Joe Buck, announcing the NFC championship game for Fox Sports, told the world that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had just thrown a touchdown pass to the 68th different player during his career.
How did Buck know that? There’s a guy in the booth, next to Buck’s spotter, holding a dry erase board. A moment earlier, the board read, “68th different player to catch a TD pass from Brees.”
The guy is always there, never heard from, rarely seen, occasionally referred to by Buck or analyst Troy Aikman.
“I provide numbers,’’ Ed Sfida said. “If they want it, they take it.”
Working with the network’s NFL A team is merely part of Sfida’s crazy life as a full-time television stat man. The 47-year-old St. Joseph’s Prep and Villanova graduate who grew up in Roxborough and now lives in Plymouth Meeting with his wife and two sons — and started down this path only because he was shut out of Villanova student tickets his sophomore year — will work his 10th straight Super Bowl on Sunday, 12th overall, providing stats for the world television feed. This season, he worked 53 NFL games, got to all but three NFL stadiums.
It’s not just football. He’s a regular working Villanova basketball games or anywhere. Hawk Hill on a recent a Friday night, there he was.
“I worked 186 events last year,’’ Sfida said. “One off my career high.”
There are pilots and flight attendants who must not see as many airports as Sfida.
“There was a span in late October to mid-November, I worked 12 games in 12 days,’’ Sfida said. “That was, like, NFL, high school football, the World Series for international, college football … ”
The streak would have gone longer, Sfida said, but he had to leave an opening in case the World Series went seven games.
The particulars are nuts. Work the Villanova-Morgan State game here, fly in the morning from Philly to Cincinnati, drive an hour-and-a-half to Miami of Ohio for a football game. Fly home and then take a quick flight to Pittsburgh for a Steelers game against Carolina that night. Back home in the morning, but another afternoon flight to Syracuse for a football game against Louisville.
The next morning, 5 a.m. wake-up call, fly through Charlotte, connecting to Los Angeles, to work the USC-Cal game that night, before taking a red-eye to Chicago, to get up to Green Bay for a Packers game, working it for ESPN radio.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
Does he ever turn down gigs?
“Nooo,’’ Sfida. “No, no.”
As long as he knows he can get there, he gets there. The priority, he said, is always the Buck-Troy Aikman game. That was his big break, getting on with that group.
“My first year with Fox was 2002, with Pat Summerall and Brian Baldinger,’’ he said. “I had done a lot of local stuff, Sixers away TV — when you do the road show, you really get out there. I had worked with Mike Breen, Gus Johnson, Kenny Albert.”
The next season, Fox Sports had a new A team, Buck and Aikman. The football producer had been Buck’s baseball producer. Sfida apparently had proved himself enough to stay on.
How did the whole thing begin?
“I started this job by accident,’’ Sfida said.
There was a student lottery for Villanova hoop tickets in 1991. In his memory, 95 percent of the students got tickets, so really it was a reverse lottery, weeding out the 5 percent.
“I got shut out,’’ Sfida said. “I ran into a guy in the hallway. He asked how I was doing or something. I told him about getting shut out. He said, ‘Oh, I work in the sports information office. You can volunteer in the office, stuffing envelopes and everything, and you’ll get to work the games and they’ll pay you.’ ”
Sfida wasn’t just at the games that season — he sat underneath the basket, working as a cable puller for $35 a game.
“Cable pulling, by the way, is the hardest job on the crew,’’ Sfida said. “I was terrible at it.”
During a timeout, the guy with the camera runs to the huddle, and runs back afterward, and the cable has to be wrapped up. The first timeout went fine in Sfida’s memory, but the rewrap not so much.
“The next timeout, the camera almost fell off his shoulder,’’ Sfida said. “They realized maybe I was an asset, but not at that position. I became the timeout coordinator.”
That means sitting next to the timekeeper, standing up during timeouts — the game doesn’t start while you’re standing.
Sfida will tell you he isn’t some statistics savant. He just fell into the job. He isn’t even willing to call himself the best TV stat guy in Philly, noting that another Villanova graduate, Mike Notaro, is “the guy I modeled my stat game after.”
There have been Super Bowls in which the two stat guys — American television and the world feed — were the two Villanova guys. A bigger Villanova connection: Sfida met his wife in the sports information office. She started working there two years after him, actually took over as the timeout coordinator. Ed’s marriage proposal to Christy Foster made the Daily News because he did it during a Temple-Villanova game in 1997. His first thought was to have the Wildcat mascot deliver the ring. Then he thought, what if he was the Wildcat?
“My paws were so sweaty, I couldn’t open the box,’’ he told the Daily News back then.
At least she had warning about his crazy life, which includes support work for Monday Night Football and other sports.
“I did, like, one hockey game. It wasn’t for me,’’ Sfida said.
Ever missed a game? Only one time that the Metrodome roof collapsed, causing the game to be delayed a day, causing a conflict.
“There have been extremely close calls,’’ Sfida said. “Maybe college games where I’m walking in the booth as they’re kicking off.”
The NFL network games, he gives himself a little more travel time, tries to get in the night before. Asked about what it’s like working with Buck and Aikman, Sfida said: “I’ll tell you exactly what it’s like. It’s the best. They are the best. Not just professionally, but personally.”
Sfida didn’t expect to be invited to Buck’s wedding. He was.
“You have to invite your bosses,’’ Sfida said. “You don’t have to invite the guy who works for you.”
Aikman, same kind of thing. If the crew is in Dallas for the Thanksgiving game, Aikman invites the entire production crew to his home for dinner.
“It’s funny, I feel bad about all the things that 17-year-old me used to yell at him from the 700 level,’’ Sfida said. “He’s salt of the earth, too.”
Sfida wants to make it clear that research pours in from the truck and all over, that Buck himself “has this photographic memory, and has done all this research.”
But it’s Sfida’s job to provide some of the research in advance. Ahead of the Saints-Rams game, he compiled a Saints package with several hundred team and individual factual nuggets, from the Saints' allowing only seven runs of 20+ yards in 17 games, to 66 different TD pass-catchers from Brees in his career, noting the three Saints receivers who hadn’t caught one. When two of them then caught one, the factoid made the air.
Occasionally, Buck has noted the Philly guy in the booth, especially if there’s a chance to needle the Philly guy. It’s meant to be an anonymous gig, though. Sfida did find himself pictured a lot on social media late this season when he was down on the sideline before a game and in the background for a selfie NFL Network reporter Jane Slater took with Dennis Quaid, with John Daly also in photo-bombing position.
“HOF John Daly and fake Lin Manuel guy in the background,’’ was one subtweet, among references to Lin-Manuel Miranda — a new nickname for Sfida’s friends.
Sfida’s own Twitter handle is @statrockstar. He makes it clear that it is meant ironically, that there is no such thing as a stat rock star.