In 2007, my calculus class needed a little pep talk to explain the many applications of the subject. At the time we were talking about integral calculus.
Somehow I thought about a former Oakland Raider who I remembered as a very good mathematics student at Texas Southern University. Since he is retired and so many people in 2007 did not remember his contributions to the NFL, I thought that I would design some type of sports and mathematics project to compare his contributions with those of other NFL players. Jerry Rice, now a Hall of Famer, was the focus of comparisons with other wide receivers.
The article inspired by the experiences in the class was titled, "Take a Good Look Using Mathematics."
During that semester I had an older, very brilliant student who already had a law degree from Harvard University and had practiced law for 30 years. He, too, was a student of calculus.
Before the class we decided on a math model to compare several wide receivers, from different eras. The Harvard graduate took the lead in his small group of students.
This work was also inspired by a quantitative analysis study, done by a former Pittsburgh Steeler who did a great job of comparing players in different positions, during different eras on NFL teams.
Since 2007, more than 600 articles have been written on aspects of sports, using data from the Oakland Raiders. Some of the BR articles are more palatable than others. The main thing, however, is that many of us are now engaging in a study of how to use more mathematics and statistics to compare, characterize and even make careful forecasts of performance and other aspects of the popular game called NFL football.
While this is a challenging era in football history because of the negotiations between owners, players and the NFL, it is a time to highlight the great accomplishments of so many who may not be mentioned often in the popular media. Nonetheless, they certainly deserve recognition for their contributions to the great industry that has entertained, inspired and enriched the lives of so many Americans, and people around the world.
Some of us recognize that NFL history is a continuum, and each timeframe of achievements is dependent on, if not related to, later periods of achievement.
Sometimes good ideas start in small and modest ways. Since my favorite NFL team is the Oakland Raiders and since the owner of the Oakland Raiders has been a forerunner to many decisions that help transform the NFL and our society, my focus has been and will continue to be the contributions of Mr. Al Davis, and the Oakland Raiders.
On Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011 I met and took a picture with the mathematician who wrote the textbook I used in the calculus class in 2007. The content and applications of that book, and my exposure to the West Point Calculus Reform project both inspired and shaped my interest in making the study of sports and mathematics more rigorous and visual.
Congratulations to Dr. Ron Larson for his fine work as an author of a very good calculus book that was one of many influences on the work that I have done as a sportswriter who often blends sports, mathematics and, of course, the inspiration to do all things in an excellent manner.
Thanks to Prof. Don Small who published the very first sports and mathematics article that was written by me and one written by the students.
May the Oakland Raiders and the Raider Nation continue to be aware of the fact that there are many ways to make contributions to society.
Another way to inspire others would be to continue in the path of winning more games in 2011 and beyond.
Go Raiders! Thank you, Al Davis for your contributions.