It's a Zone Blitz on a Double Reverse, and They've Got Athleticism!

The stadium scene.
Jan. 23 2001 6:45 PM

It's a Zone Blitz on a Double Reverse, and They've Got Athleticism!

(Continued from Page 3)

  • The Blue Hose of Presbyterian College. Refers not to melancholy courtesans, but leggings.
  • The Blue Hens of Delaware University. How do you cheer up a blue hen? Readers are invited to make suggestions.
  • The Banana Slugs of the University of California-Santa Cruz. Yes it's real. See the proof here. Fans chant, "Go, Slugs!"
  • The Anteaters of the University of California-Irvine. No word on pregame meals.
  • The Gorillas of Pittsburg (Kan.) State, "Home of the Nation's Only Gorillas." Check out the Gorilla logo. Pitt State men's teams became Gorillas in 1925. The women's squads voted in 1989 to adopt the name as well, abandoning their former appellation, Gussies. Missing their chance to become the Hussies!
  • The Fighting Artichokes of Scottsdale Community College. Man, you don't want to get into a beef with a Fighting Artichoke.
  • The Ichabods of Washburn University. See "Ichabods Fall to Gorillas," on a press release on the recent Pitt State-Washburn game.
  • The Geoducks ("gooey-ducks") of Evergreen State. Geoducks, actually clams, are obscure and repulsive to boot. The school, in pastoral Olympia, Wash., is the epicenter of Ultimate Frisbee competition. Sadly, Ultimate Frisbee is not yet an NCAA sport. Buy an Evergreen Geoduck Frisbee here.

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All colleges are missing their chance to adopt TMQ's preferred nickname set: The men's teams would be the Tarzans, and the women's teams would be the Janes. You know who the mascot would be, and the science department could conduct genetic engineering experiments on him. I think a lot of student athletes would feel pretty good about taking the field with a 40-foot-high, glowing chimpanzee rooting them on.

Then there is the question of whether any college actually has the delicious nickname Fighting Quakers. Several schools, including Earlham, Guilford, and the University of Pennsylvania, have teams commonly known as the Fighting Quakers, but sadly, Quakers is the official name in each case. (Check out Guilford's menacing who-you-lookin'-at Quaker logo.) So far as TMQ could determine, Eastern High School of East Lansing, Mich., is the only place of learning whose athletes are formally named the Fighting Quakers, according to the school sports history. Finally, what does Friends University of Wichita call its teams? Sadly they are the Falcons, not the Fighting Friends.

New York Times Final-Score Score: The Paper of Record, 0-258 in its quixotic attempt to predict an exact final score, awaits Super Bowl XXXV and its last chance at redemption. Times persons might find solace in the ongoing multitude of bad predictions, including the fact that CBS Sportsline, using something called the Harmon Index—which boasts, "Jim Harmon and his staff are the only forecasters who predict exact scores and chart every college and pro team"—forecast Minnesota and Oakland to win the championship games, the reverse of what actually happened. Jim Harmon and his staff do nothing all day long but predict football scores? Is this a great country or what! More Times comfort may reside in the fact that of the seven "football experts" who have been predicting the playoffs for the Sporting News, none is above .500 going into Super Bowl weekend.

Several readers, only some with e-mail addresses ending "nytimes.com," have written in to suppose that since a few Times guesses have been close—the Multicolored Lady prophesied Steelers 23, Raiders 20 and the actual was Steelers 21, Raiders 20—TMQ is not granting enough credit. Since the numbers being predicted fall into a small band, close guesses should happen. Let's consider the probability of forecasting an exact final NFL score.

Suppose I gave you a week's card with team names covered and asked you to fill in score predictions, not even knowing the teams' identities. You would not forecast finals of 55-49 or 4-0. You would pick in the plausible range. You would predict no scores higher than 39 since finals this high are rare even when strong teams play weak ones: Only about 3 percent of NFL outcomes exceed 39 points. You would not predict the impossible final score of 1—although TMQ believes the Canadian singleton rule should be adopted in the NFL. And you would not predict final scores that are possible but rare, these being 2, 4, 5, 8, 11, 15, and 18. Only 3 percent of final scores are these "outliers."

This leaves 31 numbers in the selection band. So your odds of guessing a final score working entirely at random, not even knowing who the teams are, come to roughly 1-in-31 (plausible numbers on the left side of the score) times 1-in-31 (plausible numbers on the right side), or 1-in-961. Factor back the off chance that the final will be one of the rare numbers, and the result is rough odds of somewhat more than 1-in-1,000 of randomly predicting an exact final score. Impossible, then? Hardly. A fundamental of statistics is that the unlikely happens all the time. Things far more improbable than 1-in-1,000 occur daily. Otherwise no one would ever win a lottery, nor would George W. Bush ever utter a grammatically correct sentence.

Now put back into the calculation the fact that sportswriters aren't picking at random; they have access to incredible insider information such as Jason Sehorn's brand of ankle wrap and the percentage of fair-caught punts on grass versus turf. According to a proprietary algorithm developed by TMQ, the incredible insider information possessed by sportswriters should double their likelihood of predicting an exact final score.

Thus if pure random guesswork lends 1-in-1,000 odds, the professional sportswriter has a 1-in-500 chance to predict correctly. Given that there are 259 NFL games per season, these probabilities suggest that the New York Times should call an exact final score once every two years. Good luck next season, 43rd Street.

Addendum: Reader Dennis Doughty looked at NFL results for the 2000 regular season and found 71 percent of games had unique final scores. "The most popular scores," Doughty reports, "were Home Team 27, Visiting Team 24 and Home Team 16, Visiting Team 13, both of which happened a whopping four times." So Times, next season endlessly predict finals of 27-24 and 16-13. Your odds should improve. And in Friday's edition with your last shot at predicting a score this year, TMQ suggests that, given a matchup of two defensive teams, the Times should forecast a Super Bowl final of XVI to XIII.

TMQ Trivia Challenge: In recognition of the looming XFL, last week's Challenge was:

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