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DOING IT BY THE NUMBERS

Jan. 14, 1974
Jan. 14, 1974

Table of Contents
Jan. 14, 1974

Chasing Jack
Big Julie
Super Bowl
College Basketball
College Football
Red Wolf
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

DOING IT BY THE NUMBERS

Statistician Bud Goode uses one of the world's biggest computers to pick football games. In 1973 the IBM 360-91 had the Dolphins by seven in the Super Bowl. This year it likes them by nine

Meet Maxim (Bud) Goode, resident of Studio City, state of California, continent of North America, planet Earth—a Hollywood press agent loose in a Twilight Zone of numbers. In defiance of all oddsmakers he says Miami will beat Minnesota in the Super Bowl by nine—count 'em nine—points.

This is an article from the Jan. 14, 1974 issue Original Layout

Don't scoff. Goode (it is pronounced goody) correctly predicted the winner in 75% of last year's NFL games. Early in the season he forecast that Cincinnati would make the playoffs, an expectation based on the Bengals upsetting both the Vikings and the Browns, which they did. In the last three years he has picked 17 of the 20 winners in postseason playoffs, and in the last two years he has beaten the line 10 of 13 times in the playoffs.

That degree of accuracy surely suggests supernatural assistance. In fact, the forces of Goode consist of IBM 360-91, one of the world's largest computers, which he calls "Cal." Electronically speaking, Cal says that Miami will beat the spread—seven points—on Sunday in Houston. So put your money on the Dolphins, and while you're at it place a bet for Goode, who prefers to kick a gift horse in the mouth. He is, alas, philosophically opposed to gambling.

In making its prediction the computer points to an unexpected Viking weakness, the defensive line. Goode is not surprised. Last year only two teams got to the quarterback fewer times than Minnesota and Goode was saying, "Color the Purple People Eaters puce." This year the Vikes improved their sacks by 43% but only rose to 16th. Miami, on the other hand, tied for second in sacks. Color the Dolphins royal aqua.

Perhaps Minnesota's lowly ranking in sacks reflects nothing more than Coach Bud Grant's preseason intention to concentrate on stopping the run. But if that was their aim, the Vikings failed miserably, yielding 4.4 yards per rush. Only Chicago, Philadelphia and New England gave up more. Miami was tied for seventh in this category, yielding less than four yards an attempt.

To make matters worse for Minnesota, Miami was second in the league in 1973 with an average of five yards per rush. "Larry Csonka provides the power and Mercury Morris has more moves than a water bed," says Goode, citing Csonka's third straight 1,000-yard season and Morris' gaudy, league-leading 6.4 yards a carry. Furthermore, the line that opened holes for those two allowed fewer sacks than any other in the NFL, while the Vikings' front gave only mediocre protection to Fran Tarkenton.

In passing, however, the Dolphins and Vikings are almost identical. However, Minnesota's John Gilliam, who has averaged over 21 yards a reception the past two years, statistically upstages Miami's Paul Warfield.

The computer does reveal subtle indications that Minnesota's defensive line weaknesses are misleading. For instance, although the Vikings allowed fewer points than any other team in the league except, of course, Miami, they gave up quite a few field goals. This suggests that they grew increasingly stingy as the goal line neared. Given Garo Yepremian's range and accuracy. Minnesota will have to get stubborner sooner. The Vikings did hold Dallas to 3.6 yards a carry in the NFC Championship game, but the loss of Calvin Hill, the conference's second leading rusher, may well have contributed to that.

And, after all, can anyone stop Miami? One of the most startling facts the computer showed is that Miami ranked dead last in total offensive plays yet led the NFL in average gain per play and tied for fifth in scoring. Apparently the only thing that can put a halt to the Dolphin offense is the end zone.

In order to predict the outcome of Super Bowl VIII Bud Goode used two programs from something called the Biomedical Statistical Package, a set of computer programs developed at UCLA for the application of statistical methods in medical research. With the aid of the computer he created a correlation matrix, a table that essentially showed the relationships between all football statistics. Hidden in that matrix was a pattern of statistical factors, such as rushing, passing, interceptions, field-goal ability and speed, which account for the outcome of any game. To determine these factors Goode had to do—get ready now—a factor analysis, a program designed to reveal the hidden pattern of primary factors in a body of data. Each factor is totally independent so that strength in one does not mean strength in any other. Using the one or two statistics that related most strongly with each factor, Goode came up with a list of 14 important statistics. These he put into a second program, a multiple-regression analysis, which assigned a weight to each statistic for the purpose of maximizing predictive accuracy. A 100% correlation with points was not possible but. Goode says, the 14 statistics account for 96% of scoring, which means he can come close to predicting or—more accurately—explaining the outcome of any season. Last year, for instance, he missed the total points the Redskins allowed for the whole season by one and the points they scored by 13. The ability to explain statistically the outcome of the regular season makes Goode's computer a sound tool to predict the outcome of the season's culminating event. Last year the computer picked the Super Bowl right on the nose—Miami by seven—although because of a calculation mistake Goode released the figure as eight.

