February 21, 2002
It doesn't take the mind of a mathematician to be a super statistician, says Gayle Letulle, just a love of sports. Letulle (A&S '69, L '72), Tulane's longtime statistician for football and basketball, watched Super Bowl XXXVI from the best seat in the house as the game's lead statistician.
From the former President George Bush's flip of the coin to Adam Vinatieri's thrilling field goal as time expired, Letulle and his crew meticulously recorded the minutiae of each play, transferred that information to a computer and uploaded it to the NFL's Web site, making the details of the game instantly available to millions of Internet users around the world.
Letulle, who also handles statistics at New Orleans Saints home games, has been part of the statistics crew for all nine Super Bowls played in New Orleans, but this year was his first in the spotlight as the game's lead statistician.
"The NFL decided to use the Saints statistics crew intact to do the game," Letulle explains. "So I was the official scorer, so to speak, for the Super Bowl for the first time."
For NFL games, Letulle presides over a small crew charged with statistically documenting almost every aspect of what takes place on the field. Letulle keeps a manual record of every play's offensive statistics while another person keeps a manual record of every play focusing on defensive statistics. Another inputs Letulle's handwritten notes into the computer.
Two additional people keep backup statistics in the event of a computer crash. Another person watches a television monitor in case a replay is needed to figure out precisely what happened, and yet another keeps track of substitutions and what players get into the game. Despite the worldwide audience and media hype, Letulle says working the Super Bowl was no different from working a Tulane or Saints game.
"I've done it so many times, I've faced so many situations, so there's nothing different about it," he explains. "The most anxiety I had was getting hold of my credentials because the Secret Service was involved this year."
Not that the NFL was ever a laid-back organization. Letulle characterizes the league as an almost military operation.
"They have a hierarchy and when someone who outranks someone walks through, they practically stand at attention," Letulle says. "When Pete Rozelle used to walk through the press box, it was like the general was visiting."
While a football statistician does not wield the power of an official scorer in baseball, he must still occasionally make some tough calls.
"One of the more difficult things in football is making a decision as to who gets credit for a quarterback sack when two players are involved," Letulle says. "We have to look at slow-mo replays sometimes to see who got there first. Sometimes the teams start lobbying because one of the guys has a chance to have a career record or has some bonus money tied to it."
Letulle's statistical career goes back to his days at Tulane. As a sophmore undergraduate, he saw an ad in the Hullabaloo seeking a student worker interested in sports.
"I offered to work for nothing," Letulle recalls. It was the start of what has become a 35-year association with Tulane athletics. Letulle works every home game as the statistician for Tulane football and men's and women's basketball. Including games he attended before enrolling at Tulane, Letulle hasn't missed a Green Wave home football game since 1964.
In addition to keeping statistics for Green Wave teams and the Saints, Letulle and his crew, which includes his brother, Leon, and his nephew, Leon Jr., work the Sugar Bowl and the Louisiana state high school football championships. When not tracking game stats, Letulle is a tax attorney with KPMG in New Orleans. While his professional career as a CPA might suggest he's especially well suited to scrutinizing numbers each week, Letulle says mathematical genius is not a job requirement for a statistician.
"I don't consider myself a great mathematician," Letulle says. "You just have to really focus on every play." And what happens when nature calls? "It's the first thing I do at halftime."
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