Tennessee Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse broke the oldest NFL single-season record, and you probably had no idea it was broken.
The Titans rookie set the single-season record for the longest punt average held by Sammy Baugh since 1940. Stonehouse’s 53.1 yards per punt edged Baugh’s 51.4, which is an incredible feat given the modern evolution of the punting game.
Modern punting is much more structured than back in the early days of football. Today, punts are mostly returned or are caught for a fair catch, potentially lowering a punter’s average. But with kickers making longer field goals more often and teams being more likely to go for it on fourth and short inside the 50, punters are more likely to just be in a position to boot the ball as high and as far as possible.
In Baugh’s day, the quarterback would have punting duties and either punt the ball or try to get the first down. Because of that, the opposing team couldn’t gameplan for a punt and put a returner back there. Baugh may not have had the leg as today’s punters have, but he could get extra yardage with the ball bouncing further and no one to return the ball.
It takes a skilled player and some luck to get a chance to break a record like this, and that’s why it stood for over 80 years. It’s similar to why Norm Van Brocklin’s single-game record of 554 passing yards in 1951 has stood the test of time, even though the passing game is more important than ever. If a quarterback has a great passing day, chances are they’re blowing out their opponent. So, more often than not, that quarterback is benched, and Van Brocklin’s record remains safe. You need to have both teams scoring points at a rapid pace to not only keep the quarterback in the game but, ideally, be playing from behind so the quarterback chasing Van Brocklin’s record has to continue throwing the football. There have been 25 other 500+ yard passing games since Van Brocklin, but the closest anyone got was Warren Moon and Matt Schaub with 527.
Even though he broke an 80-year-old record, Stonehouse wasn’t selected for this year’s Pro Bowl. Instead, that honor went to Tommy Townsend of the Kansas City Chiefs, who was also selected to the NFL Players’ All-Pro Team.