If nothing else, the computer is totally objective. It doesn't know Alan Page from Howard Cosell. One week a keypunch error told it that Dallas averaged 51 first downs for every punt. Without blinking a light, it predicted the Cowboys would beat the Redskins by 73 points.

The Biomedical Statistical Package is used to analyze business, economics, psychology, sociology, even history and literature, but to Goode's knowledge it has not been used in sports. Dr. W.J. Dixon, a onetime chairman of the statistical computing section of the American Statistical Association and father of the Biomed package, has watched Goode's work. "There are a lot of people called Statisticians in sports," Dixon says. "Record keeping is a one-upsmanship game in itself. A whole culture of numbers has grown up around sports where it hasn't elsewhere. We don't, for instance, count the number of times Marlene Dietrich fell into the pit. Bud has done something revolutionary in making this tremendous volume of sports information meaningful. He has shown us how to look at all these statistics and which are the most important for predicting and explaining. Why that's so rare in sports I don't know. It's a kind of technique that's been used in other fields for a long while. Sports is years behind the times."

So are football coaches and sportswriters, according to the computer and its spokesman, Goode. With his Mr. Peepers' look he might be mistaken for Studio City's resident bird watcher, but loose Bud Goode's tongue and he becomes overwhelming poking holes in the clichés of the game with reckless abandon. "Too often communication is a one-way street." he says. "Fortunately, with me that's usually enough."

One of his favorite computer revelations is that there is virtually no relationship between average yards per rush and average yards per pass. In other words, you don't need to "establish the running game" before you can go to the air. According to the computer, if you can pass, you can pass. This year's Redskins ranked dead last in yards per rush yet they tied Miami and Minnesota for fifth in yards per pass.

For scoring points one of the most important statistics is yards per pass attempt (sacks count as an attempt with, of course, minus yardage). Basically, one additional yard per pass attempt adds two points per game to a team's offense. This year's eight playoff teams ranked in the top 11 in both points and average yards per pass attempt. Yet how many times do you hear yards per pass attempt cited? it is not even on the list of 75 statistics that the NFL publishes each week.

Usually, poor teams average four yards per pass attempt, middling teams six and strong teams eight. The important point for the purposes of predicting and explaining is that the difference between four yards and eight is 100%. It is the differences that predict. Goode has used this statistic to develop the Housewife's Rule for Understanding Football. She need only remember the numbers four, six and eight. At halftime she asks her husband the passing yardage and attempts for each team and with a little short division can almost always tell him who is winning, without wasting a moment in front of the TV set.

Discovering the importance of this statistic is one of Goode's proudest achievements. "When I die," he says, "my tombstone can say, 'Here Lies Goode. He Told The World About Average Yards Per Pass Attempt.' " When Minnesota traded Quarterback Gary Cuozzo to St. Louis for Gilliam in 1972, Goode looked at the numbers. Noting that Gilliam averaged a very high 19.9 yards a reception and Cuozzo only 5.01 yards an attempt, he proclaimed that the trade "makes the Brinks robbery look like small potatoes." In retrospect that may have been an understatement.

Goode rails against the way the media mislead the public. For example, the computer says that throwing interceptions is about three times more disastrous than losing fumbles, yet the two are consistently lumped together under the general heading "turnovers." Notably, both Minnesota and Miami finished below average in recovering opponents' fumbles. Miami, in fact, ranked last. On the other hand, the two teams tied for fifth in interceptions, each averaging 1½ per game. Since no team intercepts half a pass in a game, this statistic, according to Goode, points to Minnesota's best chance for an upset—stealing two passes to the Dolphins' one. In similar situations the team that got the odd interception won about 80% of the time. Again, the difference between one interception and two is 100%.

For some teams, fumbles can be a sign of power. The number of rushes a team makes bears a very strong correlation to won-lost percentage, and the more you run, the more you fumble. Furthermore, number of rushes is one of several statistics that relate to both offense and defense. Indeed, it helps a team's defense more than its offense. The more you run, the more you score but, more importantly, the less opponents will score. "Don't go to the air to play catch-up," says Goode. "Colleges do that and it's un-American. It teaches boys to lose."

Field goals also relate more to defense than to offense. Goode explains that fact by pointing out that to the computer any score is a potential go-ahead score. Opponents tend to panic when they fall behind or see their leads cut into. They pass more and run less, which leads to more interceptions and thus fewer points. In effect, a field goal makes it less likely that an opponent will score, which is the basis of Goode's first and only law of football. "If in field-goal range in a fourth-and-short-yardage situation, always—but always—go for the three points." Even Goode might be forced to place a wager if he thought Bud Grant was going to keep gambling on fourth-and-one.

