O’Boyle: Time to rethink NFL overtime
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, January 19, 2016
I know you’ve seen the play, probably many times by now, but it’s worth reminding you again.
With five seconds left on the clock and the Green Bay Packers trailing by a touchdown, Aaron Rodgers took a snap from the Arizona Cardinals’ 41-yard line. Forced to evade the pass rush, he made it back to his own 45 before throwing as he fell under the pressure of Markus Golden. His throw made it all the way to the end zone, where it was met by Jeff Janis of the Packers and two Cardinals defenders. Janis came down with it.
The ball flew 60 yards in the air from Rodgers’s hand. It never returned. Aaron Rodgers didn’t touch a football again for the remainder of the game. He won’t touch one again in a meaningful contest for almost eight months. When Rodgers returns to the field for week 1 of the 2016 season, his last moment on the field will be arguably the greatest moment in playoff history, but it means nothing.
A coin flip (and a coin non-flip) ensured it was the Cardinals who got the ball first in overtime. Three plays later, Larry Fitzgerald ended the game with a Cardinals touchdown.
In a sport that depends so much on possession, how can a game end without one team getting the ball? If you want to say defense is part of the game and the Packers should have stopped Fitzgerald, then why did the Cardinals defense — who apparently can’t defend a play named for its low probability of success — not have to prove itself again? Any argument that the Packers had plenty of chances to win the game in regulation can be discarded because the Cardinals had the exact same chances, plus an extra one.
Clearly, things need to change. But this is the NFL, so of course it comes down to TV money. Unpredictable game lengths create confusing TV schedules and that loses broadcasters money. Sensible overtime periods just take too long (and who really wants to watch more of a great game anyway?). So how can we end an overtime period quickly?
Enter Multiball. One ball on the field of play at a time is boring. Overtime needs to be exciting. All 44 starters take the field. Both offenses start at their own 20 with the ball, facing their opponents’ defense. Each team has to try to advance the ball down the field and score a touchdown before their opponents do. Special teams can play a part too, kickers and punters stand at the sidelines attempting to kick the ball into opposing players to distract them or slow them down, somewhat similar to the role of beaters in Quidditch. For every minute that goes by without a score, each offense gets a second ball to score with.
Or we could just end the game there and then. Let neither offense or defense back onto the field, and let it be a tie. Maybe it’s the soccer fan in me, but I have a bit of a soft spot for ties. I know what you’re thinking, this doesn’t solve playoff games like Saturday’s one, so in the playoffs both teams would advance. A 53-man roster is selected at random from the two tied teams, and they must compete in the next round. The new team becomes a permanent NFL franchise, based in Los Angeles.
Or maybe a hockey shootout. Not a football version of a hockey shootout, but an actual hockey shootout. The turf retracts from under the stadium, revealing an ice rink, where the two teams play for the right to advance.
Or we could just go with one of the logical options. Make the game fair, and you don’t just make both teams happy, you create satisfying TV for the neutral. The obvious thing to do would be to let both teams get the ball. Just like the current overtime, except a touchdown like Fitzgerald’s wouldn’t end the game. After both teams have had the ball, it’s sudden death. Even better would be 10 more minutes of play: Every aspect of normal football remains in play, right down to clock management. Or the NFL could bring in something similar to the college rules, maybe tweaked a little to account for the higher likelihood of an NFL team making a field goal.
Anyone watching an NFL overtime period can tell you that it just doesn’t feel right. How hard is it to just make sure both teams get the ball?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.