Discover more from The Sports Column
WHO DECIDES A 21ST-CENTURY THRILLER WITH A COIN TOSS?
Nothing screams old-school imprudence more than marring a high-speed shootout with an archaic overtime rule, costing Allen a final chance in his wild duel with Mahomes — so, change the rule NOW
We’ve moved into the third decade of the new millennium, according to my Apple Watch. The NFL grasps this more than any business enterprise on the planet, eagerly embracing tech, calibrating rules, energizing pace and streamlining its product to thrill the tens of millions who consume postseason football, including kids who are buried in devices and social media and have little interest in big screens on walls.
So why — in the name of leather helmets, the single-wing formation, George S. Halas, Curly Lambeau and the Frankford Yellow Jackets — does such a progressive, with-it league allow The Game We Wanted To Never End to be decided by … the flip of a coin? When so much is tilted toward viewership eyeballs, advertising billions and gambling addictions, who halts a masterpiece bound for possible perpetuity with a coin toss?
There we were, held captive by a super-sensory experience, swept inside the tubes of a Next Gen video game, a gamer wet-dream beyond Madden (R.I.P.). But as we waited for Josh Allen to take the field and continue his exhilarating, we-can-all-die-now duel with Patrick Mahomes — who’d just extended the boundaries of incredulity by leading the Kansas City Chiefs on a game-tying drive in the final 13 seconds of regulation, then hitting Travis Kelce with a walk-off touchdown pass after a drive in overtime — well, Allen and the Bills slumped their heads and shuffled back to Buffalo.
A 34-28 shootout for the ages was over, just like that, without giving the other shooter a fair last chance — thanks to ancient rules that once again beg the question: Why does a league that commands $113 billion in media rights, in one swoop, let its officiating mechanism get in the way of entertainment masterpieces? A divisional round that demanded we not stop watching, with all four games finishing on walk-offs, still permitted an inexplicable wrong to seep into what was so beautifully right.
Yes, no doubt the Bills resumed their big-game history of futility with self-immolation. Why did coach Sean McDermott not squib the kickoff, and why did he allow cushy-mushy pass coverage in those 13 seconds that enabled the sorcerer, Mahomes, to easily navigate 45 yards and set up Harrison Butker’s game-tying field goal? Still, this game should not have effectively ended a few minutes later, when Allen, at midfield for the overtime coin toss, called “tails.’’
The coin came up “heads.’’
And because it did, in a head-banger that inevitably would be won by the quarterback who possessed the ball last, Mahomes and the Chiefs are advancing to the AFC championship game — and, most likely, their third successive Super Bowl — instead of Allen and the Bills, who deserved a chance to tie or win the game. The final 1:54 of regulation, in which 25 points were scored amid the vertigo-inducing fury of three lead changes, told us that much. Other than Chiefs fans, who among the enthralled masses didn’t want to see Josh Allen touch the ball again?
“The rules are what they are,’’ said Allen, with dignity, after a stirring, four-touchdown performance that shouldn’t be forgotten. “I can’t really complain about it because if it happened to us, we’d be out there celebrating like they did.’’
So let me say it if he won’t: Get rid of the rule, please. Let the game continue until the toss-losing team has a chance to respond to a TD. The league’s Competition Committee should call an emergency session and act immediately, to make sure the same injustice doesn’t blemish the conference title games this weekend and Super Bowl LVI.
“Guys are hurt. We’re all hurt, sick to our stomachs,’’ McDermott said. “It stings. It stings. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I know the fans are disappointed and I wish I could take that off of them, but I can’t. What doesn’t kill you should only make you stronger, and this should make us stronger.’’
After six months of work, including 17 regular-season games and two playoff games managed through injuries and COVID-19 attrition, no team should be allowed to feel sick when it didn’t lose the game. The Bills lost to a coin flip. And Mahomes took advantage, as the greatest quarterback of the new era, heeding the sideline advice of coach Andy Reid when the cause appeared dead as 13 lonely ticks remained.
"When it's grim, be the Grim Reaper and go get it," Reid told him.
A few breathless plays later, Mahomes realized the magnitude of what had happened. He now has a chance to win his second Super Bowl after a dismal encore loss last year to Tom Brady and Tampa Bay. "To be in this moment in this game against that team, to make a play to walk off a game at Arrowhead (Stadium), I'll remember this game for the rest of my life,” he said. “Obviously, the Super Bowl was probably number one for me, but this one is right up there. To be able to come back a couple of times, get points when we needed to get points, score touchdowns, get in field goal range, I'll remember it forever."
Said Tyreke Hill, the speed-burner whose 64-yard catch-and-run TD was among the furious highlights: “This is definitely another step for him into the Hall of Fame. He had the chance to prove once again he's at the top of the (hill) when it comes to quarterbacks in this league. He definitely doesn't flinch, especially in moments like that."
What’s fascinating is how the Chiefs overcame their own coin-toss despair. Their 2018 season ended in the AFC championship game when New England captain Matthew Slater won the flip, allowing Brady to take over and win in overtime’s first and only possession.
Who’s next to be burned by the random bounce of a coin, by a fluky edge of metal?
Let’s petition commissioner Roger Goodell, the real Grim Reaper. It should surprise no one that these coins are licensed by NFL Properties, LLC, probably for cryptocurrency purposes. Melt them all, please.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.