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Overtime due for a Change

Chris Allen | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

 Unless he decides to come back for yet another year and play a full NFL schedule with bones that are turning to dust, Brett Favre’s last pass of his career will go down as an interception. This should not be problematic, for perhaps no sports figure of his era was as beloved for his spectacular on-field successes and failures as Favre, but there is a lingering fact which makes it tough to swallow: it could have ended so much better. The NFL’s overtime rules, regarded by nearly all fans with disdain, robbed us of a storybook moment in a storybook career.

In the NFL, the rules of overtime dictate that the first team to score wins the game, regardless of the manner in which the points or scored. In Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Favre sat on the sidelines as Drew Brees and the Saints won the coin toss, received the kickoff, and drove to the winning score. Favre and his Vikings are not alone, as from 1974 to 2003 a whopping 28 percent of overtime games were decided on the first drive, with the other team given no opportunity to respond. How anyone can consider this a fair resolution of a game is beyond me. Ultimately it will probably take a Super Bowl decided in this manner to initiate a change, but it is still worth it to consider the alternatives.
When I casually mention the idea of changing NFL overtime to football fans, they usually respond by saying how much they love the way college football handles overtime. This is not a viable solution, however, for the more passing oriented NFL. College overtime favors strong red zone teams, eliminating the downfield passing game and benefiting those teams with bigger backs. It’s not football in a sense; it is merely a part of football, a small piece of the bigger game. If one were to extrapolate the idea it’s almost akin to deciding tied baseball games with a home run derby or a bunting competition. Leaving college overtime rules to those who use them best, the NFL needs to look elsewhere.
As is the case with most of the world’s problems, a solution can be found in video games. Any sports-loving child of the 90s will remember, or at least know of the game “NFL Blitz,” which made its name with arcade style play and bone-crunching late hits. If two teams tied, the game simply went to a fifth quarter, the same length as the first four. The team that led at the end of the fifth won the game.  Why couldn’t this work in the NFL? Sure, a team would get the ball first, but each team would undoubtedly get the ball at least once. In Favre’s case, he would have had nearly ten minutes to get back in the game. But for now, we, like Favre, are simply left to ponder what might have been, a result of a ridiculous rule that lives on unchallenged.