Sunday, January 31, 2010

America's Sore Loser Syndrome and the NFL Overtime Rule

On the day of the 2010 Pro Bowl, perhaps the most boring and meaningless of all the professional all-star games (unless you count the NASCAR all-star race, which I don't), debate rages on about the fairness of the NFL's current sudden-death overtime rule. This debate was most recently spawned after the Vikings overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in last week's NFC championship game.

The critics decry the abject unfairness of the current overtime rule, stating that it unfairly advantages the team that wins the coin toss and, almost always, elects to go on offense. The experts suggest that it would be much more fair if the NFL instituted a college style overtime rule, where each team has the opportunity to play offense and defense and the game continues until one team, to borrow a tennis term, breaks their opponents serve. There are also those who suggest a shortened overtime period played with regulation rules and/or an overtime period where kicking is not allowed. (Btw, statistics show that, in the NFL, both teams have an opportunity to play offense in the overtime period 70% of the time)

Besides bringing their secret hatred of all things kicker to the forefront, proponents of modifying the NFL's overtime rule are not doing a great job of hiding their inability to deal with being losers. As much as the prognosticators would like to have you believe that they are motivated by fairness and equality, the truth is that their horse in the race, the front-runner Brett Favre, threw two unforgettable and unforgiveable interceptions and played an integral part in ending what seemingly was destined to be a fairytale season.

Yes, the New Orleans Saints advancing to the first Super Bowl in the franchise's history is big news. Yes, seeing the citizens of New Orleans in the midst of jubilant celebration 4 years after Hurricane Katrina all but destroyed their city is a sight for sore eyes. No one can deny how provocatively ironic it is that the New Orleans Saints are traveling down to Miami to face Peyton Manning, the city's favorite son and the son of Saints legend Archie Manning, the first ever draft pick in the history of the Saints franchise.

All of this is well and good but none of it would've topped a meeting of epoch proportions between the legendary Brett Favre, the NFL's iron man and one whom many consider to be the greatest quarterback to ever take the field (if such a distinction could ever be made) and Peyton Manning, the modern embodiment of an era of quarterbacks long passed, who, when it's all said and done, will likely possess every meaningful passing record ever amassed in the history of the Colts franchise and the NFL as a whole.

Could you imagine these two juggernauts of the forward pass trading completions and touchdowns in the most watched event in human history? The Colts and the Vikings tied as the end of regulation approaches. As the clock ticks down to triple zeros, the clouds part and a bolt of lightening streams down from the heavens and engulfs the turf as these two demigods are raptured up into the heavens and seated at the right hand of Zeus, forever immortalized as the eternal guardians of football.

My characterization of a potential Manning/Favre meeting in the Super Bowl is fanciful and far-fetched at best but if you listened to the feracity with which many argue for a change in the NFL's overtime policy in the aftermath of our denial of such a possibility, you would think that this match-up promised to be synonymous with Moses parting the Red Sea or the gods descending Mt. Olympus to walk amongst men.

The NFL's current overtime rules, whether we like it or not, whether it supports our ideals of fairness or not, or whether it hampers our expectations of what constitutes a desirable outcome, is a fair and finite way to decide a game that could not be decided in the 60 minutes allotted in regulation in a game that is wrought with sometimes unbearable emotion and demands a definite outcome.

We have become so accustomed as a society to tailoring the rules to fit our desires, attitudes, and ability levels. This is evident in the little league rules that say that every kid should have an opportunity to play to promote healthy self-esteem to the restructuring or elimination of testing standards in police and fire academies to playcate those who can't make the grade and, rather than studying harder, petition the courts because there must be something inherently unfair about the exam if they can't pass it.

With the NFL's sudden-death over time rule we are reminded of the timeless words of the French chemist Louis Pasteur (famous for inventing the Pasteurization process by which microbes and bacteria are eliminated from dairy products amongst other things) and a favorite saying of the mother of Colts head coach Jim Caldwell - that "chance favors the prepard mind".

To paraphrase what the Golden Child says to Neo in The Matrix before he meets with the Oracle, it is not the advantage on the playing field that should be manipulated, but our own minds. The NFL should stand firmly in support of their current overtime policy. It will be a sturdy stand for competition and sportsmanship in the true spirit of the words.

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