"I pride myself on being a trivia expert. I challenge my friends. If they can beat me, I'll take them to lunch. I know basically every number for every Bears player. The most obscure the player, the more I remember. I guess it helped me get my job and I guess it helps me do my job better. It's weird because I don't otherwise have a good memory. My sister remembers things from childhood. I don't."
Chicago Bear Report
If there's one thing sure to drive a non-football fan batty it's the ever increasing treasure trove of statistics. Thanks to computers and new information gathering techniques, fans of numbers can track virtually any aspect of the game.
Under the category of passing alone, we follow attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, touchdown percentage, longest touchdown pass, interceptions, interception percentage, average gain and overall rating.
What about kicking? For punting alone there's number of kicks, total yards, longest kick, gross average, touchbacks, kicks inside the 20-yard-line, blocked kicks, number of kicks returned by opposing teams and the total and average returns. Field-goal accuracy typically breaks down into distance: 1-19 yards, 20-29 yards, 30-39 yards, 40-49 yards and the very thinly populated 50 yards or more.
Let's assume the point is made and skip defensive examples.
"I love sports because of the numbers and the statistics," financial accountant Larry Selvin says. "As I grew up, I won arithmetic contests. I have like a photographic memory for numbers and dates. I can tell you every Super Bowl off the top of my head -- who was in it, what was the score, who won the MVP, where they played the game."
Stats are a way of dealing with one's mastery of the game and not just as a passive participant. Keeping statistics -- on paper, in our heads -- is a form of activity.
It's a form of competitiveness -- knowing more stats than the next person. Sometimes obsessive behavior becomes a way to deal with affective emotions. Sometimes it's a way for an underachiever to finally become an overachiever. Maybe part of the person fears that if they don't do statistics they might get too excited over the game. They understand what is going on. It's their way of being active and showing that they are really part of the game.
Dr. Bruce C. Ogilvie calls it exhibitionism, legitimized by what comes into our living rooms via the TV.
"I think that would be a terribly neurotic thing to do," he says, "to quest for some exaggerated attention. 'Hey, look at me, dad!' It's an incredible need to become involved in something that has some meaning for them, that has some influence in the way they feel about themselves and sometimes the way they feel about the world. These are spectators to life. All they get is whatever they can abstract from what is going on out there. That becomes living for them. That goes to such extremes when you talk about the couch potato. What a termination of life."
"Pathetic, isn't it?" Dr. Daniel Begel scoffs. "Hanging out through the TV with football or anything else."
Sometimes people do things unconsciously. Deep down they may believe the more they memorize Thurman Thomas's stats, the more they know him. The more some guys know about Thomas, the more they can identify with him or enjoy what he does on the field.
There are so many facets of football. A guy can be master in one segment but not the other. Some people, their whole life is tailgate parties. They drink champagne, they crank up the car tunes. Some of them don't even go in until the game has started and even then they follow the action on portable TVs.
Trivia buffs create games within games. They envision themselves as part of the game because they are game historians. They remember the details.
"Some people like that. Kind of an obsessive-compulsive behavior," Dr. Thomas A. Tutko says. "There is a place for those individuals as well. The memories that come up provide an emotional charge in some way. Good play. The great hit. All of it gets relived because it fulfills a need inside them."
Bill Price teaches statistics at Niagara University but he, for one, has had enough of the growing statistical obsession among fans, sportscasters and the NFL itself.
"I think they're overdone," Price says. "I've seen players get good numbers but they play lousy."
William J. Winslow, president of the Institute of Athletic Motivation, blames stat-mania on ego-involvement. "I've often said to myself that if these people could put the same attention to their careers as they do to memorizing football numbers, they'd be more successful. They spend evenings gathering stats and reading newspapers instead of reading journals.
"Take kids," he says. "They remember batting averages but can't put 2 + 2 together in school. You get minority athletes who can't get passing grades in school but memorize whole playbooks. If you're memorizing something you like, it's no longer a chore, it's something you like."
That's it, exactly.
Players stats are something that a guy can easily consume with a modicum of interest because in a man's life, he knows sports trivia or trivia dressed up as information will always pass for conversation with other men. It's something we can relate to others and groups who share our same interest. That serves our self-esteem.
The more knowledgeable we supposedly are about this game -- it doesn't matter whatever else we do. The knowledge is ego-boosting and self-esteem boosting. Men know what their guys did and how they played. It's another twist on basking in reflected glory phenomena. We can boost our ego and self-esteem not by performance itself but by being knowledgeable about it.
As the years went by and he neared his 30th birthday, Vaughn's interest deepened. He stopped going to pro games in person because he didn't care for the Seattle Seahawks and all he ever got were lousy seats. But at work, he started hanging around sportswriters and editors who honed his technical understanding of football.
Now he's more interested in the annual college draft than the game itself.
"Every year, I buy three draft guides," he says. "I study players and who the teams need. It's something I find fascinating, how they make their decisions. I really am a behind-the-scenes guy."
The first player Vaughn followed was University of Oregon quarterback Chris Miller, researching his background and plotting his prospects. He became an Atlanta Falcons fan when they drafted his man. After that, Vaughn was hooked. He conducts his own mock drafts. He videotapes the draft on ESPN, watching it over and over again, comparing and critiquing his selections for the NFL teams with their actual choices.
"I try not to hold it against teams that don't pick a guy," Vaughn says. "It's technical and boring to a lot of my friends. But it's a lot of fun."