MIAMI – Go ahead, try to make heads or tails of this scenario:
The Super Bowl is tied after four quarters. The captains from Indianapolis and New Orleans trudge wearily back to midfield, exactly where they stood four hours earlier to begin Sunday night’s game. A referee holds the silver coin, turns toward one side and says, “This is heads. This is tails. You make the call.”
Could it happen? Absolutely. Some might say it’s due to happen.
And if it does, the Saints and Colts agree that it could easily be the most harrowing moment of their football careers.
“This is the big boys’ game,” Indianapolis linebacker Clint Session said, “and that’s the rules.”
The rules of NFL overtime have been a hot topic for years, especially since college football adopted a plan to give both teams the ball 25 yards from the end zone and play an even number of possessions until someone wins.
In the NFL, the first team to score prevails, no matter what.
Hockey is sudden-death, but both teams have the same chance of getting the puck and scoring.
In basketball, an overtime is played to the end.
In baseball, there’s always the bottom of the extra inning.
In the NFL, it can come down to a flip. Picking the right way the coin lands doesn’t guarantee victory, but in the 15 overtime games this season, including playoffs, seven lasted only one possession (including Arizona’s win over Green Bay in the wild-card round, when the Cardinals won with a defensive touchdown).
“Hey, those are the rules,” New Orleans running back Reggie Bush said. “Can’t change them now.”
So far, there have been no overtimes in any of the 43 Super Bowls played.
“If it happens, yeah, that would be something,” New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer said.
This season, roughly one in every 18 games has gone to overtime. Prior to last year’s Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell noted that the winner of the coin toss got the ball and scored on that first possession 47 percent of the time. He also said league owners would discuss changes to the existing OT rule. They did, briefly. No changes.
“It’s the most exciting, dramatic, true-to-the game overtime format,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “It forces teams to do everything possible to win in regulation time. In overtime, the games ends with a score, which can occur at any time on offense, defense or special teams. And the players and coaches – the participants – have consistently supported the format as being fair.”
It can’t be a surprise that the Saints are loving the overtime scenario these days.
Tied with the Minnesota Vikings after 60 minutes of the NFC championship game, they could only stand by and watch as the Vikings’ Steve Hutchinson called the flip to decide who got the ball first in OT.
“Heads,” Hutchinson said, looking straight ahead, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees turned his gaze downward and put his hands on his hips.
The coin was in the air for 1.2 seconds.
“You know,” Bush said this week, “that might have been the slowest coin toss I’ve ever seen.”
It hit the Superdome turf, then flipped one last time.
“Very, very relieved,” Greer said. “Because then, I realized the offense had the chance to do something special. Fortunately, they were able to do it.”
Saints ball, and the rest was history.
After 60 minutes, it came down to 1.2 seconds!
Brees and New Orleans took the kickoff and got deep into Minnesota territory. Garrett Hartley’s field goal was perfect and true. Just like that, the Aints weren’t Aints anymore. Brett Favre and the Vikings never even got a chance to touch the ball in the extra session.
It has never played out that way in a Super Bowl, but the NFL championship in 1958 – the “Greatest Game Ever Played” – needed more than four quarters to decide a winner.
Yankee Stadium. Dec. 28. The first overtime game in NFL history. New York Giants vs. Baltimore Colts.
“We really didn’t know what to do,” Raymond Berry, who caught 12 passes for 178 yards, told the AP in 2008 for a story commemorating the 50th anniversary of the game. “We’d never played it. Nobody had ever played it. Nobody really knew what came next.”
What came next is part of NFL – and Colts – lore.
The Giants won the toss, had to punt, and the Colts marched 80 yards for the win, capped by Alan Ameche’s 1-yard TD plunge for a 23-17 win and the championship.
So forget run or pass. Heads or tails might be the biggest call the Saints or Colts ever make.
“If it happens, I’m just hoping that 18 gets another shot,” said Session, referring to Peyton Manning by his jersey number.
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