Posted by Holly Phelps on June 24, 2010 Jump To Comments
Back in November 2008, then-Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb admitted, after a 13-13 tie with Cincinnati, that he didn’t know NFL games could end that way. While many people giggled openly at a player not knowing the rules to his own game, many more quietly confessed that they, too, might have wanted to check Google to check the answer.
The overtime rules for the regular season are pretty clear. If you’re tied after four quarters, you play another period, built on the concept of sudden death. If no one scores in that extra 15:00 period, the game is a tie.
Easy enough. We all remember the 2007 game against Denver, where Brett Favre lobbed that beauty down the left sideline to Greg Jennings for the touchdown on the second play of overtime.
When it comes to playoffs, that’s where the fun begins. It used to be that the rules in the regular season were the same as the rules in the postseason. However, beginning this last year, the NFL owners decided to crazy-up the process:
The crux of the rule is to make overtime outcomes less dependent on the coin flip. If the team that has possession of the ball first scores a touchdown, the game is over. But if it kicks a field goal, the other team would get a possession and would win with a touchdown. If nobody scores on the first drives, or if both teams kick field goals, the game will revert to sudden death.
The change is expected to alter traditional overtime strategy. Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said that the team with the first possession would have to consider going for a first down on fourth-and-short rather than attempting a lengthy field goal. And the team with the second possession — knowing what it needs to win, or at least to keep the game going — would be aware of when a field goal would be enough. That, McKay said, would offset the disadvantage of losing the coin toss.
And then the owners decided it might be fun to consider changing the regular season rules in the same fashion. (Personally, I was happy with the original rules. Anyone who gets feisty about losing the coin-toss has only to ask the Packers how winning the coin flip worked in the wild card game.)
Why am I talking about overtime rules? Is it really that boring around the NFL now that minicamps are done and there’s nothing but thumbs-twiddling until training camp?
But also, and I know this is a little outside the realm of “football,” it brings up the point that the football overtime rules, as crazy as they are, are still less crazy than other sports.
Normally, in a men’s tournament (say, at Wimbledon), you must win 3 of 5 sets. If the fifth set remains in contention before someone gets to six points and is winning by two, you keep going until someone DOES win by two. Love, 15, 30, 40, game (and that’s one point, unless you’re tied at 40…then you have to score more points and here. Read the rules yourself.)
As I type this, there are two men, American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, who are battling it out in the fifth set at Wimbledon, in a match that has entered its third day. Seriously. After the first day, they were tied through four sets, and stopped because of lack of light. After the second, they were tied in the fifth set at 59-59. (Seriously. Last year’s marathon Wimbledon final was 16-14. This is just absurd.) The score as I post is 67-66.
The two men have just started again in Britain, trying to finish a set that’s already lasted over seven hours. I mean, they didn’t even get a bathroom break until they were tied at 58-58! That’s dedication.
These two men broke dozens of tennis records before even starting today, and the match isn’t even over yet:
- Longest match in history. They started today having played 10 hrs. (Record: 6hr 33min)
- Longest set in history. They started today with 118 games. (Record: 46)
- Most games in a match. So far, 163. (Record: 112)
- Aces per match (by EACH player!) Isner: 98, Mahut: 95. (Record:76)
The match is almost two hours longer than the longest Major League Baseball game in history (an 8:06 game between the White Sox and Brewers in 1984).
This set has gone on so long that the scoreboard stopped working at 47-47.
So…yes. June is slow from a football standpoint, unless you love hearing about misdemeanors and contract signings. But if you can, for just a moment, take a second and thank the NFL gods that football overtime is less crazy than tennis.
Because, really. Seven hours without a bathroom break? That’s just wrong.
UPDATE: Isner won, finally, 70-68. And then fell down on the ground and laid there for a while. Can’t say I blame him.
Got an idea for another sport crazier than football? You can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @htphelps.