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The Value of Things: The Romantic Side of Football

A different way of looking at the preseason

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Iowa State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Anyone that reads these columns knows by now that I love numbers. Most of these numbers have manifested themselves for baseball. but the idea for football is generally the same. The idea is to determine the likelihood of success. So, sites like Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus have delved into advanced statistics all to find those players that will be more successful more often.

Everyone has that guy that they know who either made it or almost made it. For me, it is my second cousin. He pitched one third of an inning for the Houston Astros about 15 years ago. He also pitched for team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Generally speaking, if your last name ends in a vowel and you have eaten lasagna at some point in your life then you are eligible for that squad.

It is easy to look at a career minor leaguer and simply call them a failure. The same is true of any of these 90 guys that won’t make the team or the practice squad. Some guys will never leave the practice squad. Do we consider them failures? Obviously, that depends on how you look at things. So, let’s say we look at this through the prism of numbers.

32 teams x 53 players = 1696 players

16 minor league teams = 848 players

9 CFL teams = 477 players

130 Division I Football Teams = 7800

So, if we ignore Division II and III at the college level and ignore the thousands of high school teams we would still see the 1696 NFL players as the top 15 percent of football players in the world. So, guys who are on the practice squad or were one of the last cuts are still amongst the top 25 percent of football players in the world.

As a teacher, these are the kinds of numbers we share with kids all the time. We famously tell them that one percent of high school kids get scholarships and then one percent of those guys get drafted into the NFL. That may or may not be completely accurate, but the numbers aren’t that far off. The odds are just staggering, so the miracle isn’t that some didn’t make it. The miracle is for those that do.

So, Jalen Camp and Johnny Johnson aren’t household names. They were undrafted free agents that are among the top ten percent of football players in the world. They’ve already proven that just by being invited to camp. Their chances of making the team might be pretty slim, but maybe one or both stick as practice squad players. Maybe they don’t.

Yet, for one fleeting moment they were heroes. Johnson caught the winning touchdown against the Saints on Saturday. Camp caught one in the first half. The romantic side of sports is that we can fairly accurately say how often someone will be successful. We can say a basketball player shoots a certain percentage from a certain spot. We can say a pitcher will strike out a hitter a certain percentage of the time. We can say a quarterback will throw so many touchdowns and interceptions. What we can’t say is exactly when these events will happen. We can’t say whether they will come in garbage time or if they will come when the team is down one score in the fourth quarter. Johnson and Camp may never play in a real NFL game. Yet, like my cousin, they will always have that moment they can tell their grandkids about some day.