First Super Bowl OT should trigger overdue rule change

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NEW ORLEANS — It’s time.

Actually past time.

I’ve been saying it since before the Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings in overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.

I said it again after the NFL made cosmetic, not substantive, changes shortly thereafter.

I’ve said it repeatedly since then.

I said it again during Super Bowl LI last Sunday and once more in the immediate aftermath of the New England Patriots’ 34-28 victory against the Atlanta Falcons.

The NFL overtime rules need to be fixed.


The first overtime game in Super Bowl history ended in the worst-case scenario for an NFL overtime game.

One team (the Patriots) won the overtime coin toss, drove to a touchdown on the first — and only — possession in overtime and the other team (the Falcons) lost an NFL championship without ever possessing the football in the decisive period.

That a football game — let alone a championship game — can be determined in such a manner is patently unfair and ridiculous.

Can you imagine Game 7 of the World Series going into extra innings and the visiting team scoring a run — or two — in the top of the 10th and dog piling and popping champagne corks, having won the title without the home team ever batting?

Of course not.

Baseball’s rules are fair.

Now I know the knee-jerk, spurious response — it’s all over my Twitter timeline: Well, the Falcons (or any other team in their predicament) shouldn’t have given up a touchdown.


The fact that a team fails to prevent a touchdown on that opening possession doesn’t justify the absurdity of giving one team that huge advantage — being able to win without ever having to play defense in the decisive period — because it won a freaking coin toss.

Had the Patriots merely kicked a field goal — as the Saints did in beating the Vikings before the rule was tweaked — the Falcons would have been allowed to actually possess the ball during the period that decided the NFL champion for this season.

In fact, had the Patriots stalled at the 1-yard line and kicked an 18-yard field goal, that 1 yard would have been sufficient defensive play to allow the Falcons to possess the ball.

The more I repeat the details of why this rule is ludicrous, the less comprehensible it is to me how the rule was ever instituted in the first place.

I suspect now that a team actually has won a Super Bowl title in part because in overtime it was allowed to play offense and its opponent wasn’t, there will be renewed discussion about fixing this ridiculous rule.

(By the way, it’s an easy fix. In every overtime game, both teams should be guaranteed at least one possession.)

The demand for change would undoubtedly be stronger if the victim of the rule’s unfairness had been not the Falcons but instead a franchise with more clout such as the Patriots, Cowboys or either of the New York teams.

But regardless of the victimized team’s relative clout, this rule needs to be fixed.


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Les East

Les East


Les East is a nationally renown freelance journalist. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

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