The slide rule has not always governed Bud Goode's life. The only constant in his 50 years has been the Los Angeles area. His father Henry was a musician who for a time earned a living playing mood music for Tom Mix during the making of his silent films. Young Bud's first memories include a Mother Goose book with Mix" autograph in purple ink. During the Depression Henry Goode eked out a living as an artist. Bud became a "beach rat" and now claims to be the world's best 50-year-old body surfer. Money was scarce. One summer Bud paid his camp fees on Catalina by diving for the coins passengers pitched off the boat running to and from L.A. "When it comes to money, I'm very tight," he says, and by way of illustration he tells of the bone-handled knife he dropped into Lake Arrowhead when he was seven. At the age of 15 he returned to the lake, dived in and retrieved it.

At Occidental College he planned to major in physical education but World War II intervened. With his swim fins in tow, Goode enlisted, wanting underwater demolition. He ended up a junior gunnery officer. Still he managed swims off beaches all over the South Pacific; twice he even got in a dip during lackluster invasions.

These military heroics ended in sickness. While at sea he developed a blood infection and was brought home. Fever had scarred one of his heart valves and Naval medical examiners said it would crystallize and give out in 25 years. Goode was retired with full disability.

He returned to Occidental, took a course in statistical measurement and caught the bug. He went on to get a master's in psychological measurement and began work on a Ph. D. in psychometrics at USC.

Now it would be easy to imagine how Bud Goode got from there to here. But Goode is not as predictable as his computer; instead he got married and became a magazine writer. During the '50s he wrote personality features for such publications as Pageant, Coronet, American Weekly and Photoplay. Not that he didn't betray some of his statistical leanings in this enterprise. He developed a card file—a data base, he might call it today—on how to build character in a magazine article. And he cranked his features out with computerlike speed. By 1958 he was producing about 100 a year.

In the late '50s he joined John Guedel-Art Linkletter Television Productions as a press agent, handling, among other shows, Art Linkletter's Houseparty and People Are Funny, Jack Linkletter's On the Go and Groucho Marx' You Bet Your Life. He remained with Guedel and Link-letter until 1971, throwing himself into Hollywood publicity work with uncommon vigor. He once threw himself out of an airplane to help promote a segment of On the Go, but he was less successful in that venture than in others—he broke his right leg in three places.

In the meantime he began to get back to statistics. In the early '60s he picked up part-time work with a computer service bureau by promising to promote it through sports stories. Goode called a press conference and, using a simple set of statistics, correctly predicted the outcome of the Rose Bowl. Before long the Los Angeles Herald Examiner gave him column space and with his computer he began to write a weekly sports feature. Eventually he was syndicated in 26 papers including The Washington Post, The Minneapolis Tribune and The Dallas Times Herald.

Armed with computer printouts, he couldn't resist cornering coaches. At a reception in Anaheim before the 1967 All-Star Game, Hank Bauer, then manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was being asked what had happened to the pitching staff that had taken him to the pennant the year before. "The pitching is off," was the best Bauer could offer. As Goode tells it, "I piped up in my tremulous voice, 'Do you think it's your pitching control, Mr. Bauer?' 'What do you mean?' Bauer asked. 'Well, when you won the pennant last year you walked about 8% of the batters. This year through the first half of the season you've walked 11%. Over the course of 6,000 batters a year that's 180 extra base runners and if one-third of them score that's 60 runs.' 'Yeah,' said Bauer, 'come to think of it, it seems like we're walking more. Where did you get those figures?' 'Well, you see, Mr. Bauer, I've got this computer....' Bauer's face turned a deep red. 'Computer! I don't need any damn computer to run my ball club,' he roared. 'I have been in baseball 22 years.' 'Well,' I said, 'my computer has only studied baseball for 30 seconds.' " And that was as far as he ever got with Hank Bauer. "He was fired a year later," Goode adds.

When he piped up in his tremulous voice to George Allen, then coach of the Los Angeles Rams, he got a more gratifying response. "So you're Bud Goode," Allen said. "I clip and save all your columns." For the rest of the Allen years in L.A. Goode made two or three visits a season to the Ram offices. "He can tell you what's wrong with your team," admits Tom Catlin, an assistant coach still with the Rams, "but you can't go get what you need at the drugstore." On one occasion Goode told the coaching staff that the answer to their problems was offensive downfield speed. "Bud, you tell us where we can get some and we'll give you a $10,000 finder's fee," said Offensive Backfield Coach Ted Marchibroda.

So how has Bud Goode managed to keep out of the public eye? Fate intervened in the form of Monday night football, which delayed the distribution of league statistics by a day and a half. By the time they got to Goode there was not enough time left to feed them to the computer and get the results to his newspapers before the next game. He lost his syndication. And then he died three times.

