Football fans pour over stats and figures, trying to find the advantage that explains why a team wins or loses. But so much of the game comes down to intangibles: heart, fatigue, momentum, concentration. The playing of “Renegade” in the fourth quarter has become a tradition, if not a superstition, that’s now ingrained into the Pittsburgh Steelers home game experience.
But does “Renegade” actually make a difference during the games? The scientist with the answer may be the person you’d least expect to be tasked with the job.
“It’s interesting, because I’m actually not a football fan,” says Dr Matt Pascal, professor of Mathematics and Chair of Point Park University’s Department of Natural Sciences, Engineering and Technology. “I’m a Pittsburgh native through and through. Every Sunday during the Steelers season my entire family gathers for games, and I’m the only one not there. When this came to me, I think my entire family was excited and nervous that I would screw it up.”
Pascal is a graduate of Duquense and Pitt, and was once on staff at WVU, but never got the black and gold bug. He says that worked to his advantage on this project.
“It actually kind of gave me this unbiased thing,” Pascal says. “I’m just looking at numbers. I’m not in love with the Steelers like everybody else. I have, however, been to home games. I have experienced “Renegade” live, so I did know what I was getting into.”
Pascal and his students worked directly with the team to gather their research. There’s not exactly a public record of every time “Renegade” has been played. TV footage wasn’t always reliable because the song was played during commercials.
“We simply asked the Steelers, and they they were able to give us some data,” Pascal says. “But, it was more like scratch work on a note they had from the games. We had to correct a lot of the data, but that enabled us to get all the way back to 2014 through this this past season, and we’ve got every single game.”
Pascal found the power of “Renegade” was strongest when the Steelers had to protect the lead. They are 33-8 for an 80.5 win percentage. When the Steelers were trailing in the 4th, “Renegade” led the team to a record of 6-7.
But the most interesting stat, and maybe the most convincing proof of a “Renegade” Effect, is the fact that opposing teams are 7 times more likely to fumble on the very next play after the song, than on any other given play. Is that because the Steelers defense is feeding off the energy, or are the opponents distracted by the crowd? Pascal can’t say.
“I can’t pretend to know what it’s from,” Pascal says. “We need psychologists or sociologists or somebody to tell us what they’re doing right. This is totally organic and a perfectly timed moment, where it’s the right song, the right highlight reel of defensive plays, in the right moment in the game, and it just it works.”
According to Pascal, much of professional sports is aware of the “Renegade” Effect in Pittsburgh, but it remains out of their reach.
“This is just the thing that everybody wants, and nobody can explain how we got it,” Pascal says. “This is known apparently in the industry. People want their own version of ‘Renegade’ and nobody’s got It.”
Pascal and his students will be watching closely this season to see if the Steelers can make “Renegade” history. No Pittsburgh defender has yet to intercept a pass on the first play after the song plays.
“This new field of research, we might have to start calling it ‘Styx’-tistics.”
Kyle Chrise is the host of the BTSC podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout” and the upcoming live post-game show “What Yinz Talkin’ Live,” premiering on September 22.