This feature is part of the December 9 issue ofGameday Magazine,which can be found at the Lincoln Financial Field Pro Shop as well as Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets this weekend.
As soon as Kenny Einhorn spots the rookie in the backfield, he shouts out: "Shotgun 26." The football Morse code reverberates throughout the Eagles' press box in a not-so-quiet version of whisper down the lane as public address announcer Jeff Asch relays it to the media.
The message is easily translated: Eagles are lined up in the shotgun formation with Miles Sanders stationed as the lone running back. The first play from scrimmage is underway and the real work begins for the Eagles' stats crew.
Einhorn's primary responsibility is following the ball as the lead offensive spotter. He records every play on a hand-written chart where he chronicles whether it was a pass or a run, how many yards the player gained or lost, and if there was an interception or fumble. It's a job that requires meticulous attention to detail, with eyes constantly fixated on the sideline judge.
"One of the beat writers calls me 'Shotgun Kenny' because most NFL teams are in the shotgun these days," Einhorn says. "From the opening kickoff, I'm sitting there with binoculars and the very first thing is yelling out who the kick returner is by number. I don't call out the quarterback because he doesn't really change."
The Eagles' stats crew has to be methodical and unforgiving. They get edited every Tuesday at NFL headquarters in New York City by a group of auditors who check their work using slow-motion replays and high-definition cameras. Luckily, Einhorn works with a secret fraternity of data analysts and number crunchers: Ernie DiLullo, John Cunningham, and Tony Orazi, along with their own strong tag team of two fact-checking auditors.
The tight-knit group comes from a wide array of backgrounds and experiences. Einhorn started as a public relations intern for the Eagles in 1989 and kept stats for the Voice of the Eagles Merrill Reese before leaving to run the public relations operation for the World League of American Football. He now serves as the head spotter at Eagles games and enjoys giving out free fist bumps.
"After the national anthem, I go around and give a fist bump to everyone on the crew, it's just something fun I do," Einhorn says. "I tell everyone to have a good game."
Cunningham is the former Chief of New Castle Police in Delaware who started helping out on the Eagles' gameday staff in 2000 before assuming the role of defensive spotter for the stats crew. Now he is an assistant vice president at Wilmington University and rewatches every Eagles game three times.
"I'm focused on defense, in that three seconds when something happens," Cunningham says. "Goal-line or short-yardage situations are the hardest. You have 22 guys jammed into a little area and you have to figure out which player made the tackle."
Orazi is a former high school football referee who assumes the role of backup defensive spotter. He is charged mainly with tracking quarterback hits and diagnosing penalties, while holding down a full-time job as the Eagles' vice president of financial reporting.
"I'm a numbers guy, but this was a way to feel more connected to the team and to the organization," Orazi says. "I am usually quiet, but a little more vocal when it comes time for a penalty enforcement. I know with my referee experience that I can help get it right."
DiLullo is the quarterback of the team, all of whom work on a part-time basis on gamedays because they love the Eagles. While they can't show their fandom – there is no cheering in a working press box – it is a labor of love, albeit one disguised in midnight green.
"Buddy Ryan was supposed to interview me (in 1989), but he wasn't there that day," DiLullo says. "I was interviewed by (then-defensive coordinator) Jeff Fisher and got the job as the IT manager. I remember helping Jerome Brown set up his fax machine at home."
Front Row (left to right): Travis Simmons, Joe Venditti, Jon West, John Cunningham, Joe McPeak Jr.
Back Row (left to right): Kenny Einhorn, Jeff Asch, Ernie DiLullo, Tony Orazi
Not Pictured: Bob Christianson
Six of the seven members from the Gameday Stats Crew from 2007 remain on the staff today.
Fast forward 30 years and DiLullo runs the show. He has to "stay with the clock" and input every single play on the NFL's Game Statistic and Information System (GSIS). He and his team arrive three hours before kickoff to input rosters, track weather conditions, hook up laptops, and confirm officials. Then, it's time for kickoff.
"Right at the hike of the ball, I have to start entering the play exactly as I see it," DiLullo says. "Keep in mind, I'm hearing the spotters telling me what is going on as I'm watching. Our defensive and offensive spotters have binoculars, but I can't use them because I'm constantly entering information on the fly."
DiLullo has at least 58 of the 67 NFL penalty codes memorized since it's his job to count off the yardage in real time. Remember, not all penalties are marked in tidy 15-yard chunks. Some of those are tacked on to the end of a play or backed up from a previous spot.
The data DiLullo diligently enters into the system is what goes into the official game books that get shared with media members, along with players, coaches, and NFL officials. They distribute 300 copies and it's used in box scores and game recaps.
Times have changed, yet challenges persist. Every member of the stats crew has a funny story or unavoidable hiccup they like to share. Remember, fantasy football owners are relying on their careful calculations to win their leagues.
For example, DiLullo recalls a play from 2006 when Donovan McNabb initially got credit for a 55-yard pass but it was later changed to a 30-yard pass with 25 receiving yards because it bounced off another player. It was deemed one continuous play after a correction from the league office.
Sacks are a common point of contention. Another is specifically deciding how to grant an assist versus a solo tackle. If a player gets tripped up and then proceeds to ramble for another 10 yards, the NFL wants an assist to be awarded to the defender who made the initial contact. It can get very confusing for the statistician.
Nowhere was this more on display than on a Houdini-like escape by Carson Wentz in 2017 against Washington. The Eagles' quarterback was dead to rights, enveloped by defenders in the pocket, then he amazingly escaped and ran for a first down.
"I was following the play very closely, just to see who gets the sack," says Cunningham, "and then he just scoots out of nowhere and I was like, 'How could that possibly happen? Holy cow, how did he do that?'"
Of course, there is one game that everyone on the stats crew can agree was both the hardest – and most fun to chart. It was something out of a childhood dream. Eight inches of snow covered the grass at Lincoln Financial Field in the fabled "Snow Bowl" when LeSean McCoy rushed for a franchise-record 217 yards in a 34-20 Eagles victory.
You think playing in that game was hard? Try eyeing up the powder-stained hashmarks.
"The stadium people were doing their best to keep the snow off the yard lines, but only the major yard lines, not the hashmarks," says DiLullo. "But I noticed each sideline had these bright orange Gatorade jugs on about the 40-yard line. I used the Gatorade jug as my point of reference for where the ball was."
"The other thing was network TV could put graphics over the grids on the field so we could check the monitors," says Einhorn. "It was the toughest game but also the least pressure. Because if we got something wrong, nobody could see the field."
And they hardly got anything wrong. According to DiLullo, they were right on 90 percent of their calls. Cunningham calls the game "stressful but comical." The latter is what the stats crew does best. While they put in serious time and take immense pride in their work, the guys in the booth like to have fun.
Sometimes Asch will "accidentally" call out Wilbert Montgomery's name on a kickoff return.
Sometimes Einhorn will bump his head on the press box ceiling because he's too tall.
Sometimes Cunningham will lose track of an opposing player under a goal-line pile.
Sometimes Orazi will sneak a high-five under the table after an Eagles' first down.
All kidding aside, the stats crew puts accuracy above everything else. They work together to get it right. No excuses. No mistakes.
"When we get our edits back from the NFL, we don't want to see any," says Cunningham. "We want to know that we did exactly what we were paid to do."