His 25 years were up. In the meantime, however, an operation had been devised for cases such as his. So he went about finding a surgeon. His barber worked on Los Angeles' Doctors Row, an area cluttered with high-rise medical buildings. The barber would ask all his clients, many of them doctors, who the best surgeon for the operation would be. Goode called this his Barber's Poll, and when the results overwhelmingly pointed to one man, he arranged to be operated on by him. The operation is successful in all but three of 100 cases and with odds of 33 to 1 Goode felt comfortable. Three days after he came out of surgery, however, his heart began hemorrhaging and he had to be rushed back in. This time the anesthetic didn't put him all the way to sleep. Although he was paralyzed and couldn't talk he hadn't lost his hearing and feeling. "Open him up," he heard one doctor say and then he had an experience he would just as soon never repeat. "Are you plugged in?" a doctor asked somebody Goode could not see. "Hell, I don't know where anything goes," came the answer. It was at this point, Goode says, that he began to refigure the odds. His heart stopped twice during the second operation.

His recuperation lasted six weeks and was followed by hepatitis, which sidelined him for five more months. That brought him to the end of 1972. In the meantime the last of the Linkletter-Guedel shows was taken off the air, so Goode decided to make his avocation his vocation.

"I want to marry statistical methodology to the speed of a computer," he says now, "for the purpose of bringing reliability into the analysis and interpretation of the news." Goode envisions a day when he will operate a computer service providing reliable information in many different fields to all media forms. As a start, National Football League Properties hired him to create the statistical charts in this year's Super Bowl program. He has concentrated on sports, particularly pro football, because he can get needed exposure from it, but he has explored other areas, such as Supreme Court decisions, economics and even recipes. "The Kitchen Computer" would produce recipes for the women's page each week that would minimize the food budget while maximizing vitamins and minerals. "Research shows that the average housewife spends 150% more than she needs to for food and doesn't give her family a balanced diet," says Goode. One presumes this is during those times when she is not dividing passing attempts into passing yardage.

The cartoon on this page is Goode's first attempt to convert his mass of numbers into a form more suitable for television and newspapers. Next season United Press Features will syndicate the cartoon as a weekly series. A computer at CalComp, an Anaheim company that also does Goode's printouts, draws the cartoon, which was designed by Bernard Gruver, in 10 seconds by analyzing the numbers fed into it and comparing them to canned numbers in its memory. Each of the parts of the cartoon's anatomy—toes, feet, legs, arms, nose, eyes, etc.—represents a variable. For instance, if a team's yards per pass attempt is less than 5.0 the left arm points downward with a yo-yo football. Goode calls that a "yo-yo passing attack."

The drawing produces a gestalt effect—the viewer perceives the total, not just the parts. "It's a sort of Dow-Jones average for sports," says Dixon, "although the Dow-Jones is much simpler."

The problem with predicting the outcome of a single football game such as Sunday's Super Bowl is the effect of what statisticians call error variance—otherwise known as luck. A computer is better suited to explain what did happen than to predict what will. "Two quick mistakes like the Rams made in the playoffs in Dallas and it's good night nurse," says Goode. "It's tough to win a game if you give the opposition 14 points and start four minutes into the contest." But if Minnesota and Miami play true to their 1973 form, Don Shula's Dolphins will become the first team since Green Bay to win back-to-back Super Bowls and they will do so convincingly. Would you believe nine points?

View this article in the original magazine

PHOTOILLUSTRATIONCAL The COMPUTER
MIAMI
OFFENSE
DEFENSE
MINNESOTA

LEGEND:

MIA

MIN

LEFT LEG

36.21

38.43

RUSHES PER GAME

LEFT SHOE

5.00

4.20

YARDS PER RUSH

RIGHT LEG

36.50

32.14

OPPONENT RUSHES

RIGHT SHOE

3.90

4.40

0PP. YARDS PER RUSH

LEFT ARM

5.88

5.93

YARDS PER PASS

RIGHT ARM

3.53

4.65

0PP. YARDS PER PASS

PATCH-HELMET

1.14

1.21

FUMBLES LOST

STARS-HELMET

0.57

1.07

FUMBLES RECOVERED

LEFT EYE

0.86

0.64

PASS INTERCEPTIONS

RIGHT EYE

1.50

1.50

0PP. INTERCEPTIONS

HELMET

0.93

2.29

QB TACKLED

NOSE

3.21

2.14

TACKLED OPPONENT QB

LEFT TOE

1.79

1 .50

FIELD GOALS PER GAME

RIGHT TOE

1.07

1.50

OPPONENT FIELD GOALS

JERSEY NUMBER

13.60

5.00

TOTAL STRENGTH