Published: Sept. 1, 2013 By

football illustrationHe does not own the patent or copyright, nor does he take credit for naming a statistic that has become a staple in football for the better part of 30 years. But scoring efficiency from the “red zone’’ — the portion of the field between the 20-yard lines and the goal line — is the brainchild of CU sports information director Dave Plati (Jour’82).

“Dave invented the red zone,’’ insists Jim Saccomano, vice president of corporate communications for the Denver Broncos. “Others have tried to appropriate it and say they did it, but Dave did it first.’’

“Invented” is kind of a strong word, Plati says.

“But no one’s ever disputed that I was the first to chart it,” he says.

Saccomano was the Broncos’ public relations director when Plati, a self-professed “numbers dork,’’  joined the team’s game-day statistics crew in 1980 and was given free rein to develop miscellaneous statistics, which he had been doing for CU as a student. The first season he charted such categories as average starting field position, third-down proficiency, goal-to-goal situations, kickoffs and quarterback drive efficiency.

Sometime during his time as a CU student, Plati remembers listening to a Broncos game on the radio when play-by-play announcer Bob Martin said something like, “The Broncos have been inside the 20 six times today but only came away with . . .’’

The seed planted, Plati began developing the concept and in 1981 he introduced red-zone statistics to the Broncos along with yards lost to penalties.

“I started expanding what I called Penetrating the 20,’’ Plati says. “People had a problem with the word ‘penetrating’ and after one year we changed it to Scoring Percentage Inside the 20.’’

Saccomano insists the Broncos were the first NFL team to include the red-zone statistics on its game stat sheets and media releases. The Broncos have done so ever since — with the exception of the brief coaching reign (2009-10) of Josh McDaniels, who apparently found Plati’s “miscellaneous’’ statistics too revealing for opponents and ordered them excluded. Dave Plati

“Other teams in the NFL started either asking or copying what [the Broncos] were doing,’’ Plati says. “I think the Elias Sports Bureau [the official statistician for the NFL] picked up on it in the mid- to late-1980s.’’

Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs first used “red zone’’ — also a military metaphor for within striking range — when referring to scoring efficiency inside the 20 in a 1982 Washington Post story. The term eventually stuck.

“Dave has been an enormous contributor to the statistics of the game,’’ Saccomano says. “He was a trendsetter in the NFL.’’

Named CU’s sports information director in 1984, Plati first incorporated Scoring Percentage Inside the 20 into Buff football statistics in 1983. He has since backlogged it to the 1953 season by reviewing game play-by-play sheets and film when necessary.

Plati has no beef with his creation evolving into the term “red zone.’’ But true to his alma mater, he says he would have named it differently.

“I would’ve called it the gold zone,’’ he jokes.

Craig Harper (Jour ex’71) was a sports writer for the Boulder Daily Camera for 30 years and the beat writer for
CU football from 1979-2000. He is a freelance writer.

Illustration courtesy Keith Bishop