Overtime Debate

The Overtime Debate is no longer relevant — but this is what I had written when it was…

It’s overtime in the Playoffs. Matt Hasselbeck’s Seahawks have just won the toss. Matt (to his ever-lasting regret) says, “We’ll take the ball and we’re going to score.” Uh, not so fast.
referee's whistle
Stellar CB Al Harris picked off #8 and took it to the house for a Green Bay victory. Bruno would like to thank Al for his brilliant illustration of this analyst’s overtime position: IT’S FINE, LEAVE IT ALONE! His interception and TD runback showed, once again, that defense is just as important as offense in overtime. One would think this would be obvious, but too many commentators (and yes, some fans too) keep lobbying for overtime reform.

OK, let’s break this down into its several factions:

  • the unfair advantage faction
  • the “who cares about Special Teams” faction
  • the philosophical faction

Unfair advantage: Too many folks cling to the notion that since the first team to score prevails in sudden death, the team that wins the coin toss and receives the ball is more likely to win the game. Although the statistics fluctuate from week to week and season-to-season, one thing remains stable: this is not true. Despite our myopic fixation on offensive juggernauts, the actual victory percentage comes out about even year after year. Now, Bruno is not advocating that a coach elect to forfeit ball possession in overtime. I mean, let’s not get carried away. But the fact remains that a team has a relatively equal mathematically probable chance of winning either way. (In fact, historically, only 22% of the teams that “won” the coin toss in overtime went on to win the game.)

Special Teams: Any serious football fan has heard former players (even Bruno’s much-respected Cris Collinsworth) and sports media figures advocate for the elimination of the Field Goal. We don’t know what the reporters’ excuse is, but we have noticed that most complaints among ex-players come from QB’s and WR’s. Imagine that! Of course they want another shot at making the big play!

The error in this plan is that it narrows the scope and complexity of the game. Without the kicking game a major entertainment component is removed for the fans: the second-guessing of a coach’s strategy! Come on – who wants to give up the ability to play Monday morning Head Coach? This is why the two-point conversion was added to the pro game. Multiple scoring options are one of the reasons that we love football over hockey and soccer: how many different ways can you get the puck/ball into the net?

In addition to the Field Goal option, there is always the potential of the big kick return on Special Teams. Just ask Devin Hester, Dante Hall or either Metcalf if this is a game winning opportunity! And don’t forget those blocked kicks – right Kris Jenkins?

Philosophy: Now we come to the core issue. For years the NFL has been promoting offensive scoring, particularly by assisting the growing prominence of the forward pass. This aerial course was set in the belief that fans would rather see spectacular completions than develop the ability to appreciate a good defensive battle. And it worked, thanks to Air Correal, Bill Walsh and numerous talented QB/WR combos. Perhaps this premise is still accurate for the casual living room/Super Bowl Party fan. But if you listen carefully, we’ve heard all season how savvy the stadium fans have become. These folks comprehend the whole game. They cheer loudest the last ten seconds of the play clock, they know the penalties BEFORE the ref turns on that little mic, and they go crazy over a goal line stand.

Since Barbara’s Football Buzz is dedicated to “People Who Think Way Too Much About Football” we KNOW you are connoisseurs of defense as well as offense. Frankly, we think the very idea that each team deserves an OFFENSIVE possession in overtime is highly insulting to the crushing defenses of NFL history (not to mention the men currently playing). Would YOU like to tell Joe Green, Mike Singletary, Darrell Green, Ron Lott or Ray Lewis that their contribution isn’t as important as that of the offense? We didn’t think so.

The credo for those of us that wouldn’t dream of giving up the battle between Joe Montana and Laurence Taylor has always been, “You want the ball? Then stop us and you’ll get it.” Better yet, intercept us and run it back for a touchdown. Right Al?

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