- Calvin Johnson's Receiving Record and "Stats"
By Brian Burke
But the truth is that the record for most receiving yards (or rushing yards or whatever yards) is not "a statistic." It's trivia. It's the answer to a question on the ESPN sports-trivia-a-day calendar you just bought for your nephew for Christmas. It's the kind of thing that gives stats a bad name, or at least a misleading one.
Don't get me wrong. I think Calvin Johnson is awesome, and all the numbers agree. Fans and media are right to make a big deal out of such an accomplishment. It's just that records like this are what most people think of when they hear the word statistics. It's understandable then, that when coaches or players think of stats, they dismiss them as pointless or "for losers." After all, how could knowing who holds the record for most receiving yards in a season, or memorizing how many yards that is, possibly help a team win?
I sometimes find myself in a situation like this. I'm in an airport or on a plane working on the site from my laptop, and a fellow traveler discovers I'm that stats guy he read about. "Oh, you're the guy that does all those football statistics?"..."Yup, that's me."..."Oh, neat. So tell me, is it true that Mark Brunell has the record for the most interceptions by a left-handed quarterback?" It's at this point I realize I have no hope of explaining what I really do.
I'm under no delusion it's possible to change the common perception of statistics as little more than giant catalogs of trivial facts. I just called this stuff stats because that's what we called the classes in grad school that covered things like regression and other similar techniques. At first I resisted the term analytics because it sounded like one of those made-up corporate-speak words that made something that had been around for generations sound novel and unnecessarily complex. My word processor doesn't even think analytics is a word....add to dictionary...ok, now it does. But now I'm fond of the term because it avoids the stigma of trivia. It also rolls off the tongue a little smoother than operations research. At least football is free of a term like sabermetrics, which has a nerd-quotient barely above that of Dungeons & Dragons.
No matter what we call this stuff, it won't matter to my chatty friend in seat 14B. "No. It's actually Ken Stabler," I say. Boy, is he impressed.
published on 12/23/2012