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Football Perspective Contest

Football Perspective turns one tomorrow. To celebrate, Doug Drinen has come up with a contest centered around the following picture.

Question 1: Explain what this is a picture of.

Question 2: Make a case to your real or hypothetical significant other that this is worthy of being printed, framed, and hung on your wall.

GRAND PRIZE: Your choice of: (1) honor and glory; (2) a Football Perspective coozie; or (3) an article written by me on a topic of your choice.*

RUNNER-UP PRIZE: Your choice of the remaining prize options after the Grand Prizer winner makes his or her selection.

THIRD PLACE: Your choice of the leftovers.

PRIZE FOR ENTERING: The ability to right click on the contest photo, and make that picture the background on your computer. You could also print, frame, and hang that photo on your wall.


1. Submit your answers to Question 1 and Question 2 in the comments to this post. You can click on the picture to see a blown-up version of this picture.

2. Doug Drinen will be the judge.

3. You may enter until 12:00 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, June 21st. The winners will be announced shortly thereafter, at Doug’s earliest convenience, or at some other time.

4. Any ambiguities in the rules will be clarified by me in whatever way causes me the least amount of hassle.

* If you choose an offensive or stupid topic, I reserve the right to not write about it. But the standards are pretty low here when it comes to stupid.

  • Scott Tanner

    Prefacing this by saying that I’m probably completely wrong….

    1. It’s a web of prominent football players listed chronologically from right to left. The lines in the web connect players who have played with or against each other at some point in their careers. The larger the dot, the larger the number of connections.

    2. First of all, it’s aesthetically pleasing. Someone went to a lot of trouble to craft this complex and interesting piece of art, and for that alone we ought to bear witness and show some appreciation. Secondly, it’s great for situations exactly like this contest; you can ask people what they think it is and feel smug when you know the answer and they don’t. And when they find out what it is, they’ll be fairly impressed that such an interesting and complex piece of art sits in your house. And it’s not ugly or tacky or any sort of stereotypical sports memorabilia that gets adorned to walls! And if you want to move beyond football, the piece could be interpreted as a monument to the moving, interconnected lives we all live as we touch and impact people across different eras. If none of the above argument sways you in anyway, I can put it in a low traffic area.

  • Arif Hasan

    Let’s go for it.

    1. It’s a web of players connected by shared Pro Bowl years. Every connection represents at least one year that the two players shared in a Pro Bowl. The larger the player, the more Pro Bowls they have.

    2. Aside from the fact that it is a picture of dots representing football players that just happens to fall into the shape of Australia, it represents a dynamic shift in football history—two clumps implies either a dramatic shift in the voting population (opening it up to new voters, like players and fans) or public perception of players. The fact that the top of the bridge of the two clumps is more robust in its connections than the bottom implies that the transition in football eras was not smooth, but that some players were “sticky” in the voters’ minds. That alone is an interesting look into a small window of pop culture, an unexamined and important part of history. As a conversation piece, it can be a jumping off board to any number of discussions, from football to the documentation of history to the ways we define historical eras and biases. What better way for a football enthusiast to connect to his scientist girlfriend than an infographic that touches on so many things so elegantly? Systematizing data can be beautiful and produce an infinite array of related conversations.

    I know it’s wrong—I was testing this with 15 players, and it was working out until I saw Steve Grogan. Worth a shot, and worth a look. I thought the sizes of the circles were AV, but I have no idea what the connections would mean in that case.

  • Travis Finck

    It is list of Hall of Famers and Future all of Famers where the larger their ball size the larger their HOF significance all entertwined together together

    2. Babe all of those hairballs on the shower and floor you leave around all the time, I took it as hint and am framing a football HOF hairball in our bathroom to go along with yours!!

  • Eric Holland

    1. It’s a social network of Hall of Famers from past to potentially future selections. The players are connected by playing together/against each other with size representing pro bowl selections.

    2. Not only does this picture represent the greatest players in NFL history, it’s also a monocle, top hat, and cane away from Mr. Peanut, a perfect edition to our living room!

