The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 25, 2007

How The Pi-Rate Ratings Came To Be

Filed under: How The Pirate Ratings Began — piratings @ 7:20 pm

How The PiRate Ratings Were Born



It was Mid-October 1969, and I was a third grader in Nashville, TN.  Every day at recess, the boys and a few girls played touch football on the school grounds. 

All year, the team I captained called itself Ohio State, since the Buckeyes were the defending National Champions.  The other team called themselves Penn State because the Nittany Lions had gone 11-0 in 1968.  To this point in the season, both teams were undefeated yet again with “our” Buckeyes number one and blowing out teams every Saturday.

It was at this time that I began carefully perusing the sports pages of our two local papers.  Before school started, I read the Nashville Tennessean sports page.  After school, I read the Nashville Banner sports page.  Each paper carried football ratings.  The Banner carried ratings by a local Vanderbilt University professor named Dr. Ed Litkenhous.  I couldn’t wait for his weekly ratings to show how big Ohio State’s next blowout would be and if Vanderbilt had a chance of upsetting its opponent.

What started me on my way to devising my own ratings began when I noticed one week that the entire AP Top 10 consisted of undefeated teams.  I kept a copy of that week’s rankings showing Ohio State, Texas, Southern Cal, Arkansas, Penn State, Missouri, Tennessee, UCLA, LSU, and Florida all without a loss.  How could someone determine which of the 10 was the best of all?  I started comparing scores trying to compare one team’s win with another team’s win over the same or similar opponent.  Right away, I noticed both Ohio State and Arkansas had played TCU.  The Buckeyes pasted the Frogs 62-0, while Arkansas only beat them 24-6.  Both Texas and Penn State had clobbered Navy, but Texas won by 39 while the Lions won by only 23.

Of course, I looked for any reason to prove Ohio State was the best team, and they appeared to be just that until they ran into Michigan in Ann Arbor for the final game.  The Wolverines were ready for revenge after Woody Hayes called for a 2-point conversion at the end of the 1968 game.  The only problem with that was the Buckeyes were leading 48-14 at the time, and after converting the try, they won 50-14.  Woody Hayes made a snide comment that he went for two because he couldn’t go for three.

First year Michigan coach Bo Schembechler had a strong and fired up group of Wolverines, and the Michigan defense totally stopped Ohio State that day, with Wolverine defensive back Barry Pierson being Buckeye quarterback Rex Kern’s leading receiver.

By the end of November, all but Texas, Arkansas, and Penn State had either lost or tied a game.  My math showed that Texas would beat Arkansas by a touchdown, while Penn State was just as strong as the other two.

It wasn’t a ratings service or polling company that determined the 1969 National Champion.  President Richard Nixon himself declared the winner of the Arkansas-Texas game would be the national champion, and he would be on-hand to present the victors with a plaque saying as much. 

The “Game of the Century” lived up to its billing, as Texas trailed 14-8 late in the game.  On 4th down inside their own territory, Longhorn coach Darrell Royal gambled and went for the conversion.  Arkansas bunched up their defense near the line to stop the powerful Texas Wishbone attack.  Royal gambled, using the National Title for poker chips.  He ordered a play-action long bomb, and it worked!  A couple of plays later, the pride of Hudson, Wisconsin, Jim Bertelsen, leapt into the end zone giving Texas the 15-14 win and the coveted plaque.

That wasn’t the end of the story as far as I was concerned.  In the bowls, Arkansas lost again to an Archie Manning-led Ole Miss team.  Texas struggled and had to come from behind once again, this time against Notre Dame.  Penn State’s defense stopped a Missouri team that regularly scored 40 points per game.  My personal ratings showed Penn State the best team in the nation.  An LSU team, at 9-1, was supposed to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl, but when Notre Dame decided to end their ban on bowl games, the Tigers were left out in the cold.  My ratings revealed that LSU, with an A+ defense against the run, might have beaten Texas that year.  Penn State’s offense was more balanced, and their defense was about as good as any college team in the past decade.  Joe Paterno’s stop troops and special teams scored or set up more points than their defense allowed!

