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 clich�s 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 1� 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.