When my editor suggested I write an opinion this morning on why the NFL should abolish ties, his argument was convincing. None of the other American sports have allowed ties since the NHL adopted shootouts in 2005. Even the MLS uses penalty kicks to settle non-elimination matches, deviating from international rules.
In short, Americans hate ties and football is our favorite sport.
There's a lot I agree with there. Our cultural aversion to the draw is well-documented, tracing back to former Navy coach Eddie Erdelatz, who first juxtaposed a tie game with casual incest. Sure, ties in the NFL may be ugly results. But there's something poetic about their ugliness. A tie is like a scarlet letter of mediocrity. Even typographically, it's an eyesore, an aberration spilling over from the record column into the margin like a less attractive-looking asterisk, a permanent reminder of a season's ordinariness. On the field, a tie is simply a euphemism for a mercy kill: No two competent teams should be able to play 15 minutes of sudden-death overtime without scoring -- and no fans should be held hostage on the premises any longer if they can't.
The only other mainstream team sport with ties is soccer, where the rule actually plays an integral role in strategy and tactics. A hopelessly overmatched team can pack 10 men in the box, playing for a draw and a point in the standings. This frequently compels the favored team, unwilling to settle for a point, to alter their strategy -- whether it's committing more players to attack, changing their formation or otherwise taking bolder risks. A lesser team's decision to play for a tie demands creativity and imagination from the opponent -- one of the many games within the game that makes soccer the world's most popular sport.
But that's the difference. While a draw is often a favorable result in soccer, no one ever plays for a tie in the NFL. A tie is always a mistake.
In other words, stalemates are football's most unenviable result. But the teams who tie get what they deserve.
No truly great team has played in a tie game in the 30 seasons since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Just 14 games have ended in a tie over that span. Of the 28 teams who finished with a tie on their record, only nine ended up making the playoffs. Five of those nine made the postseason by winning uncompetitive divisions, with none winning more than 10 games. Most tellingly, only two of those nine teams made it past the divisional round.
What they have done is make for plenty of colorful anecdotes:
* Minnesota and Green Bay played to a 10-10 tie on Nov. 26, 1978. The teams would finish the season tied atop the NFC Central standings with identical 8-7-1 records, but the Vikings won the division on, ironically, the head-to-head tiebreaker -- thanks to their 1-0-1 advantage in the season series.
* The Dolphins and Jets played to a 28-28 standoff on Oct. 4, 1981. A victory would have ended up propelling the New Yorkers (10-5-1) to a division title. Instead, they finished one game behind the Dolphins (11-4-1). Miami's overtime experience didn't end up helping much in the playoffs, where the Dolphins endured another scoreless overtime period before dropping their famous 41-38 clash with the Chargers in two extra frames.
* The Eagles and Ravens played to a soporific 10-10 stalemate on Nov. 16, 1997. But the biggest losers were the Baltimore-area Pizza Hut owners, whose season-long gimmick promising $1 off a large pizza on Monday for each Baltimore sack on Sunday backfired when the Ravens got to quarterback Bobby Hoying a franchise-record nine times. The area's 52 outlets ended up marking down pies to $1.69, creating multiple-hour waits and lines around the block.
Since tie games happen so infrequently -- and so seldom involve teams with any stake in the championship picture -- I see no reason to get rid of them. Instead, the NFL should keep them in the rules for those afternoons, like yesterday's snoozer in Cincinnati, when neither team rightfully deserves the satisfaction of a victory.