That was all it took to start an annual labor of love that has continued since October of 1969.  Over the course of the next four decades, I refined the ratings many times, but I always used the prior year’s final ratings as the base for the subsequent year.

In the fall of 1979, these ratings began to bear fruit.  As a freshman at Tulane University, my ratings appeared weekly in the Tulane Hullabaloo, the campus newspaper.  The Hullabaloo was in the middle of a multi-year run as the holder of the prestigious Pacemaker Award, considered to be the Pulitzer Prize of student journalism. 

In the Friday, November 9th issue of the Hullabaloo, I made the prediction that would affect my life forever more.  Of all teams, it had to be the arch-enemy of the team I grew up pulling for week after week.  Yes, the Tennessee Volunteers, a team that had made an annual habit of ending my Vanderbilt Commodores year on a sour note gave me my big break.  The Vols had just suffered an embarrassing defeat to a Rutgers team that would lose to Villanova in a few weeks.  At 4-3, the Big Orange was now 13-15-1 under head coach Johnny Majors.  Notre Dame was a prohibitive favorite, yet I not only called for Tennessee to win the game outright, I predicted it wouldn’t be close.  About 24 hours after the paper came out with my prediction, Tennessee trounced the Irish by more than three touchdowns.  To add to the joy and by great fortune, that Sunday, all but one NFL team I had picked to win did just that.

The next week, I began to receive phone calls from multiple sources.  While two may have been from immoral people I didn’t want to get involved with, one came from a New Orleans radio station.  A week later, I made my radio debut with the ratings as a guest on the Champ Clark Show in New Orleans.  It only lasted one week, but that was all it took to convince me to drop my pre-med major and become the next Jimmy “The Greek.  Within a year, I was now a broadcast journalism major and a weekend sports announcer on WLAC radio in Nashville.

In the late summer of 1981, I was asked to host a weekly radio program on the Tennessee Radio network.  Football Forecast aired on about 45 stations with my ratings predicting the outcomes of college football games.  It turned out to be a successful year, as I “beat the spread” almost 70% of the time.  That was the pinnacle of my media career, and I gave up the profession in 1983 when I decided that it would be nice to have something in my refrigerator rather than empty space.  So, I became a general contractor for the next 18 years.

In 2001, I accompanied my then fiancée to Boulder, Colorado, when she was offered a great position she couldn’t refuse.  We married soon after that, and I was now a house husband for the time being.  It was during this time that I met someone at the University of Colorado who lived and breathed college football as much as I did.  He had ratings based on scientific principles I never could have imagined, but my ratings actually were a little more accurate.  He convinced me to give my ratings a catchy name and try to market them.  Thus, the name, “PiRate” was born.

We returned to Nashville in the spring of 2003, and that year, my ratings went public once again.  Vanderbilt University’s fan website “Vandymania” had been a source of entertainment for me when I lived 1,200 miles away from Nashville.  The board moderator, Don Yates, asked me to supply my ratings and prognostications for Vandymania.  Additionally, I began writing historical pieces for the website.  When Don decided to issue magazines for football and basketball, I supplied lengthy pieces for both.  In 2006, I added regular news and feature articles as well. 

At the end of the year, I sadly left Vandymania due to a host of factors, mainly because it was taking almost as many hours to do the work as it took with my regular career.  So, that’s why you see this blog today.  It only takes about 10 hours a week to keep things updated and I don’t have to cover daily team practices.  For what it’s worth, you will get no pro-Vanderbilt or pro-Ohio State biases.  Actually, since I married a Wisconsin beauty and became partly a Wisconsin resident, I have adopted UW and the Green Bay Packers as my two favorite teams, but you still won’t see favoritism to “my Badgers” or “my Pack” in 2007.  I guess years of pulling for Vanderbilt have made impartiality second nature.

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