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Thursday (The NFL overtime system) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Vikings Updated: January 28, 2010 - 9:19 AM

We thought we were done writing about the Vikings for a while, but then we realized there are two kinds of people in this world: those who hear the name Robert Smith and think about the lead singer of The Cure, and those who hear the name Robert Smith and think about the former running back. (Some also think of the 18th century mathematician, but we don't associate with those people).

In any event, an e-mail (and as it now turns out TWO e-mails, but more on that later) sent us down a path of coin flip and NFL overtime rules pondering. The first, from reader John M:

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I enjoy reading the Star Tribune, especially the sports section and your page 2 compilations and articles.

[Note: John obviously knows how to get his letter printed].

Since the Vikings overtime loss to the Saints on Sunday, I have read everything that has been written about the game. Nowhere have I seen one word about what I consider to be the most stupid, moronic, idiotic concept in all of sports, past and present. That would be the coin flip that decides which team gets possession in overtime in a game that has ended in a tie in regulation!

People talk about the Viking loss in terms of fumbles, interceptions, 12 men in the huddle, etc. I think one word could be used........"HEADS"! That is the guess that the Vikings made when the coin that the official tossed to start overtime was in the air. It landed tails. The Vikings never got the ball and a chance to win!

How can a multi-billion dollar business (the NFL) use an unfair system such as this to decide who gets the ball first in overtime and more often than not wins the game?

If this is so good, why don't other sports do something similar? In baseball, if a game ends in a tie after the ninth inning, why not flip a coin to see who bats first in the top of the tenth? If that team scores, game over, they win!


John is, of course, correct. This is hardly the first time someone has griped about the overtime rules. And also, we suspect nobody (at least in Minnesota) would be griping had the coin landed heads and the Vikings went on to win the game without giving New Orleans a chance. Similarly, when the Twins complained two years ago that home field advantage in Game 163 vs. Chicago was determined by coin flip instead of the head-to-head series winner during the regular season (the Twins), it rang a little hollow because everyone in the Minnesota clubhouse would have whistled right on through if the roles had been reversed. (That said, who could have predicted that complaining would not only lead to a rule change during the offseason but also apply favorably to the Twins the very next season, resulting in one of the greatest positive games in local sports history vs. the Tigers).

The coin flip isn't the reason Minnesota lost (though they should have chosen TAILS. It never FAILS). It was a pre-existing rule that could have benefited the Vikings just as easily. All that said, the overtime rule is of course absurd. And we had plenty of time to think about it last night while lying awake and also wondering why we slathered all that kimchi on our BBQ sandwich. We've heard various alternatives bandied about: the college rule, where both teams get a possession at the opponent's 25, and this process repeats until one team outscores the other; a rule that ensures each team one regular possession, after which the game becomes sudden death. We don't mind either one, but we had another idea last night:

What if the team that wins the coin flip gets a choice: start with the ball on their own 10 yard line, or let their opponent do the same. It's still sudden death, there is still the chance one team doesn't get the ball, but by guaranteeing bad field position, there is a very good chance for a defense to be rewarded. (Get a 3-and-out, for instance, and you're likely taking over around your own 40 or better). If you have a great defense, you might opt to start on defense. If you have confidence in your offense, you might take the ball but you're still going to have to drive 60 yards to be in legitimate field goal range. You're going to have to earn it, and if the opposing defense can't stop you, that team doesn't deserve to win.

Anyway, just a thought. We're fairly certain nothing will be done. Why? BECAUSE ROGER GOODELL LOVES COIN TOSSES. From a press release that literally came across as we were already working on this post:

NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL will conduct the coin toss to kickoff USA Football’s “Team USA vs. The World” game, presented by Riddell, on Saturday, Jan. 30, at 12 p.m. ET in Ft. Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium. USA Football’s 2010 Junior National Team – 45 of the country’s top high school seniors – will face a World Select team composed of the best players aged 19 and under from outside the United States spanning eight countries on four continents.

But as a special bonus, Goodell will use the barely-beating, pulverized heart of a Vikings fan instead of an actual coin. If it lands 1998 scar side up, Team USA gets the ball. 2009 fresh wound side up, the ball goes to The World.


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