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11:44 a.m. - October 09, 2006
Always Be Careful What You Wish For - Stat Boy!
Working at a college, we all have teaching moments that we can give to the students (and heck, even alumni). Saturday, during the game, it was definitely one for one of our young men.

This gent is a sharp, personable young man who helps Sid out doing all kinds of things during athletic events. This year, he is the computer operator entering stats into the computer during the football games.

(OK, this is NOT going to be about football, really. There will be some football shop talk, but ladies, it’s all good and I won’t drag you into the minutiae. I swear! Ok, maybe a little – but I’ll make it a good read no matter what. That, I can promise.)

This week I saw him on campus when I was walking to a meeting and he asked me if I saw the end of the Colts / Jets game last week. The last play of the game was bizarre, as the Jets had to score a touchdown. The quarterback opted to throw a shorter pass instead of a long bomb, and the Jets set up a play where they made several laterals. There were a couple of fumbles on the play as well, and the Colts ended the game when one of their players recovered the last fumble.

To most fans, it was fun, but for us stats geeks, we cared, because the NFL mandates that you record all of the people who touched the ball – where they touched it and where they threw a lateral to another player.

He said that he was going to look for the play-by-play and bring it to the press box on Saturday. I had already seen the play-by-play but sure, it’s always fun to look at it again.

During games on Saturday, I have three jobs. I do the PA announcing, I am the person who assigns tackles to the defense (which can be a daunting task, since we have no video monitors) and I also make sure I record every player that steps on the field. So during kickoffs, field goals, and punts I’m always scanning to see who is out there on special teams.

We also have one person entering stats in the computer, one person writing the plays down, and one person, Tank, whose job it is to call out the plays and he is the last word. Sid manages the media and actually HE has the last word, but there’s only a rare occasion that Tank and I disagree on something. OK, a rare occasion as in a couple times per game.

This Saturday, we were short one person as Tank was off being a happy Tree alumnus. (He went to Indiana State – and had a reunion. They’re the Sycamores. Yeah, a very daunting mascot, isn’t it. They’ll um…shed their leaves in the fall.)

So I had to help out in calling out the plays to our computer operator. He, being so impressed by that wacky play in the Jets game, was ready for anything, he said.

Be careful what you wish for, son.

A normal football play doesn’t require much thought to enter. There is a sequence, though. First you enter what kind of play it is, then who is doing the action, what the end result is, who made the tackle, and finally where the ball is now. The computer does the rest.

But if shenanigans happen, then that’s when it gets interesting. The normal flow becomes disjointed. So if there’s a fumble, then you have a bunch of other things to take into consideration – was the fumble forced, who recovered it, did they advance it, and who tackled them when they did advance it. Other plays, like blocked kicks, can also be hairy.

So the third play of the game, there’s a fumble. No one tried to advance it, but still, a challenge to get it all in there, get the time of possession, and get the computer ready for the next play.

Wabash is playing Allegheny, and they’re a decent team. They drive the ball deep on us and try a field goal. Well, wouldn’t you know it, it’s blocked, and then one of our players recovers it and tries to advance it. So I have to be sure who blocked it, where our player recovered it, and how far he got, and then who tackled him.

That takes a while to sort out, for sure, and our student computer operator was already mumbling to himself about janky plays, and the game was barely halfway through the first quarter.

Then there was an Allegheny punt that we blocked, but it’s not officially a blocked punt because the ball went forward. But it’s a big ol’ scramble and hoo-hah anyway and we had to let the dust settle before we got it in the computer.

The game goes on, and the action settles down a bit. Wabash is ahead 28-7 at the half, then we score again. The rout is on.

Not so fast my friends.

Allegheny begins a comeback, and the game’s tempo increases. They go into a no-huddle offense for the most part, making it a very fast game where we have to be sharp at all times. All of a sudden it’s close, and Allegheny is driving.

They convert on a 4th and two, and the ball is in Wabash territory. Allegheny is then called for a penalty, making it 1st and 15. There’s a short pass play, and after the play words are exchanged (since this is Division III, it can be assumed that the discourse may have been a bit more genteel than “yer mama” – more like “Saracen Dog!” “Spartan Pig!”) and there is offsetting personal fouls.

The officiating crew has been horrible about informing anyone what they are doing. They are wearing a mic so they can inform everyone what the calls are, but half the time what they are doing is still a mystery.

After the play the person running the down marker on the sideline dutifully moved the down from first to second. The ref, after calling the personal fouls, and saying they were offsetting (which means “never mind” – it’s the Emily Litella of football calls), glances at the down marker, assumes that it hadn’t been changed, says, “It’s third down right there”.

Nice.

Remember, you get four downs to move the ball 10 yards. So he screwed Allegheny out of a down.

Officials usually have some contraption they wear on their hand to keep track of downs, but I guess this guy wasn’t wearing it.

Sid started out being mad at us, the crew, for missing a play. But it wasn’t in the computer, it wasn’t in the hand written play by play, and the newspaper men verified it. The ref just screwed up.

It didn’t matter, Allegheny scored anyway. But on the extra point, we blocked it. Unfortunately, at the split second the kick was blocked, I looked away. Most of us did. No one saw who blocked it – but a reporter said it was one of our safeties, so we put that in there. Whew. I was going to have to make up a number. Not that I ever have before. Oh, no.

Today, Sid told me our special teams coach said that it was actually was one of our defensive linemen that blocked the kick, but you could only tell if you were the kicker, or ran the film back at super-slo-motion.

Sid, we need video in the press box. Thanks!

So our computer guy was totally beside himself now. All of these odd, janky plays happening in one game, and all because he brought that Colts / Jets play by play to the press box.

Well, there was still one more piece of trouble.

Allegheny got the ball back, and were driving for another score that could tie the game. One of our defensive linemen tipped a pass, and a linebacker intercepted it and ran the ball back for a touchdown. The team went nuts, and by the time everyone settled down a bit, everyone noticed that there were two flags on the field.

We were penalized for an illegal block, AND unsportsmanlike conduct for the celebration in the end zone. Plus, we had an interception AND had to give credit to the player who tipped the pass as well.

All in all, this has to be entered in a sequence that is just so, very similar to nuclear launch codes. So Sid jumped on the computer, and it even took him five tries to get it right. Meanwhile, the game doesn’t stop because the stats crew is behind, so I was calling out plays to the student who is writing the hand play by play, and hopefully Sid wasn’t going to be confused by the cacophony.

Well, it all worked out in the end. Everything was in the computer, the stats were good, and we won the game.

But I don’t think our computer operator will be bringing in any more odd NFL play-by-play sheets in the near future.

 

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