FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. - Paul Bessire is a 27-year-old Janesville, Wis., native who already has played Super Bowl XLIV 50,000 times.
"And it took three seconds," he said.
"Doesn't leave much time for the funny commercials," I said.
Bessire is my most hated NFL prediction adversary. I just didn't know it until I met him down here this week.
There were 103 of us who participated in the Richard Gardner Media Charity Picks contest this year. One hundred and two of us looked at the matchups, weighed the point spreads, said, "Ah, who the heck knows?" and picked a team.
Paul, the cheating son of a gun with the masters degree in quantitative analysis, used a computer program he created six years ago and had been fine-tuning at WhatIfSports.com.
"Human bias can be right a lot," Bessire said. "But I just went with what the computer said. I played each game 10,000 times and took the team that won the majority of the time."
I might have done that, too. I took a statistics course in college. Unfortunately, I was too bored to pay attention 98.996 percent of the time.
Bessire is different though. Using statistics to predict future performance is what he does. It's why he won the media charity contest and used the $5,000 first prize to buy 14 wheelchairs for disabled children. OK, he's not such a bad guy, even if he doesn't play fair.
Two weeks ago, Bessire branched out on his own. He started the website PredictionMachine.com. The Super Bowl is his first big project. He also works as a consultant using statistics to help companies in Cincinnati operate more efficiently, which might or might not be code for layoffs.
"I want to be the best at what I do," said Bessire, who has several family members living in the Twin Cities area. "I can use this for my own personal gain. But I also want to share it with the world."
I wondered how the nation's bookies would take this news, since their livelihoods depend on people being dumb enough to gamble and even dumber when it comes to picking a winner against the spread.
"I talked to the Las Vegas sports consultants, who are here this week," Bessire said. "They were really cool to me and wanted to hear all about what I had to say. I think they want me for their side, though."
Bessire calls his creation the "Predictalator." It's a program that uses hundreds of variables such as player stats, coaching tendencies, strength of schedule and whether a team can count to 11 when forming an offensive huddle while within 19 seconds of reaching the Super Bowl. OK, that last one I made up.
"I got my undergrad in finance," Bessire said. "I was intrigued by financial modeling. But sports, more so than finance, past performances are more indicative of future outcomes."
"Football has 11 guys on one side, 11 on the other and a few coaches making decisions," Bessire said. "Compared to finance, where hundreds of millions of people determine the market, you room for error in sports isn't as great."
It's not all pure data. For instance, Bessire had to guess along with the rest of us on whether Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney will play. Freeney is questionable because of a right ankle injury.
"I guessed that there is a 90 percent chance he'll play, and that he'll be about 80 to 85 percent healthy," Bessire said. "I don't know if that's true, but there has to be some art involved in this."
OK, so what did the Predictalator predict? We need some help, considering it's an evenly matched Super Bowl featuring the top seeds in each conference for the first time since 1993.
Well, based on its 50,000 simulated games, the Predictalator says, among many things, that the Colts will have 397 yards to the Saints' 376. Peyton Manning will win the MVP. And the Colts will score 28 points, while the Saints will score 27.
So who won most of the 50,000 games?
"The Colts won 51.4 percent of the time," Bessire said.
"In other words, flip a coin," I said.
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org