Longtime Bucs, USF statistician Ray Mull dies

Ray Mull had been a game-employee of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since the franchise's first game.
Published Nov. 19, 2017|Updated Nov. 19, 2017

The consummate sports junkie, Ray Mull couldn't subsist on the mere ebb and flow and skill of the action.

He needed the ancillary elements: the photos, the memorabilia, the math. Especially the math.

While rummaging through his things earlier this week, his daughter, Stefani Crimaldi, came across sheet after yellowed sheet of handwritten stats from baseball games played at least four decades before.

"He has just always been a numbers guy," Crimaldi said.

Mr. Mull, a game-day employee of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and USF football since those teams' inceptions, passed away at his Dover home Tuesday. A diabetic unable to suppress his love of Diet Coke and Peanut M&M's, Mr. Mull went down for a nap and never woke up.

He was 62.

In 41-plus years with the Bucs, most as a statistician, he missed one home game — to attend his grandmother's funeral.

He was in his 21st season keeping stats for Bulls games, and had the same gig for the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL in the mid-1980s. He even did arena games for the Tampa Bay Storm before the workload became too much.

He worked each of the four Super Bowls that have been staged in Tampa, as well as all 31 Outback Bowls that have been played.

"That was his thing," Crimaldi said.

On Thursday evening, roughly an hour before USF's game against Tulsa, longtime fellow statisticians spoke reverently about Mr. Mull's punctuality and memory, and jokingly about his incurable antagonism toward the officials.

"He had a mind like a steel trap," fellow statistician Chuck Halling said.

Crimaldi concurred. "He was a walking, talking history book when it came to baseball and football and older basketball."

On game days, he arrived hours before kickoff, then hobnobbed with everyone from reporters to food servers to team officials. His Facebook page is rife with photos of Mr. Mull with a smorgasbord of celebrities, from former Bucs star Ronde Barber to former boxing champ Antonio Tarver to Jim Brown, his boyhood idol.

"Honestly, he was a guy that I would just say enjoyed being in conversations and enjoyed speaking with people," Bucs communications director Nelson Luis said. "He rarely walked in the room and wasn't noticed."

When kickoff neared, he made his way to the stat booth on the Raymond James Stadium press box's north end and lined his cans of Diet Coke on a ledge next to him.

Then, he'd spend the next few hours calling out the play type, down and distance, direction of the play, number of the ball carrier, and the spot where the play ended. Co-workers say Mr. Mull — affectionately known as "The Mullster" to many — saved a few syllables for the refs.

Dave Tarbutton, a co-statistician with Mr. Mull the past 33 years, said: "I don't think he saw a referee who knew how to properly spot a football."

When the Bucs defeated the 49ers, 31-6, in the divisional playoffs on Jan. 12, 2003, to reach the NFC title game, Mr. Mull choked up calling the last couple of plays. He didn't travel with the team for the Super Bowl that season, but did when the Bucs played a preseason game in Tokyo the following summer.

"He was like that main guy that we sort of relied on to kind of keep the (stats) group together," Luis said. "And he took that role pretty seriously. We never really had any questions or any doubts or any issues in terms of, we just knew Ray was gonna be there every game."

An Ohio native and devout Ohio State Buckeyes fan, Mr. Mull moved to Florida while in middle school and graduated from Hernando High in 1974. He and Lisa Cooley, his wife of 22 1/2 years, adopted four boys and, at various points, took in a total of 13 foster kids, Crimaldi said.

"It is a lot of love," Crimaldi said. "There's a whole lot of it in our house."

He spent 20 years as an office worker for GTE, which later became Verizon and then Frontier, before retiring last winter. He even did some work for local sports-talk radio station WDAE.

For a while, he owned a sports-memorabilia shop and adjacent video store in Brandon. His most prized artifact: a photo of Bucs legend Lee Roy Selmon — resplendent in his old creamsicle home uniform — warming up before a game.

"He had it printed on canvas, took it to a different game, and Lee Roy signed it to him," Crimaldi said.

It will be on display at Mr. Mull's funeral, to be held Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at One Buc Place.

"I just knew that he took a lot of pride in that position that he had and his relationship with the (Bucs) organization," Luis said. "To have someone that committed to being around and to being a reliable person…is really something that nobody here takes for granted."