  • Andrew Carroll

    1. The size of the circles represents the player’s career Approximate Value. The bigger the circle, the higher the AV.

    As for the lines, that is much tougher… I’ll have to get back to you on that. What do Lawrence Taylor and Jim Hart share that Dan Marino and Dan Fouts also share? And, whatever that commonality is, how come it does not exist between Ernie Stautner and Jim Brown? It has something to do with being contemporaries for at least a year, but the criteria beyond that eludes me! It’s not shared Pro Bowls or All Pros, because Stautner/Brown had 5 and 1 of those, respectively. So I’m not sure what to say.

    2. “Honey, I love football. I also love data. And graphs. And this, this here is an amazing combination of all those things. It features many great football players from across eras and a connection between them that, once deciphered, will surely leave me astounded with a smile on my face. Plus, when I reverse image-searched it via Google, the first thing to pop up was a cell. Isn’t that fitting of life itself? I am going to scale this x1000, print it out, frame it, and hang it right next to the paintings you did in our living room.”

    “Um, so you don’t know even what it means, but you think it warrants a spot next to the artwork I created with actual paints, oils, pens, and pastels?”

    “Its beauty lies not in its meaning! I don’t know what your painting of a womb-like egg orbiting over a horizon in pitch-black outer space means, but it’s awful pretty and I think it has something to do with 2001 Space Odyssey which makes me infer depths of human evolution and time. One day you’ll tell me the real meaning and I will see it in a whole new, wonderful light; but until then it remains a potent portrayal of SOMETHING!”

    “Yah, okay, but this is just a graph of football players…”


    “I’m going to bed.”

    *proceeds with plan*

    • Chase Stuart

      This post was declared the winner, and for good reason. Congrats Andrew.

  • I’m going to try process of elimination:

    – There are two types of lines, lighter and darker
    – It isn’t Pro Bowl connectivity (Marino-Fouts played two PB’s together, not one)
    – Having said that it can’t be purely a look at who played with who (1 to 1 connectivity) since some players are connected to a different players multiple times.
    – It isn’t All-Pro connectivity (Marino-Fouts didn’t share any AP’s together)
    – It isn’t years on the same team (Marino-Fouts never were on the same team)
    – It isn’t years in the league together (Marino-Fouts shared five years in the league together)
    – It isn’t any kind of stat relating to each other, like receptions from or sacked by, since there are offensive and defensive players
    – Size doesn’t seem related to length of career (Jonathan Ogden’s bubble is smaller than Jim Kelly’s)
    – Size also isn’t Pro Bowl related (again, Ogden’s is smaller than Kelly’s)
    – Not everyone on the list is in the HoF but all are either in or are likely to get in
    – The largest appear to be: P. Manning, J. Rice, A. Page, B. Favre and R. White but there are a number of other large bubbles, no connection by position or off. or def.
    – Rice, Page and Tarkenton appear to have the most connection.
    – No relation between number of connections and size of bubble (Marino is bigger than T. Brown despite fewer connections, at least from what we can see, hard to be exact)
    – Players who played together are GENERALLY closer to each other (J. Rice-S.Young, the Bills big three, P. Manning-Harrison, J. Taylor-Z. Thomas) but not all are close (J. Montana-J. Rice).
    – There does appear to be a separation in terms of eras they played. Players who started their careers before 1980 are on the right while those who started after 1980 are on the left. Players who started their careers from the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s are in the middle (Munoz, Payton, Taylor). Let’s run with this idea.
    – Now degree right or left isn’t indicative of when they started since the right most player (P. Manning) isn’t the newest and the left most player (Joe Schmidt) isn’t the oldest (though he is one of the earliest)
    – It’s strange other QB-WR tandems are close (P. Manning-Harrison/Wayne and S. Young-Rice) are close together but TO and R. Moss aren’t really near any QB they played with, though TO is somewhat close to J. Garcia and D. McNabb, he’s not in as close proximity as you’d expect
    – (at this point I’m running out of ideas)
    – Relative location within the graph isn’t related to talent they played with since P. Manning is on the outskirts but has played with a high number of Pro Bowlers, the same goes for players like S. Young and M. Faulk, who are deep inside.

    That’s all I’ve got so far on what it’s not, but like Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I’ll post a reply to myself if I get an answer. Hope this helps others with better minds than me.

