As Oklahoma and Notre Dame battle Saturday night in Norman, teams of statisticians will account for every yard gained and lost, every Kenny Stills reception, every Manti Te’o tackle and every other action that can be measured and recorded.Those numbers will be added to the season and lifetime statistic sheets of the individuals and teams, to be devoured by fans, applied by media and used by coaches. It’s difficult to imagine a college football game or any other sporting event presented without totals and percentages.For this we owe a debt of gratitude for people such as Homer Cooke and Steve Boda.Cooke was a Seattle sportswriter who got fed up with teams coming to the West in the 1930s and grabbing the headlines often by fabricating achievements. Cooke fought back with facts, keeping up with leaders in statistical categories.One of his discoveries came in 1942, when his research revealed a player, Ray Evans of Kansas, had completed 101 passes. It was a remarkable figure for the time and helped the future All-American earn national recognition.Boda, 88, who has lived in the same split-level house in Shawnee for decades and now with a 14-year-old tabby named Duffy, also was in on the ground floor of statistics.He spent 40 years at the NCAA statistics bureau when the organization was in Kansas City, and has authored numerous college football history and records books.Notre Dame gave Boda his start, but his relationship with the Fighting Irish runs much deeper than a paycheck. More on that in a moment.Football records in basic form had been around since the game’s earliest years, in the 1800s. But few turning numbers like Boda, recording every play and assigning the totals to the individual. It seems so obvious in a day when figures are sliced and diced so thoroughly that computing a quarterback’s passer rating should be part of a math major’s requirement.But it wasn’t always the case. College football histories that were authored around the mid-20th century spoke glowingly of Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and Sammy Baugh, but not in the language of statistics we understand today.Boda was 18 when he talked his way into keeping stats for a high school district. He was working a game in South Bend, Ind., when his work was noticed by the man sitting next him in the press box, Notre Dame sports information director Joe Petritz. An impressed Petritz invited Boda to join him in the Irish press box for its next game, against Southern California.“He said he hadn’t seen anybody chart games like I had,” Boda said. “To me, it was easy.”And now Notre Dame, which five decades later would become the first to create its own television network, was pioneering statistics. Detailed passing leaders, rushing leaders, down the line.Boda’s statistical influence had only just begun. At the NCAA, he started researching the exploits of great players and teams of the past and pieced together statistics for players like Grange. Newspapers of the day provided accounts of the action, but without standardized stat keeping, Boda read stories such as one about the 1924 Illinois-Michigan game in which Grange was credited with 402 yards.“Which was true, when you added the rushing, kickoff return and punt return yards,” Boda said.Boda’s research resulted in statistics from the game’s earliest days that are considered unofficial but authentic by the NCAA.Numerous honors by college football organizations, including Notre Dame, have recognized Boda’s contributions. But his feelings for the Irish run much deeper than words on a plaque.“Notre Dame saved my life,” Boda said.He was born the oldest of five children in South Bend and his mother died when he was 9. In the heart of the Depression, Boda’s father couldn’t support his family, and he took the children to an orphanage near Indianapolis. During this lonely existence, Boda’s highlight of fall weekends was listening to Notre Dame games on the only radio in the building of 600 children. He sat there with pencil and paper, recording every play, and adding up the statistics.“It kept me going,” Boda said. “It’s what I held on to.”Until recently, Boda’s Shawnee home held the largest collection of Notre Dame football records, including the university, with accounts of games dating to 1887. Boda has contracted RB Books and Publishing in Olathe to sell the collection on his behalf.But plenty of record books and remain in Boda’s upstairs office. He authored most of them.
Posted on Thu, Oct. 25, 2012 11:07 PMShare Email Print Order Reprints
A lifetime of football records with an Irish influence
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.