Watertown attorney Rob Marchant is living a remarkable double life as he logs American sports history and maintains a family legacy.
On weekdays, Marchant is president of Michael Best Strategies LLC and senior counsel with Michael Best & Friedrich LLP in Madison, but on Packers home game weekends, he drives the two hours to Green Bay and assumes his role as head statistician for the fabled team, with his duties overseen by the National Football League.
Marchant, 50, grew up in De Pere, just south of Green Bay, and his late father was Packers’ statistics legend Jack Marchant. The elder Marchant was a high school math teacher who moonlighted on weekends for almost 30 years, keeping track of every play the Packers engaged in from the early 1970s into the Brett Favre years. He retired at the end of the millennium.
With his father so entrenched in the Packer organization, Marchant was able to gain insider access, as a boy, to the team. He went on to work in food service at St. Norbert College in De Pere from the age of 16 to his sophomore year in college. Since the 1960s, St. Norbert’s has been where the Packers’ players stay during their summer training camps.
A connection Marchant made with former Packers historian and public relations giant Lee Remmel as a youth lasted until Remmel’s death in 2015. In that time, Remmel noticed that the Marchant apple didn’t fall too far from the tree and Rob had similar skills to his father.
When Jack Marchant retired as Packers statistician around 1999, one of his colleagues did, as well, leaving a significant void for the team to fill. It was then that Remmel asked Rob if he would like to assume his father’s role as statistician for the Packers.
“So my brother, David, who has since passed away, and I, joined the crew,” Marchant said. “The job was part of the Packers’ public relations department under Lee Remmel and that’s when I started.”
And here Marchant is today, leading a team of 6 to 8 statisticians at each game the Green Bay Packers play at Lambeau.
Marchant landed in Watertown after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1997. He came to the city to work as a lawyer with Bender and Levi.
“I wanted to work at a smaller law firm,” he said, adding he married his college sweetheart, Amy Marchant, now a reading specialist at Douglas Elementary School, while he was in law school. They met while both were majoring in education at UW-Madison.
While in general practice law in Watertown, Marchant began working with the city because his firm was involved in municipal law. Marchant did a fair amount of work for Watertown mayors, chiefs of police, the city council and others, and prosecuted violations. He enjoyed this type of work and went on to serve the State of Wisconsin in Madison, drafting documents for the legislature on a larger scale.
“I stayed in Watertown and commuted, working with the Legislative Review Board and later, I was the Senate’s chief clerk and director of operations and deputy secretary of employment trust funds in 2012,” he said.
Marchant takes pride in the fact that his governmental work has been trusted by both Republicans and Democrats during some of the most contentious times in the history of state government.
The year 2014 brought a change in the venue in which Marchant practiced law. He moved into the private sector, with Michael Best Strategies, to work in government and public affairs. He now serves as the firm’s president and oversees offices around the country.
After former Watertown Mayor John David encouraged him to do so, Marchant joined the city’s Redevelopment Authority.
“I asked John if he really wanted to get things done and when he said he did, I took the calling,” Marchant said, adding he and the RDA are hard at work coordinating improvements, such as the town square at South Water and West Main streets.
Approximately four years ago, Marchant became the Packers’ chief statistician for home games, with his position now falling under the employ and control of the NFL, as are other such jobs around the league.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Marchant’s statistics crew for Packers home games numbered eight. It is now winnowed to six. Among this crew are Marchant as chief statistician and verbal caller of action on the field, a data entry operator, offensive and defensive spotters, a manual backup person and audit computer operator.
Marchant enjoys and appreciates the performance of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but sometimes the veteran field general moves too quickly when marching the team down the field.
“Rodgers is hard, because he’s so fast. TV timeouts and other delays were our best friends awhile back, because we could make corrections,” Marchant said, adding that the NFL stresses immediate accuracy these days, likely due to the real-time interaction of fans who are playing fantasy football. “With Rodgers, the pace of work has really picked up. You have to keep up with him.”
Among the trickiest plays to call, according to Marchant, are ones in which credit must be given for quarterback sacks. Marking the spot on the field where a fumble occurs is also challenging.
“You’re calling it in real time. Generally, we are right in real time, although, occasionally, we consult the replay to make certain we are,” Marchant said.
Being a statistician in the NFL’s coldest and snowiest outdoor stadium also presents problems. Marchant has worked in blinding snow storms and called Green Bay’s 2007 rout of Seattle — known as the “snow globe game” — “beautiful,” but also difficult to work in from high in the press box.
“For that snow game, at times, the yard markers on the field were completely covered and we had to rely on the locations of the entrances to the seating bowl, and the seating rows, to spot the ball’s location on the field,” he said. “Favre was great that day. That was phenomenal. That day had special meaning, because my dad was there as an observer and my brother was there by my side. The ‘still’ shots from that game are pieces of art. The snow is always fun and challenging. There are more turnovers and there is a fair amount of educated guessing on spotting some plays. But these types of games are always a blast.”
For Marchant, maintaining deadly accurate statistics is of the utmost importance because it allows the league to keep track of team and all-time player records, and players need credit on big plays for contract negotiations.
By Tuesday following a Sunday game, if Marchant’s team has done well and is fortunate, the NFL approves and adopts its work. It then becomes part of NFL history.
