A Classic Super Bowl

Okay … it hasn’t been played yet and probably won’t even be a great game (unless it becomes the Larry Fitzgerald show like it did last week), but we’ve come across some coverage which puts the big game within our purview. First we have the usual spate of Roman Numeral articles … first, from the Bucks County Courier Times is a representative rant against the use of Roman numerals, which ends with this bit of presagia (don’t know if that ‘s a word, but it works for me):

Something tells me, though, that the day the NFL moves away from Roman numerals will be the same day the Eagles win a Super Bowl, which will be sometime in the year NEVER.

Another sports guy, from KHSL concludes:

Okay, so let’s see if I can get this right. The current year, 2009, would therefore be expressed as MMIX. Try this one: I was born in the year MCMLXIII. Go ahead and take a few minutes to work that one out. Just to be clear though, XXL is not a roman numeral. That’s my shirt size, though I’m working to get back to size XL, which, by the way, does not mean size 40. See? It makes your head spin. I can’t wait for Super Bowl L. My head needs a rest.

… both of which suggest to me that sports writers really would look a lot more intelligent as writers if they DID understand Roman numerals; it’s not as if they are inherently difficult and if writing for humour’s sake, well, the joke is mighty old. More interesting was something noted in the Daily Freeman:

If you think this constitutes extravagant behavior, it is because you are a communist or hate Roman numerals. This year is number XLIII, which stands for “I don’t know how to read Roman numerals, for Lenin’s sake!”

But thanks to the intrepid reporters at a newspaper in Tampa Bay, Fla., this numerical mystery has been solved. According to an important investigative piece published in the Tampa Tribune, the reported number of strip clubs in Super Bowl host city Tampa Bay is the same as the number of Super Bowls played.

But enough of the Roman numerals stuff which plagues us on an annual basis this time of year. I’m more interested in reading about a computer program called Zeus. Here’s the incipit of a piece in the New York Times:

N.F.L. teams have used advances in technology to improve the condition of their athletes, to scout opponents better and to research prospects better. But when it comes to play-calling, particularly in crucial situations, the N.F.L. might as well bring back George Halas.

That’s because few coaches in the risk-averse N.F.L. have been willing to break with practices that have grown hoary with age — like punting on fourth down almost every time — when research has repeatedly shown that it is better to go for it.

We know this because we created a computer program, Zeus, that assesses play-calling decisions of N.F.L. coaches, using the same modeling techniques that have revolutionized backgammon and chess. It’s no different than I.B.M.’s supercomputer beating a skeptical Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Built through research into game logs, statistics and the behavioral traits of coaches, Zeus accurately replicates a modern N.F.L. game.

… but wouldn’t Apollo have been a more appropriate moniker?

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