MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — There are many moments that Steve Hirdt can remember in exact detail. For example, there’s the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the 2006 NL Championship Series.
Every play of that inning is etched into his memory, every event remembered with absolute precision. Then again, he’s a New York Mets fan and still laments them not trying to have Tom Glavine lay down a sacrifice bunt with two on and none out while facing a 3-1 deficit in what became a season-ending loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
That one, he didn’t have to look up.
For everything else that’s happened in sports, he’s basically the curator of the records.
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If you’ve listened to the broadcast of “Monday Night Football” at any point in the last 34 years or so, you’ve heard a stat that Hirdt looked up and relayed to the announcers calling the game. He’s been part of 501 Monday night matchups and counting in his role as MNF’s director of information — a pretty good side job for someone who is the longtime executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau.
“If anything, if I had one thing that I thought I might have done OK over the years, it’s sort of having a sense of what would interest people,” Hirdt said. “I’ve always believed that statistics can be analytical, descriptive, incisive, wacky, some just unexplainable.”
Over time, he’s offered plenty of each. No one, either in front of or behind the camera, has been part of Monday Night telecasts longer than Hirdt. And by now, he’s seen just about everything.
Take the Jan. 3, 1983 game when Dallas visited Minnesota, and the Vikings had the Cowboys backed up inside their own 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. Tony Dorsett took a handoff from Danny White, found open space and simultaneously ran into both the end zone and the history books.
“That’s a 99-and-a-half yard run,” the legendary announcer Howard Cosell said as Dorsett celebrated in the end zone with Dallas teammates. “I think it’s the longest run in the history of the league.”
Of course it was, and it was Hirdt — in just his first of now 33 seasons on the MNF crew — who was in his ear to tell him that was the case. But sometimes, probably more often than not, recognizing that a moment is historic or significant isn’t so easy.
Elias has been around for more than a century now and is the official statistician for Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, the NFL, the WNBA and Major League Soccer. It might take some digging, but if Hirdt sees a team blowing a 21-point lead in the final 4 minutes of a Monday Night matchup he can find whether it’s happened before relatively quickly.
So while it’s the on-air voices — now Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden, preceded by the likes of Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf, Dan Fouts, John Madden and Dennis Miller among plenty of others — who give the listeners those nuggets, it’s Hirdt that they’ve all relied upon to get the facts to them.
“A lot of people would come up to me and assume I was a math major or a statistics major in college; I actually had a minor in statistics but I was a journalism major and it’s helped me more than I could say,” said Hirdt, 64. “As was being around someone like Cosell early in my years. He would just know what the story was. He knew what would interest people.”
It’s Hirdt who was credited with figuring out that Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series was a record, a stat that probably every ardent baseball fan knows. It also was Hirdt who came up with one of the most obscure and entertaining stats of all time — how the Washington Redskins basically could predict presidential elections.
If the Redskins won their last home game before an election, the sitting party would keep the White House. If the Redskins lost, the other party would win the presidency. And that held up from the 1930s into the 2000s.
Who else could come up with that but someone who’s spent basically his entire adult life poring through the numbers in Elias’ massive database and trying to make sense of them all? He’s extremely proud of the work Elias does and is understandably protective of the brand, but when it came time for friends and colleagues to celebrate his 500th game on the MNF crew he cringed a bit at being the center of attention.
“There’s an expression that there’s no limit to what someone can do if they don’t care who gets the credit,” Hirdt said. “It’s been ascribed to Thomas Payne, John Wooden and several people in between. So I’m not quite sure who said it. I wasn’t there when it was first said, but I agree with the sentiment.”
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