Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sometimes Sisters Need Kissing, Too

Eddie Erdelatz was fit to be tied.

Fifty-five years ago, the head football coach at the U.S. Naval Academy had just presided over a scoreless tie with Duke. And he struggled to come up with an analogy to put his feelings about the 0-0 tie into words.

Then he came up with this gem.

“A tie is like kissing your sister!”

Even I, sister-less, know what Eddie was driving at.

It’s one of sports’ greatest ironies that Eddie Erdelatz died just nine days before what many say was one of the greatest college football games in history. Ironic because that game – the Notre Dame-Michigan State tussle of 1966 – ended in, you guessed it, a tie.

Eddie Erdelatz, also the very first coach of the Oakland Raiders, coined a phrase that's stuck for 55 years -- and counting

Eddie’s analogy from 1953 is still spewed today.

It has joined other great mantras from the second half of the 20th century.

“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”

“A walk is as good as a hit.”

“On any given Sunday, any NFL team can beat another.”

They say we are a sports nation that doesn’t tolerate losing. But it appears that what we really are is a nation that doesn’t tolerate ties.

Ties simply aren’t acceptable, judging by the length we will go to ensure that one never occurs.

College football, Eddie Erdelatz’s old haunts, refuses to allow any game to end in a tie. Its overtime gives the ball to each team at the opponents’ 30-yard line and provides four downs to either make a first down, score, or fail. If the teams are still tied (field goals are allowed), the whole thing is repeated. And repeated. And repeated – until we have a winner. Some games have been known to survive five or six of these contrived overtimes. Campus football had made it perfectly clear: we’ll stay all night if we have to – but there will NOT be any game ending in a tie.

No sister kissing!

The NFL has its own kind of overtime – but one that terribly overvalues the coin flip. It’s an unfair overtime – one that doesn’t normally allow both teams to possess the football. The coin flip winner, at a shockingly high rate of success, usually kicks a game-winning field goal. Fair or unfair, at least there are hardly any ties. Mission accomplished.

Then there’s that wacky NHL.

You gotta hand it to them – they managed to create an obscene way of breaking ties, while at the same time providing a point for the team that loses this mind-boggling tiebreaker.

There can be no ties! But there CAN be a point for losing!

Those NHL people really are a bunch of hockey pucks. In the name of Don Rickles, what on Earth is going on here?

In the spring of 2004, the league crowned the Tampa Bay Lightning as Stanley Cup Champions. Then the NHL went away – vanished thanks to a labor dispute.

No hockey for one full season. It was technically called a lockout. Call it whatever you want – the NHL, incredibly, allowed its in-fighting to rob an entire season from its shrinking fan base. It was nose-cutting-off and face-spiting at its most ridiculous.

Panicked, the league was determined not to return for the 2005-06 season wearing the same clothes. They threw in a bunch of rules changes and painted a gosh darn trapezoid around the net (I still don’t really know what the trapezoid signifies; something to do with the goalies playing the puck. I’ll get back to you on this). But that wasn’t enough. There had to be an abolition of tie games.

No sister kissing in the NHL, either!

Now, a history lesson. In 1983, the NHL, already getting restless with tie games some 25 years ago, added a five-minute overtime session, sudden death style. Fine. The worst case was five extra minutes of hockey. If no winner, the game ended in a tie, with each team receiving one point in the standings. I had no problem with this. But apparently the NHL did.

In the late-1990s, the league started to go sideways with overtime. Concerned that teams were sandbagging it in the extra session to assure themselves of at least one point, the league threw in a wrinkle: the winning team in OT still gets two points. But the loser still hangs on to its one point. A point for losing! What a concept.

Ahh, but there were still tie games under this scenario. BAD tie games! Bad, bad!

Enter the – and I cringe just typing this word – shootout.

The NHL was short-cutting its way to determining a winner. If the five-minute overtime failed to produce a victor, there would be a parade of shooters swooping in on the goalies. And this would go on, ad nauseam, until somebody won by virtue of a scoring round system.

One of the most exhilarating, breathtaking plays in all of sports belonged in hockey’s den. It was the penalty shot. A man got taken down with a clear path to the goal and he was awarded the opportunity to bear down on the goalie, one-on-one – while the crowd gasped and stood. Everything here is in the past tense, because after the NHL introduced the shootout – essentially a bunch of contrived penalty shots taken post-game – the penalty shot’s thrills and chills were largely excised.

Oh why, I ask – why did the NHL feel the need to use a #$!% shootout to settle things? Do we stop extra inning baseball games and hold a home run derby? Do we whistle the play dead in the NBA and have a free throw shooting contest?

Oh and by the way, the team that loses the shootout still gets a point.

The shootout is evil. It’s all wrong. It smacks of minor league. It’s taken one of the game’s crown jewels and cheapened it. Thanks to the shootout, the penalty shot is no longer diamond – it’s cubic zirconia. It’s phony drama – contrived and shoved down the throats of a loyal fan base because they’ve been told it’s good for them. Like castor oil.

Why can’t we have tie games anymore? Is there something inherently wrong with a contest that doesn’t produce a clear cut winner? Must we nullify sixty minutes of hard-fought football or hockey with a gimmicky ending?

Even Eddie Erdelatz wouldn't have gone for it. No way, sister.

1 comment:

Walt Webb said...

So is that where that quote came from? It is a good analogy though.
Walt AKA All Sports on the Web
All Sports on the Web