“Based on my informal opinion, we are likely one of the most accurate statistical teams in the league. Others in the league are certainly as good and there’s always room to improve,” Marchant said.
The team behind the scenes
Marchant’s crew is tight knit and its members work well together, similar to a good sports team or musical band.
“We have pride in our work as a team and we view ourselves as a team,” he said. “If we make a mistake and don’t catch it, it’s a knock against our team. So much of our work is, ’See it, say it and record it’ and there is a rhythm to this. So, every play, it happens the same way. Everyone knows their role and when they’re supposed to become part of the production.”
With COVID-19 a problem, Marchant’s team has two dedicated, on-call substitutes who can fill in if illness befalls its members.
“They would step up,” he said, adding that, in the worst-case scenario, he could contact the NFL and someone could fill in remotely.
Marchant said that, when his brother, David, died, leaving an open spot on the Packers’ stats team, his niece, Kimberly Finnessy, was the logical choice to fill in. He called Finnessy a technical whiz.
“She’s joined us and she is in her fifth season,” Marchant said, noting that when they work Packer games, he picks Finnessy up in Waupun — she lives in Brooklyn — and they car-pool to Green Bay. “She’s the first female member of the Packers NFL home stats crew that I am aware of.”
Marchant said that if there is any positive aspect about COVID-19 restrictions for his statistics team, it’s that its members can reach Lambeau Field more quickly because there is very little traffic, due to so few fans attending pandemic-affected games. Marchant’s working round trips to Lambeau from Watertown last about 12 hours.
“With COVID-19, it’s been easy-in, easy-out at Lambeau,” he said. “COVID-19 made the travel a little bit better, but we miss the fans and would gladly trade things back, so everyone could be at the games.”
Marchant said working with the Packers for half of their games each season is hard sometimes, because it takes away from his time with his family, but it doesn’t affect his professional life much because he knows when games are going to be early in the year and can prepare for them months in advance.
“In 21 seasons, I have only missed two games,” Marchant said.
When they reach Lambeau Field on game days, Marchant and his niece move up to their workplace in the press box on the west side of the stadium. They are situated behind the public relations staff on the 40 yard-line, edging toward the north end-zone.
Marchant had high praise for the people who work in the Packers public relations department. He said people like Aaron Popkey, Jason Wahlers and Sarah Quick, make game days run smoothly.
“There is so much they organize on game day,” he said of the Packers’ PR people, adding another person who has been of assistance to the stats crew is Ollie Auerbach, manager of game statistics operations with the NFL in New York. “He and the league have done an amazing job over the last several seasons improving technology to connect the stats crews to one another and improve quality.”
Another technological advance has come since video from NFL games has gone digital and stats are now digital, so they can be matched up and each team can use this combined data for strategic purposes and game-planning.
Technological changes have been massive over Marchant’s two-decades-long career in NFL statistics.
“We’re on multiple versions of software systems that underpin stats and, each year, there are more elements and the league wants more specifics,” he said. “Things are always being added and there are always more things they want us to track. There is also the time pressure to be accurate the first time. We used to proof at timeouts, but it’s not that way anymore. It has to be accurate at the end of the play. That is likely being driven by fantasy football.”
It can be difficult sometimes for Marchant to watch the Packers’ road games with friends, because he views the contests from a different perspective.
“I do (statistics) in my head when they’re on the road,” he said. “I can’t watch without marking it. I’m not sure my friends always enjoy this. My dad did this, too. He’d mention minute stats from the last play.”
Marchant encourages young people who are strong in math and have an interest in sports to become statisticians for their favorite teams.
“You can work in the box,” he said. “Most universities have athletic teams and there are opportunities. Just seek them out. I’m sure the UW-Madison statistics crews are very similar to ours. You just have to be willing to make the emails and calls, then volunteer to get your feet underneath you and learn. There are tons of opportunities in all of the sports leagues to take down this type of information.”
For Marchant, the best parts of working a challenging job in the NFL come in knowing that he is following in his father’s footsteps, is working with one of the most historic and respected sports franchises in the world and is leading a team of quality statisticians in games viewed worldwide. He is also thankful that he has been able to work in such a successful era of the Packers franchise, and track the movements of players like Favre and Rodgers.
“I enjoy the camaraderie of this statistics team and working together,” he said. “It’s pretty thrilling to have some small part in a storied franchise and phenomenal global brand, as well as see the level of performance that I’ve been able to in this great period.”
Marchant is unsure of what the future holds for him in the universe of the Green Bay Packers, but he said he wants to see things through, at least, until Rodgers’ career in green and gold is complete.
“Rodgers, now, is always reaching another milestone and record, and that’s been a blast to be around,” he said. “I want to be the guy who took all those accomplishments down and recorded it for posterity. My dad took stats for all of Brett Favre’s career here and some of Rodgers’. I want to stay, so that it can be said that the Marchant’s took stats for both back-to-back, hall-of-fame quarterbacks.”
It is also Marchant’s dream to take stats for a Packer NFC championship victory.
Marchant’s job rarely brings him into contact with Packers players, but he likes it that way.
“I don’t want the players to know me,” he said. “Then I know I’m doing a good job.”