 9 CLE
1947 12/7/1947 Regular Season PHI 21 CRD 45 CRD
1947 12/28/1947 Lg. Championship CRD 28 PHI 21 CRD
1948 9/12/1948 Regular Season BBA 13 CLE 42 CLE
1948 10/17/1948 Regular Season CLE 31 BBA 14 CLE
1948 12/19/1948 Lg. Championship CLE 49 BBA 7 CLE
1949 11/6/1949 Regular Season PHI 38 RAM 14 PHI
1949 12/18/1949 Lg. Championship RAM 0 PHI 14 PHI
1951 10/7/1951 Regular Season RAM 23 CLE 38 CLE
1951 12/23/1951 Lg. Championship RAM 24 CLE 17 RAM
1952 11/2/1952 Regular Season DET 17 CLE 6 DET
1952 12/28/1952 Lg. Championship CLE 7 DET 17 DET
1954 12/19/1954 Regular Season CLE 10 DET 14 DET
1954 12/26/1954 Lg. Championship CLE 56 DET 10 CLE
1956 11/25/1956 Regular Season NYG 17 CHI 17 TIE
1956 12/30/1956 Lg. Championship NYG 47 CHI 7 NYG
1957 12/8/1957 Regular Season DET 20 CLE 7 DET
1957 12/29/1957 Lg. Championship DET 59 CLE 14 DET
1958 11/9/1958 Regular Season NYG 24 CLT 21 NYG
1958 12/28/1958 Lg. Championship NYG 17 CLT 23 CLT
1960 9/18/1960 Regular Season OTI 38 SDG 28 OTI
1960 11/13/1960 Regular Season SDG 24 OTI 21 SDG
1960 1/1/1961 Lg. Championship OTI 24 SDG 16 OTI
1961 9/24/1961 Regular Season SDG 34 OTI 24 SDG
1961 12/24/1961 Lg. Championship SDG 3 OTI 10 OTI
1961 12/3/1961 Regular Season GNB 20 NYG 17 GNB
1961 12/31/1961 Lg. Championship GNB 37 NYG 0 GNB
1962 10/28/1962 Regular Season OTI 7 KAN 31 KAN
1962 11/4/1962 Regular Season KAN 6 OTI 14 OTI
1962 12/23/1962 Lg. Championship OTI 17 KAN 20 KAN
1963 9/14/1963 Regular Season SDG 17 NWE 13 SDG
1963 11/10/1963 Regular Season NWE 6 SDG 7 SDG
1963 1/5/1964 Lg. Championship SDG 51 NWE 10 SDG
1964 9/26/1964 Regular Season BUF 30 SDG 3 BUF
1964 11/26/1964 Regular Season SDG 24 BUF 27 BUF
1964 12/26/1964 Lg. Championship BUF 20 SDG 7 BUF
1965 10/10/1965 Regular Season BUF 3 SDG 34 SDG
1965 11/25/1965 Regular Season SDG 20 BUF 20 TIE
1965 12/26/1965 Lg. Championship SDG 0 BUF 23 BUF
1977 12/18/1977 Regular Season DAL 14 DEN 6 DAL
1977 1/15/1978 Super Bowl DAL* 27 DEN* 10 DAL
1980 11/23/1980 Regular Season PHI 10 RAI 7 PHI
1980 1/25/1981 Super Bowl PHI* 10 RAI* 27 RAI
1981 12/6/1981 Regular Season CIN 3 SFO 21 SFO
1981 1/24/1982 Super Bowl CIN* 21 SFO* 26 SFO
1983 10/2/1983 Regular Season WAS 37 RAI 35 WAS
1983 1/22/1984 Super Bowl RAI* 38 WAS* 9 RAI
1985 9/15/1985 Regular Season CHI 20 NWE 7 CHI
1985 1/26/1986 Super Bowl CHI* 46 NWE* 10 CHI
1986 11/23/1986 Regular Season NYG 19 DEN 16 NYG
1986 1/25/1987 Super Bowl DEN* 20 NYG* 39 NYG
1990 12/15/1990 Regular Season NYG 13 BUF 17 BUF
1990 1/27/1991 Super Bowl BUF* 19 NYG* 20 NYG
1993 9/12/1993 Regular Season DAL 10 BUF 13 BUF
1993 1/30/1994 Super Bowl BUF* 13 DAL* 30 DAL
1994 12/11/1994 Regular Season SDG 15 SFO 38 SFO
1994 1/29/1995 Super Bowl SDG* 26 SFO* 49 SFO
1999 10/31/1999 Regular Season OTI 24 RAM 21 OTI
1999 1/30/2000 Super Bowl OTI* 16 RAM* 23 RAM
2001 11/18/2001 Regular Season NWE 17 RAM 24 RAM
2001 2/3/2002 Super Bowl NWE* 20 RAM* 17 NWE
2007 12/29/2007 Regular Season NYG 35 NWE 38 NWE
2007 2/3/2008 Super Bowl NWE* 14 NYG* 17 NYG
"*" = Neutral site

In the Super Bowl era, this has happened 12 times, and the winner of matchup #1 has only gone on to win the championship 5 times. Before the Super Bowl era, we get into situations where the teams may have played multiple times before the championship game, but in cases where there was just one prior matchup, the winner of the initial game won 6 of the 13 rematches (excluding 1956, when the 1st game was a tie). In the 10 championships that were "double rematches", there were 6 cases where one team had won both of the initial matchups, and that team ended up winning the 3rd game 5 times (the only exception was the '34 Bears, who beat the Giants at home and on the road, but had to play the league championship in New York and lost 30-13). Among showdowns between teams who had split the season series, the winner of the first matchup won the title all 3 times. And in 1965, San Diego won their first game vs. Buffalo, tied the second, but lost the AFL title to the Bills in game #3.

All told, the team that prior head-to-head information told us "should" win won the championship 16 times in 32 tries, which seems pretty low given the fact that they had already beaten their opponent (and not lost to them) earlier that season. So while being in a championship game with an opponent you've beaten before isn't exactly a terrible omen, you're still no more likely to win the second time around than you would be if we knew nothing about your earlier performance.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 1st, 2010 at 11:15 am and is filed under History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.