By Chapel Fowler
In the spring of 2016, North Carolina made its first Final Four in seven years — and Chris Gallo ran into a problem.
He’d long been interested in not just sports, but how they worked. As a teenager, Gallo would dig through college football stats for fun during bowl season. Baseball sabermetrics intrigued him, and he was a longtime user of Sports-Reference.com.
So, naturally, he wanted to do the same with UNC basketball. How did this team — led by seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and rising stars Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson — compare to the 2005 championship team? Or the 2009 team? Or, for that matter, any other year?
“I really enjoyed that season, and I wanted to reference it,” said Gallo, a 2009 UNC graduate. “And I found it just really difficult to locate any old box score. It wasn’t that the information wasn’t available. It just wasn’t as easy as I thought it should be.”
Almost three years later, Dadgum Box Scores — the website Gallo created to compile just that — has flourished into something he never could have imagined.
It’s a two-part system. On dadgumboxscores.com, he lists each and every box score — 580, as of Wednesday — since Roy Williams became North Carolina’s head coach. The games are easily filterable: by year, by opponent, by location. There’s a separate page to track referees for each game.
And on Twitter, @dadgumboxscores provides something no other account does: immediate replays. Choose any big moment from UNC basketball this year, and Gallo has probably tweeted a GIF of it, within minutes of the play actually happening.
He also writes blog posts, produces infographics and edits longer videos. Gallo, now 32, has rapidly turned Dadgum Box Scores into an essential account for UNC basketball fans and media. Not bad for something that began as “purely a passion project.”
“To be honest,” he said, “I didn’t have a ton of expectations.”
Big things have small beginnings
Dadgum Box Scores took around a month to build from scratch. Gallo, who lives in Charlotte, chipped away at the site during nights and weekends. His day job — customer operations for Zipline, a company that helps retail brands communicate — still tookpriority.
From the start, he wanted his project to have a narrow focus. That meant immediately accepting that he wasn’t going to create a massive “encyclopedia of Carolina basketball.” Starting with the 2003-04 season worked for a few reasons. Finding box scores from earlier seasons was a challenge. Plus, lining up the project with Williams’ first year coaching UNC just made sense.
“A clean break and good starting point,” Gallo said.
Then, he had to choose a name, so he kept it simple. Williams has long been known for swapping curse words for euphemisms: “Jiminy Christmas,” “frickin’,” “blankety-blank.” Gallo took the most prominent one — and his personal favorite, as a longtime North Carolina resident — and popped it into the title.
His one hesitation? Spelling. With no universal style for dadgum, Gallo flirted with the possibility of using two G’s in the title. When he purchased his domain name, he even bought dadggumboxscores.com, just to be safe.
But one G has worked out just fine. Gallo debuted Dadgum Box Scores right before the 2016-17 season started. As North Carolina went 33-7 and won its sixth NCAA championship, Gallo was there to log every game.
On the side, he wrote occasional blog posts, breaking down advanced stats in a digestible way. He also collaborated with Adrian Atkinson, the creator of The Secondary Break, another UNC analytics site, in an effort to get more eyes on his project.
And then, on Nov. 10, 2017, Gallo struck gold.
Getting a jump on the competition
His wife Katrina was out of town that weekend, leaving Gallo home alone and bored. UNC was opening its season that night against Northern Iowa, so he had a full setup: the game streaming on his TV, the game streaming on his laptop and the Tar Heel Sports Network radio broadcast, his preferred way of listening, playing in the background.
“Since the radio is sometimes a touch faster, I could understand what was going to happen before,” Gallo said. “Which, for most people, is a frustrating thing. But for me, it worked out.”
He had a realization — that brief TV delay was his friend. If radio announcers Jones Angell and Eric Montross could alert him of a play a few seconds early, Gallo could be ready to screen-record it, convert it and post it within minutes.
On Nov. 11, he tweeted his first in-game GIFs. It’s taken off from there.
For the past two seasons, Gallo has been documenting the layups of Berry and the passes of Theo Pinson, the post jumpers of Luke Maye and the 3-pointers of Cameron Johnson. He’ll highlight smaller things, too: a good defensive possession by Kenny Williams, the first career points of reserve Walker Miller. It’s gotten to the point where followers, familiar with his work, will ask: “Did you grab this?”
“A lot of people think that analytics is just about numbers,” Gallo said. “A lot of it’s about video. I really think that’s the future of it. You’ve got to see what’s going on.”
Noticing the Dadgum difference
Dadgum Box Scores has also become a go-to resource for UNC media. Take Tuesday night as an example. When Nassir Little threw down an inbounds alley-oop from Coby White, giving UNC a 75-52 lead over Boston College, the game’s online play-by-play reflected just that.
But Gallo’s GIF revealed what happened right afterward on the broadcast: a slow zoom onto the face of Jim Christian, the Eagles’ head coach, who stood motionless, hands on his hips, deadpanning as his team’s deficit reached 23 points.
“When you can actually see it yourself, you’re able to process the play and get it to your readers in a much clearer way,” said Chris Hilburn-Trenkle, the sports editor of the Daily Tar Heel. “It’s easy visuals.”
“It’s one thing to say that Carolina scored a season-high 62 points in the paint,” Atkinson said. “But pairing that insight with a clip of several plays in which Carolina created paint chances can help provide the context behind the statistic.”
“If you’re trying to remember one specific play, there’s like a nine in 10 chance he has it up there,” said Sam Doughton, the editor-in-chief of Argyle Report.
When he talks about Dadgum Box Scores, Gallo likes to credit others. Atkinson, for helping him grow an audience. The UNC athletic communications department, for giving him his first behind-the-scenes look at sports (he interned there during and after his undergraduate career in Chapel Hill). And the men’s basketball team itself, for getting “pretty damn good,” to the point where people wanted to follow it fanatically.
“I’m not going to be the smartest one online,” Gallo said, “but I do want to try to contribute and be useful.”
With Dadgum Box Scores, he’s done just that.
Edited by Johnny Sobczak