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Streaking through the sports seasons

Posted Jul 7, 2017

Introducing football's equivalent to the never-ending quest to top Joe DiMaggio's legendary baseball hitting streak.

June 29,1941: Joe DiMaggio tops George Sisler's 41-game hit streak on his way to 56.

Sports and streaks go together like bacon and more bacon.

Panthers fans surely remember their team's recent 18-game winning streak in regular season games – an NFC record. Not as many recall Carolina's streak of 13 consecutive lost coin tosses back in 2012, though it was a big enough deal at the time that fans were given the power to pick (wrongly) the 13th heads-or-tails decision.

Can you predict such streaks? Probably not, but it's fun trying. It also can be infuriating.

About seven weeks ago, a co-worker who shall remain nameless (though I've cursed his name since) introduced me to "Beat the Streak", a contest sponsored by Major League Baseball that challenges sports fans to take their crack at topping Joe DiMaggio's famed 56-game hitting streak that has stood above all others since 1941.

Besides being a baseball fan – or at least an Orioles fan – there were 5.6 million reasons why I was intrigued. Beat DiMaggio's streak, and you're $5.6 million richer.

Here's the thing: The contest started more than 16 years ago.

Earlier this season, someone put together the longest streak to date out of the more than 80 million attempted since the contest debuted in 2001. Robert Mosley picked 51 consecutive batters who came through with a hit the day he selected them, only to see his dream die on the 76th anniversary of the day that DiMaggio's streak started.

I can't imagine how DiMaggio did it, much less Robert Mosley. It took five of us at Panthers.com 10 days before one of us managed a five-game streak, even though you're allowed to pick up to two players a day. It took me eight days to even officially record a streak after I went 1-for-2 seven straight days (that's sort of a notable streak). I've topped out at nine so far; Bill Voth shocked the world with a 15-game streak that came and went.

The NFL doesn't lend itself to streaks quite as nicely, though "survivor pools" that have become all the rage in recent years share some characteristics. Survivor pool participants aim to pick one winner each week of the regular season. If that team wins, you survive to play the next week, the goal being to be the last man or woman standing. Harder than you might think in the parity-driven NFL, especially since most pools only allow you to pick a team once.

If there were to be a "Beat the Streak" style of game for the NFL, consecutive games with a touchdown pass would be the best way to go. Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas established the mark at 47 games in 1960. He tossed touchdown passes to future Panthers founder Jerry Richardson four times during the streak, in addition to the game-winning score in the 1959 NFL Championship.

Unitas' mark survived for more than 50 years. In much more of a pass-happy era, Drew Brees finally topped it in 2012 with 54, eventually throwing one in 99 of 100 games. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning since reached 50 but couldn't quite surpass Brees. Entering the 2017 season, Andrew Luck leads with way with a streak of 23. Cam Newton stands at nine – the third-longest of his career and tied for the fourth-longest current NFL streak for a touch of perspective.

Just for laughs this season, I'm going to try to make a run Brees' streak, allowing myself to pick anywhere from zero to five quarterbacks each week. Why not give it a shot yourself? The only thing you have to lose is your sanity.