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What Vince Lombardi and Sir Isaac Newton Had in Common

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Ballantine Books
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Cover of 'Newton's Football: The Science Behind America's Game.'

The gulf between science and football might seem like a large one, but scientist and author Ainissa Ramirez would say they're more alike than you might imagine. Her latest book, Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Gamelooks at the similarities between scientists and football fans.

The book draws parallels between the way scientists think critically about a subject and how football enthusiasts analyze a game. In fact, Ramirez and co-author Allen St. John dedicated an entire chapter to comparing Sir Isaac Newton and legendary Packers coach, Vince Lombardi. 

"People don't know this, but Lombardi actually taught science when he was a high school teacher and he had a very scientific mind," says Ramirez. "He was very measured, he liked precision, and so that's the reason why he developed the power sweep with such the level of accuracy that he did develop it. And Sir Isaac Newton would've loved that."

Ramirez writes that Newton's view of the natural world - and the universe - as a simple, orderly and harmonious place was echoed by Lombardi.  "[Lombardi believed that] things were subject to reason," she writes, "They could be explained and measured and, ultimately, perfected."

"The way [Lombardi] selected plays would have made a mathematician excited, particularly the mathematician John Nash, who was profiled in A Beautiful Mind. The way he selected plays is a page right out of game theory," she says.

When we think of game theory, Ramirez says, we think of this highfalutin level of science that has nothing to do with what concerns us. "But, we use it in football. We make decisions based on information that we have about the other team, about how well we will succeed, about how well we will be able to move the chains and gain yards. And, this is exactly what Vince Lombardi did."

Ramirez, who is also the producer and host of the Science Underground podcast, will be speaking at the Milwaukee Public Museum next Thursday, April 28, as part of the Science on Tap series

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