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How To Use Math To Pick A Favorite Football Team


Later tonight, we'll know who's going to the Super Bowl.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Matt (ph) loads, throws, takes the shot, touchdown.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Big Ben, Tom Brady, two of the top three quarterbacks. This is one for the ages.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Throwing a goal. And Rodgers (ph) throws to the inside, and that is a touchdown.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If you're not sure which team to support - the Falcons, the Steelers, the Patriots or the Packers - you might consider following the lead of our next guest. For this week's edition of Out of Bounds, our ongoing conversation about sports and culture, we're talking to Blythe Terrell. This lifelong St. Louis Rams fan didn't cry when her team moved to LA. Instead, she got scientific. Terrell is senior science editor for the news website FiveThirtyEight. And she came to our studios in New York, where she now lives, to tell us about the mathematical process she used to pick a new team. Thanks for being on the program.

BLYTHE TERRELL: Yes, thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you - is it inconceivable to keep rooting for the Rams even though they moved to LA? You know, there are some fans who never leave their team even if the team leaves them. You know, why did you decide to move on?

TERRELL: For me, there were several factors, one of which is the owner of the Rams, Stan Kroenke, created a lot of bad blood. It was not a pretty departure. It was an ugly divorce. And watching that happen, you know, as a fan, I think a lot of St. Louisans were hurt by that and were frustrated with how things went down. And really, my heart would not have been in it had I tried to stick with the LA Rams. It just didn't feel right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, so tell us about the process that you went through to help you choose a new team. It involves science.

TERRELL: Yes. Yes. So I work at FiveThirtyEight, where there are many smart people who know how to do many interesting things with data. So I went to one of my colleagues, Neil Paine, one of our excellent sports writers, and said, hey, Neil, this is my problem. I lost my team. I'd like to pick a new one, but I want to do so in a way that involves data so I know that I'm picking the best team that's a good fit for me. Like, I want to pick a new forever team.

So what we did is we came up with a list of criteria that we thought might matter to me. There were 16 of them. It was things like player suspensions, you know, in terms of - there were players being accused of crimes with particular focus on crimes against women. There was ownership. That was a huge one. Obviously I had some challenges with the St. Louis ownership.

So essentially, Neil put all these into a website where I was able to look at side-by-side comparisons and pick which factor was more important. So, you know, it was like uniforms versus ownership and I'd click ownership. And I did that, like, 3,000-some times.


TERRELL: Yeah. And so we came up with a list of the factors ranked. And then Neil was able to build a model where the different teams fit into the rankings with those factors, and then out popped...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The magical team.

TERRELL: ...The magical team.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the team it came up with was...

TERRELL: Was the Green Bay Packers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Such an easy team to love.


TERRELL: Absolutely. I know (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It doesn't feel like it's moving out of the box there. Were you happy with the answer?

TERRELL: I was happy with the answer. I wasn't shocked by the answer. But I think that was OK because I knew that it probably ranked high in terms of some of the factors I cared about. You know, it's not that far from St. Louis, for example, not that I live there now. But it's kind of a nearby team. It's a team I watched a little bit growing up. It's a team that I had, like, fairly good feelings toward. You know, they weren't routinely beating my team in important games. They were beating them in other games. But yeah, I mean, it was a team that I felt I already have had a little bit of affinity for and I felt like I could really get behind. So I was pleased.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The fact that you did this with science - it didn't come from your heart. It came from your head. Can you really feel that kind of passion for the team?

TERRELL: I would say it is a starting point, you know? I mean, I think passion is something that you build over time as you create a relationship with a team. And I think that you can start with a team that fits into all these boxes that you think are important to you and build actual real passion from that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's it like to be a Packers fan in New York City? Is there, like, a big Packers community with cheese heads on that you guys sort of have secret meeting places?

TERRELL: (Laughter) I'm not deep into the Packers fandom in New York City. I'm hoping to get there. I've heard tell of various Packer bars where everyone congregates, but I haven't been to any of those yet. You know, now that they're playing for the NFC championship, I think that's going to be our goal, to go find some place to watch it where we can be around people who are kind of flipping out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Blythe Terrell is FiveThirtyEight's senior editor for science and a Green Bay Packers fan now. Thanks for joining us.

TERRELL: Thanks, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRIBECA SONG, "GET LARGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.