The next time the Super Bowl is decided in overtime will be the first time.
It’s a statistical curiosity. Sunday, as you may have heard, marks the 50th matchup for a championship the 1966 Green Bay Packers first won in a stadium setting distinguished by the 30,000 empty seats at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Five decades later, we’ve yet to watch a Super Bowl that found the contestants tied after 60 minutes.
Overtime is uncommon but not rare during the regular season. (Approximately once every two weeks, an NFL game is extended into what used to be called “sudden death” and what now — because of rules changes — might be termed “not-so-sudden death, unless it’s a playoff game involving a star-crossed Packers team coached by Mike McCarthy.”)
But OT is as foreign to the Super Bowl as understated halftime shows and television commercials touting the benefits of a soy-based diet. In fact, since the NFL’s original championship game in 1933, overtime has been used only for the Baltimore Colts’ 23-17 victory against the New York Giants in 1958.
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Those subscribing to offshore gambling sites can make Super Bowl proposition bets on whether the first Carolina player to score a touchdown will hand the ball off to a boy (1-2 odds) or a girl (3-2). Will referee Mike Carey be proven wrong on a challenge call? (Odds of that happening opened at 11-10).
Odds of an overtime Sunday are 7-1, which strike me as low for something that would qualify as historic. Then again, the odds of an earthquake occurring in the San Francisco Bay Area during the game (10-1) are low to the point of absurd. Are gamblers that stupid?
And yet, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. (Overtime, I mean. The big-stage earthquake already did, before Game 3 of the Giants-A’s World Series in 1989 — an event Super Bowl 50 play-by-play announcer Al Michaels described on ABC — and I promise that will be my last reference to earthquakes as they pertain to Sunday.)
If there’s any potential for overtime late in the fourth quarter, strategies ought to be flexible. Say the Broncos are down three points, but have the ball at the Panthers 1-yard line with a few seconds remaining. Denver coach Gary Kubiak likely decides to call for an attempt at a game-tying field goal, a safe move and the very wrong one.
Underdogs in this situation should go for the kill, and the Broncos are obvious underdogs against a Carolina powerhouse that has won 22 of 24, including playoff games, over the past 14 months. Why give the team with the superior talent a chance to gather itself in not-so-sudden death?
McCarthy was guilty of such a blunder during the Packers’ NFC division-round defeat at Arizona, where Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers launched a last-second, not-sure-where-this-is-going Hail Mary pass so desperate its success required the intervention of all the angels in heaven. But it ended up in the hands of “target” Jeff Janis, whose touchdown posed a quandary: Attempt the extra point assuring overtime, or go for two points against a stunned defense and get the heck out of Dodge?
McCarthy exercised caution, and we all know how that turned out. What deserved to be remembered as the most thrilling pass completion in the long and storied history of the Green Bay Packers was reduced to a footnote preceding the Larry Fitzgerald Show.
Fitzgerald’s touchdown on the Cardinals’ first overtime possession denied Rodgers an opportunity to retaliate, prompting an outcry for the NFL to further tweak its already tweaked overtime rules.
McCarthy had been given a gift that demanded he act at once. But he reneged, and when his defense allowed so much room to Fitzgerald that the Hall-of-Fame bound receiver appeared to await a punt instead of a catch, the gift proved worthless.
As for Denver versus Carolina, my pulse rate is running on normal. If Super Bowl 50 is broken down into the terse terms of a thoroughbred-racing program, the Panthers rate as “much the better.” My hope is for the Broncos to keep things interesting through the first half, and if they manage to keep things interesting through the end the third quarter, better yet.
That’s the hope. The dream?
Of the hundreds of proposition wagers installed for Sunday, not one regards the winner of the overtime coin toss, because there never has been an overtime coin toss in the Super Bowl.
The 50th game presents a perfect opportunity for such a milestone moment, but I’m not betting on it. If I were betting, I’d go with the proposition wager about the first name mentioned by the Super Bowl MVP.
God opened at 2-1.
John McGrath: firstname.lastname@example.org