A week ago Sunday, a rare and somewhat upsetting occurrence happened in the NFL. The Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings ended 75 minutes of play with the score at 26-26.
Both teams scored field goals on their first possession in overtime. The rules were changed a few years ago to let both teams possess the ball if the first doesn’t score a touchdown. The rule previous was the first team to score won.
This was the first tie since the previous season, when the San Francisco 49ers finished the game with even scoring with the St. Louis Rams and just the sixth tie in the last 16 years.
The NFL is America’s game. It has taken over that spot from baseball, at least in popularity. Yet nothing could seem less American than ending a game in a tie. Our society is built on the opportunity to get ahead.
Would our forefathers have called a tie in the Revolutionary War? I sure don’t think so. The turf war shouldn’t be any different. But I don’t want to get too melodramatic.
Sitting there on Sunday, watching this game end, it left a sour taste in my mouth. Ties just don’t sit well with me. Something deep within most of us is the desire to have a winner and a loser. It was as if both teams got a participation trophy, even though little was accomplished.
There are no winners in a tie game, and not just in the literal sense. Both teams leave the field with disappointment, maybe even more so than if they would have lost. The fans leave the game unsatisfied. The division and playoff standings are thrown all out of whack. I can’t think of one good thing.
“It’s kind of a weird feeling when that overtime ends and you’re walking off and the fans don’t know whether to cheer or boo for you,” said Packer linebacker Clay Matthews in an interview after the game. “And you kind of don’t come to grips as far as how you should feel. Is it a victory? Is that a loss?”
Most professional sports don’t allow ties in a game. The NHL just recently changed its rules about ties in the 2005 season. Now games have shootouts to determine the winner. The longest NBA game ever played was on Jan. 6, 1951, where the Indianapolis Olympians won in six OT against the Rochester Royals.
The longest professional baseball game was played in 1981, with the Minor League Pawtucket Red Sox beating the Rochester Red Wings 3-2 in 33 innings. The game lasted a staggering eight hours, 25 minutes. Major League Soccer is the only other major sport in the U.S. to allow ties.
So what is the solution? That is the tricky part. You could adapt the college format, but most experts agree that it would not work well in professional football. Of course, in a recent ESPN poll of more than 40,000 people, 34 percent think that is the way to go.
You could go to a second 15-minute period, keeping sudden death. Or one that I read a few days ago — a kickout, the equivalent of a shootout with field goals.
The truth is, I don’t know what would work best. I would assume that going to another overtime and the first to score wins would be the best policy. Do what you do to decide a playoff game.
A legitimate concern is player safety. Football is a grueling sport, and player safety should be taken into account. For this reason alone, I don’t think the NFL will change its policy, especially with all of the new rules coming out every year to promote player safety.
But keeping things the way they are is frustrating, both to the fans and the players and coaches. Mind you, it doesn’t happen very often, only six times in the last 16 years. Please, NFL, get rid of ties.
Oh, I just thought of something good. Although it frustrates us to see a tie, it saves us the frustration of watching yet another quarter after one team couldn’t score more than the other in 15 minutes of overtime.