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Films and Documentaries

“Signals” Short Film Series Continues with “The Cowboys and the Indian”

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FiveThirtyEight and ESPN Films’ digital shorts series Signals continues today with “The Cowboys and the Indian,” directed by award-winning writer, actor and director Mark Polish. The film, which premiered on FiveThirtyEight.com, takes a look at computer programming that changed the way the Dallas Cowboys drafted players.

In the early 1960’s, the Dallas Cowboys wanted to develop a computer system that would evaluate draft-eligible college players. President and General Manager Tex Schramm suggested to “find a way to judge players without emotion.” It was this sophisticated player-draft system the Cowboys conceived in the early 1960’s that would propel them onto five Super Bowl appearances in the 1970’s thus winning two World Championships.

This story of ingenuity is made more interesting because the key team member has since been forgotten: A. Salam Qureishi, a brilliant Indian computer programmer and statistician who grew up half way across the world and knew nothing about American football. Up until this system, pro scouting was done on hunches rather than hard numbers. Qureishi’s programming changed all that, bringing the Cowboys’ scouting technique out of the Stone Age and into the Space Age.

Signals, an anthology series from a diverse group of filmmakers, will explore stories where analytics and data meet compelling political, economic, science, lifestyle and sports narratives. Related features and visualizations on FiveThirtyEight will accompany the films to provide greater context. Signals, which is a project out of ESPN content unit Exit 31, launched October 22 with “The Man Vs. The Machine.”

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