Day 221: When Math Attacks The Sports Page

originally published August 8, 2012

The world of sports statistics can get ugly and math-y. This presents a dilemma for a lot of fans – they love the sports, but hate the math. I’m a football fan. Most of our statistics are pretty easy to follow: a running back’s touchdown count is calculating by adding up the number of touchdowns he scored, then congratulating yourself for counting sequentially. That’s it.

But in 1971, Don R. Smith from the Pro Football Hall of Fame decided we needed a single number to differentiate quarterbacks. Don Weiss was the guy who figured it out.

So how does the quarterback rating work? There has to be a way to explain this without getting all number-nauseous. The suggestion was brought up that I should find a parallel example to illustrate the math. My first thought went (as usual) to bacon. But bacon might not be right for this. I then considered using the system to rate my ex-girlfriends, but many of them read this article daily, and I don’t want to further fuel their pleas for me to take them back.

(at this time I feel it prudent to mention that these articles are allowed to contain a certain element of fiction. Or, in the case of the above paragraph, absurdist fiction.)

In an attempt to be fair and non-judgmental (at least to people I’ve met), I’m instead going to demonstrate the passer rating from the female perspective, by showing how you can use it to rate current and past boyfriends. We’ll use two examples from your past: Roy and Rufus.

First, we have to do our preliminary calculations.

The lowest possible boyfriend rating is 0.0. The highest is 158.3. If that top-end sounds completely arbitrary, that’s okay. There’s no good reason for it, except that’s how the math works out. There are four categories we have to calculate – if our math creates a number lower than zero, we round it up to zero. Likewise, if it creates a number higher than 2.375, then we call it 2.375 (also, you should have married the guy. He sounds like quite a catch!).

Step One. Completion percentage. In dating terms, let’s say that this is how often you dropped a subtle hint and the guy picked it up. Nothing major – it could be that you mentioned an affinity for Lionel Richie’s unique blend of 80’s soft-pop-soul and he picked you up for your next date with “Dancing On The Ceiling” playing in his car. Maybe you mentioned off-hand that the insides of his shoes smelled like the inside of a portable toilet two blocks from a paper mill, and the next time you see him he’s wearing a new pair.

The key here is that you’re calculating over the course of at least ten dates, just as a passer rating only works for quarterbacks who have thrown at least ten passes. For the purposes of our example, let’s say Roy caught only eleven of the thirty-one hints you dropped while you were dating, but Rufus paid more attention. You dropped 26 hints, he adjusted for 22 of them. Using the math above, Roy’s rating for this stat would be 0.274, and Rufus’s would be 2.731, which we round down to 2.375 because the Wikipedia article told me to.

Step Two. Yards per attempt. This is a bit trickier to quantify, because yards are a unit of distance, and women seldom rate their boyfriends on distance (I will not be converting yards to inches for the purpose of this example, ladies). Given that most women I’ve had any degree of romantic success with – and you know who you are, both of you – tend to value a sense of humor in a mate, we’re going to measure laughs delivered per date.

Roy was a funny guy. Our fictional test subject went on 26 dates with Roy, and he made her laugh a total of 282 times. Since our test subject has a certain taste in men, Rufus also checks in pretty high here, racking up 307 laughs in 23 dates. Once again diving into the ugly math part, we see that Roy gets a fairly decent 1.962. Rufus did pretty well also, grabbing a 2.587, which we round down to 2.375. He may have had stinky feet, but that Rufus was a riot.

Step Three. Touchdowns. I wasn’t sure whether or not I should count a touchdown as an orgasm – calculable and distinct, but it might destroy my PG-13 rating. Then I thought, screw it, I blew that rating when I referred to masturbation as “spankin’ the pink potato” a few days ago.

Still, the numbers wouldn’t be right. Five orgasms in 26 dates might be unimpressive; five touchdowns in 26 throws would be outstanding. So instead let’s substitute OGA’s – or Outright Gestures of Awesomeness. These could be gifts, unexpected flowers, maybe helping you move. Everyone has their own idea of an OGA, and if Roy pulled off five in 26 dates, he’s doing pretty good. Rufus has already been established as more thoughtful, but he might not deliver as well on the grand gestures – he only cobbled together two in his 23 dates. Using the formula, Roy gets a whopping 3.846, which we bump down to 2.375, while Rufus only gets a 1.739.

Step Four. Interceptions. For this I’m going to substitute inopportune flatulence. Not the subtle squeaks that could be blamed on a chair – we’re talking the big social blunders. Roy had a lot of restraint; he only let one slip, and even though it covered up a key punchline on an episode of The Big Bang Theory , it’s forgivable. Rufus let out three big brrappps in his 23 dates. The math tells us that Roy gets a 1.413, Rufus ends up with a negative number, so we give him a 0.0. Should have learned to squeeze the cheeks, Rufus.

Lastly, we take the four numbers, add them together, divide them by six, then multiply that by a hundred. This means our final tally is a rating of 100.4 for Roy, and Rufus’ rating of 108.2. The guy may have gas concerns, but Rufus seems like the better catch here.

Actually, either of these guys would be a good dating prospect; the record for best career passer rating is Aaron Rodgers’ 104.1. But that’s over more than 1500 throws; we only went as far as 26 dates with Rufus. And we all know that, as his dating career with our subject drags on, the OGA’s will get lower and the inopportune flatulence – already a red flag here – will probably rise.

Also, the passer rating leaves out some key stats, like sacks taken (or times he insulted your mother), fumbles (forgotten birthdays/anniversaries/surgical procedures), and yards rushed by the quarterback (times he cleaned up the soiled underwear off his apartment floor before inviting you over). It’s all a complex tapestry.

I’d hoped to clarify the passer rating, but I fear I’ve just made it more complicated. Instead of taking this metaphor any further, I’ll just point out that the record for most games with a perfect passer rating by a single quarterback is four, belonging to Peyton Manning (Brady has two. Because he’s not as good). The record for most games with a 0.0 rating is three, held by Terry Bradshaw.

But Bradshaw won four Super Bowls and is considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. So this ‘ideal’ crunching of complex calculation is, in fact, far from perfect.

Just like Roy. Come on, give him a call. He’s lonely.

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