  • thad

    top is afc/afl bottom is nfc/nfl

  • JeremyDe

    Don’t have time at the moment to verify this theory, so will put this out there.

    Q1: The circle sizes are based on either weighted AV or career AV. Since Doug created this puzzle, I’m leaning towards weighted AV.
    And I’m thinking the connection lines are familiarity, either # of games played with or against another player on the list (or possibly careers overlapping by season). I imagine the degree of darkness represents the degree of familiarity.

    Q2 : I am lucky that I have a quirky, understanding wife who is a football fan. Despite the fact that is an Eagles fan, she would ‘get’ it. Although she would ask me why it is shaped like Australia or a kidney bean.

    • Chase Stuart

      Congratulations, JeremyDe, on being selected as the third-place winner.


      You have ended up winning the Football Perspective coozie. If you e-mail me your mailing address (my contact information is in the About section), I will send you your prize.


  • Shanker

    Connectivity is who played with whom in a (or multiple) pro bowls. The size of the dot is career AV.
    Note the demarcation of connections as follows:
    1) AFC on top, NFC on bottom. Players like Marshall Faulk or Jerry Rice who made pro bowls in both conferences are in the middle.
    2) Pre 1982 is on the right, post 1982 is on the left, and players that made pro bowls in both the 1970’s and 80’s (Ken Anderson, Walter Payton) are in the middle. I say 1982 because I’m guessing the gap in the middle has something to do with the strike shortened season. There was a pro bowl, but I’m guessing the field of participants was significantly smaller than usual.

  • Shattenjager

    I’ve probably spent two hours total looking at this thing, and I still have pretty much nothing. I’m fairly sure I know who the players are, but I have no clue what decides the size and color of the circles, where the lines go, or the darkness of the lines. Every time I think I have something, I find someplace where it is clearly wrong (and seemingly 80% of the time it’s Steve Grogan ruining it).

    • Chase Stuart

      On the bright side, this post is doing a good job of bringing out the commenters!

    • Shattenjager

      And for the second part, I think it is pretty easy: “‘Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.’ This is a mind challenge, and I like it.”

      My hypothetical significant other is a sucker for Shakespeare quotes.

    • Arif Hasan
    • Shattenjager

      And now it’s been about 3.5 hours of staring and all I’ve got is that I think it’s right that the players are the top 250-300 (somewhere in that range) in either weighted or unweighted career AV (I haven’t found someone who makes a good test case for differentiating between them) and the size and color of the dots seems to be from the AV total.

      It doesn’t seem to me that the lines are just overlapping career lengths. Steve Grogan and Ken Riley make it impossible for there to be any Pro Bowl connections and Grogan makes All-Pro connections impossible. Night Train Lane makes postseason connections impossible. This is definitely the most difficult brain teaser-type contest I’ve ever seen.

      • Shattenjager

        I’m going to try this out as a guess even though I think it is wrong:

        The dots vary in size and color according to the players’ career AV, unweighted. The connections between them are based on times they have participated in the same game, whether as teammates or opponents, with the darker lines representing more such games and the lighter lines representing fewer.

  • Wade Iuele

    (1) This is an infographic of the NFL from 1950 to today. The players in the image represent those with the highest weighted career Approximate Value (AV) since 1950. The larger the circle, the higher the AV. The lines in the image connect players who played with or against each other at some point in their careers.

    (2) This should be printed and framed and hung on our wall because (a) we both love football, (b) we’re both old enough to appreciate a lot of these names, and (c) it is art.

  • Richie

    Based on hints from other commenters, I have to go with career weighted AV seems to be the size of the circles. The lines represent overlapping careers, with length of overlap representing the darkness of the lines.

    So far I think Fred Dryer is the lowest-rated on the board. He had 87 career weighted AV, ranking him 296th. (Are there really 296 players on the graph?) So maybe there are 300 total, and I just haven’t figured out who 297-300 are.

    What would cause such a clear dividing line along Too Tall Jones, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, etc. Could it be the 82 and 87 strikes which would remove almost an entire season from the careers of any players that were in the league at that period – essentially removing a handful of players from the top-300 weighted career av list?

  • I cannot figure out why Andy Russell and Roy Winston are both on the chart–one has a weighted AV of only 77, for 467th all time, and the other has no all pro selections…