FOX Statistician Hoping for Anonymity in Super Bowl Booth
Warren and Goode are long snappers for the Steelers and Packers, respectively, and the last thing they'd want is to be noticed, because that, for their position, usually means they've made a rather noticeable mistake.
Likewise, Sfida, the statistician on FOX's Super Bowl coverage, is praying that the game goes smoothly and that his part of the day, feeding pertinent information to play-by-play man Joe Buck (photo right), also goes without a hitch.
"I guess like the long snapper, you know what would be a good Super Bowl? If my name isn't in the paper Monday morning," said Sfida.
"If I can anonymously go about doing what I'm doing, and if at the end of the game, Joe shakes my hand and says, 'Nice job. And we'll do it again in August.' I think that ultimately is a good day, knock on wood, if I don't see my name in the paper."
Of course, the name of Sfida or virtually any other statistician for that matter is highly unlikely to show up in any newspaper.
But if Rashard Mendenhall rips off the longest run in Super Bowl history, and Buck doesn't immediately tell you whose name he's wiped out of the record books (Willie Parker, by the way), then Buck will catch hell in the papers and online, which will not reflect so well on Sfida.
Sfida's gig is not exactly a swing through the air on the flying trapeze, but rather the guy who pushes the bar for the trapeze artist. Unless the timing is perfect, the artist takes a bad and very public fall in front of what might be the largest viewing audience in American television history, and the guy who pushes the bar doesn't look so good either.
"When the guy breaks the longest run in Super Bowl history, I want to make sure that I'm telling my guy that was it right away," said Sfida. "Four plays later, it doesn't have the same effect if you're like, 'Oh, four plays ago that was the longest run in Super Bowl history.' You gotta be fast. You gotta be accurate. If you can do those two things, you can survive in this business."
So, why would a 39-year-old pharmaceutical recruiter from Philadelphia want to be a long snapper, a guy who tosses the bar out to a trapeze artist?
The answer, for Sfida, goes back to his undergrad days at Villanova, when all he wanted was to get basketball tickets in the student lottery. That didn't happen, but he still wanted to get into the games.
So, Sfida volunteered for duty in the school's sports information department, running stats and data around press row, then helping compile stats.
Next thing you know, Sfida was getting work at 76ers games, doing stats for television crews of visiting teams, which often don't bring their own statisticians to road games, but rather hire local talent.
It didn't take long for Sfida's reputation to spread among visiting producers and announcers who brought him along to their national assignments beyond local gigs to the point where he now works about 180 sporting events a year.
Sfida got a big break in 2002 when he latched onto one of FOX's football crews, which meant weekly work in the booth with Pat Summerall and Brian Baldinger. That crew was headed by Pete Macheska, who is also the network's lead baseball producer.
Macheska mentioned Sfida to Buck, who is the network's lead baseball play-by-play announcer as well. Sfida joined Buck in the football booth for the 2003 season, and they've been together ever since.
"I like to tell people, 'Look, I don't know if I'm the best guy in the country that does this job,'" said Sfida. "But the guy who's the No.1 play-by-play announcer thinks I am for this job, so it works for me. I guess, right guy, right place, right time."
That's the way it typically works in sports television. While a stat man (or woman) serves the entire broadcast, they work most directly with the play-by-play announcer. When the play caller finds a statistician he feels comfortable with, they tend to form a bond that lasts.
"I feel very fortunate," said Sfida. "The fact that Joe is so young (41 years old), I'd love to be doing this with him for 20 plus more years minimum. He's told me as long as he's got a job, I've got a job, so I'm going to hold him to it."
Armed with a dry erase board, a laptop and media guides, Sfida will work his third Super Bowl with Buck on Sunday. His mission is to "find facts within the facts."
That means, for example, that merely telling Buck that Aaron Rodgers is 8-for-10 in one stretch for 140 yards isn't enough. However, adding that five of those completions have gone for 20 or more yards punctuates the stat and makes it zing.
The Super Bowl audience is expected to approach, if not top, 110 million viewers, which would make the telecast a record. Sfida said he wants to be a part of history, even if the audience is four to five times larger than they normally get.
"In the back of your mind, it (the size of the Super Bowl audience) is there," said Sfida. "But I think once the game starts and you're doing the ritual and the routine and you're doing what you normally do, then you forget about it and it's over in three hours."
And hopefully, like Brett Goode and Greg Warren, no one will know Ed Sfida was there.