by Tuesday Morning Tailback
Like the Pennsylvania Congress of 2005, the National Football League recently snuck something into the playoffs. Of course, the NFL did not raise their own salaries some 34% in the dead of night. No, in my opinion, they did something much worse. They changed a rule that was the very foundation of what put American football on the map over a half-century ago.
What, you ask, has me so perturbed? It is the startling, un-talked-about change in the playoff overtime rule. Apparently I’m the only one who is angry about this, but I will not lay down my tongue in defeat. No, it will wag with even more ferocity!
First, let us examine why “sudden death” overtime put the NFL on the map. It is all due to one game – the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants. This was one of the first highly televised professional football games and it was a back and forth game between two great teams that went into “sudden death” overtime.
With the game tied at 17 apiece, the Giants got the ball to start overtime, but when the Colts defense held stout, New York was forced to punt the ball back to Baltimore and quarterback Johnny Unitas. Unitas led the Colts on an eighty-yard drive, culminating with touchdown run by Alan Ameche, who crossed the goaline into history.
After this game television networks realized that professional football was a viable commodity that people would watch due to its intense and exciting nature, and most analysts and historian feel the “sudden death” aspect is one of the key components that made this “the greatest game in history”. If it had not gone into sudden death overtime would history have changed?
Since that game in 1958, some of the greatest postseason games have gone to “sudden death” – Miami/Kansas City in 1971, San Diego/Miami in 1981, Denver/Cleveland in 1986, the Rams against the Giants in 1989, Buffalo/Houston in 1992, and Atlanta/Minnesota in 1998. But none of these games has been the final, championship game of the year and it has never happened in a Super Bowl.
If you read last week’s article, you know we’re pretty jazzed about this upcoming Super Bowl between Pittsburgh and Green Bay. It should be a great one, but what if an asinine new rule trips it up? Let us examine what the new overtime rule is:
• Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner.
• If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team shall have the opportunity to possess the ball. If [that team] scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the score is tied after [both teams have a] possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.
• If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if [the overtime period’s] initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue until a score is made, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.
As you can see, this is not the absolute worst rule in history, but why is it necessary? There is an old saying that goes; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The NFL’s overtime rule was perfect the way it was, especially in the playoffs. If your team got the ball first you had to score, or if you didn’t your defense had to stop them. So why change it?
Well, it’s simple – the NFL wants to make things “fair,” and promote offense while eliminating defense. The reason for this rule is due almost entirely to the fact that the New Orleans Saints drove straight down and scored on the opening procession of the 2009 NFC Championship game to eliminate the Minnesota Vikings. Anyone with sense would say that it was up to the Vikings defense to stop the Saints offense and they failed, but not the NFL. Apparently the NFL blames ….the kicker?
The new overtime rule attempts to stop kickers from having the ability to decide overtime games. Now, what I don’t understand, is why the NFL does not simply eliminate the kicking position altogether?
At least, Colt’s kickerAdam Vinatieri has some common sense. In a recent New York Times Article he said; “Your defense is supposed to keep the other team from scoring. If they do that, you get the ball back anyway.”
If the NFL does not want games decided by kickers why not just say that in overtime all points must come from touchdowns and field goals are not options? Creating a half-hearted overtime rule that eliminates kickers as pivotal players on the first drive only serves to create controversy and confusion.
Imagine if Packer’s quarterback Aaron Rodgers drives eighty yards for a field goal in overtime and then in the ensuing kickoff, Steeler’s kick returner Stefan Logan gets lucky breaks a tackle and scores the game deciding touchdown. Would it really be fair that the Packers offense did vastly more than the Steelers and still lost?
This is, of course, purely hypothetical, but you can imagine the frustration if that happened and then the next day the NFL would move to change the overtime rule again so that kick-offs were only allowed on the 1st possession of overtime?
It is a disaster waiting to happen.