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Bostonia: The Alumni Magazine of Boston University

Winter 2008 Table of Contents

Doing the Math

A new book counts on sports geeks' fascination with numbers

| From Alumni Books | By Katie Koch

Numbelievable! The Dramatic Stories Behind the Most Memorable Numbers in Sports History by John Veneziano and Michael Ferraro

John Veneziano and Michael Ferraro met at BU in 1987 and became fast friends. Ferraro (COM’90) was a sports reporter at the Daily Free Press; Veneziano (COM’86), a recent graduate and self-described “statistics geek,” was BU’s assistant sports information director. The two Philadelphia natives formed an instant kinship, Veneziano recalls, for many reasons: a love of the Phillies, a professional interest in BU sports, and a shared hatred of the Boston Celtics. But as with all good sports fans, the conversation always went back to one thing: numbers.

Twenty years later, Ferraro and Veneziano have turned the hobby that cemented their friendship into an entertaining collection of the successes, failures, and outright anomalies behind oft-quoted sports statistics. Numbelievable! The Dramatic Stories Behind the Most Memorable Numbers in Sports History (Triumph Books, 2007) chronicles both well-known achievements, like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point basketball game in 1962, and more obscure feats, such as the 408 victories that Grambling State football coach Eddie Robinson racked up in fifty-seven years as coach.

There are infamous numbers, too. For every Lance Armstrong (the winner of seven Tours de France) or Roger Bannister (the first runner to break the 4-minute mile, at 3:59.4), there’s a Rosie Ruiz or a Chicago White Sox; her faked Boston Marathon number (W50) and the team’s shameful year of gambling (1919) are instantly recognizable to fans who follow sports scandals.

Then there are numbers that in the minds of many sports fanatics haven’t earned a place in stats history at all. Not every fan, Ferraro points out, will find it meaningful that NBA All-Star Charles Barkley stood six feet, four and three quarter inches. While Barkley’s height may be better suited to bar trivia than to serious sports history, he argues, the number represents a great story.

Michael Ferraro (COM'90)

“He listed himself as six feet, six inches, because that’s what shorter players have to do in the game,” Ferraro says. “But he went on to be a great rebounder and have a huge impact on the national sports scene.”

Similarly, Veneziano defends the inclusion of the Wrigley Field location — Row 8, Aisle 4, Seat 113 — of the Chicago Cubs fan who grabbed an easy out from the stands in 2003, turning the Cubs’ shot at the World Series into a crushing defeat.

“Not everyone knew where he sat, but everyone knew the story,” Veneziano says. “By putting that seat number in the book, Cubs fans who happen to go may seek out that location.”

The authors say they aren’t afraid of sparking debate; in fact, Numbelievable is a by-product of their own passionate, and enjoyable, arguments about numbers. Collaborating mostly through phone and e-mail — Veneziano, an NFL publications editor, lives in Lynn, Massachusetts, while Ferraro, a sports columnist and television writer and producer, lives in Los Angeles — the two had to cull a list of more than 200 classic statistics.

John Veneziano (COM'86)

“We each defended certain numbers, but if the other guy could punch holes in the argument, we cut it,” Ferraro says.

Veneziano, the more numbers-obsessed of the two, fought hard to include such things as the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s victory over the Russians and basketball player Bob Lanier’s shoe size (a whopping 22). Fortunately, their bicoastal bickering produced a highly readable book. ESPN commentator Dick Vitale liked it well enough to agree to write the introduction to each chapter.

Both Ferraro and Veneziano are looking forward to debating new numbers for years to come. Will college football history remember Veneziano’s recent favorite, tiny Appalachian State’s 34-32 upset over Michigan, a Division I powerhouse? Or will it favor Ferraro’s pick, Trinity College’s 2007 fifteen-lateral “miracle play,” which has already been viewed more than one million times on YouTube? Only time will tell, they say.

“Great numbers come up every day,” Veneziano says. “Part of the beauty of sports is that every time you watch a game, you just don’t know what’s going to unfold.”

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