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What Could Have Been: There Were Almost Two Ties Yesterday

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 11: Cincinnati Bengals place kicker Evan McPherson (2) reacts after missing a field goal in overtime during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals on September 11, 2022, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I love stupid football plays. When I was a little kid I had multiple VHS tapes of football bloopers and various books about funny sports plays, which is something I probably have in common with many people who were kids when I was. I am still like this. I like fumbles that bounce wildly. I like battled passes. I love safeties. The Super Bowl that opened with a snap out of the back of the end zone is in my opinion one of the great football games of all time, even though it wound up being a blowout. It opened with a stupid safety!

But even as a fan of stupid football stuff, one thing that feels very stupid about football is ties. It just does not seem like two football teams should be able to mash their heads together for that long and not see a victor. Ties are for beautiful games, not brutal ones. Obviously, as ties are Stupid Football Stuff, I love them despite all this. They invite comedy. You've got Gus Frerotte head-butting a wall, Donovan McNabb not knowing ties existed, Najee Harris also not knowing ties existed, and so on. A beautiful legacy of football stuff, that is stupid.

And lo: On the first Sunday of the 2022 NFL season, we got a tie! Indianapolis and Houston tied at 20 after Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 42-yard field goal in OT that would’ve won it. The Texans led, 20-3, in the fourth quarter, but after punting from the Colts’ 36-yard line they allowed a big comeback. Then the Colts screwed up in OT with a shank in a dome, and we had ourselves a tie—one of the really good ones, the ones that seem somehow like the only valid result for a sufficiently miserable game.

The sad news from NFL Week 1 is that we could’ve had two ties on the same day for the first time since the institution of overtime. The Steelers won a wild one over the Bengals, 23-20, on a Chris Boswell field goal at the gun in OT. That game could’ve ended in regulation when Ja'Marr Chase caught a TD pass with two seconds left, but Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked Evan McPherson’s PAT. Joe Burrow threw four picks in the game; the Steelers were up 17-6 before the Bengals rallied down the stretch. Mitch Trubisky looked like the most acceptable version of Mitch Trubisky. What a game! And yet, against all odds, it was another game that seemed as if it should end in a tie, which it sadly did not.

The Steelers’ Christian Kuntz, Chris Boswell, and Pat Freiermuth react after an earlier missed field goal in overtime. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

What could have been! The last time there were two ties on the same day in the NFL was Sept. 23, 1973—the year before overtime became a rule. The NFL usually had a few ties a season before the institution of OT; the first NFL season featured an astonishing 17 ties, the most ever. By the 1950s there were generally as few as zero and as many as three ties a year, but as the league expanded after merging with the AFL these numbers ticked up a bit. Still, there was nothing to match the preponderance of ties in the league's janky prehistory. Twice in the 1923 season, there were three ties on the same day; one involved the Dayton Triangles. You can see how this sport evolved into the behemoth that it is today.

On that fateful, or at least faintly significant September Sunday in 1973, the Eagles and Giants tied at 23 while the Packers and Lions tied at 13. Both games were weird. The Eagles/Giants tilt was the final NFL game ever at Yankee Stadium; the Giants moved into the Yale Bowl for the rest of the year. Giants kicker Pete Gogolak hit a hurried field goal as the game ended; the Eagles claimed the Giants’ offensive line was not set for a full second before the snap, as NFL rules still require. “There was no way they could have gotten that kick off in time for it to count,” Eagles defensive end Mel Tom said.

Elsewhere, the Packers tied the Lions at 13 on a field goal with 19 seconds left. Green Bay had converted a 4th-and-23 play on its final drive; Jim Del Gaizo, a former Miami backup, threw a 25-yard pass to Jon Staggers to extend the drive. Detroit coach Don McCafferty blamed Dolphins coach Don Shula for the tie. "That [bleep] Shula,” McCafferty said. “I wish he would have kept that [bleep] Del Gaizo in Florida.” (Defector was unable to confirm if McCafferty called Shula an asshole or a fuckhead, or if he called Del Gaizo a little shit or whatever. Every newspaper used bleep, but several used brackets that indicate McCafferty did use a bad word of some kind. Feel free to pick your own!)

The Lions’ Bill Munson takes a snap in the 13-all tie against the Packers on September 23, 1973. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

“As heartening as Jim Del Gaizo’s heroics may have been in the hectic stretch, there was little elation in the Packer dressing room,” Lee Remmel wrote in the Green Bay Press-Gazette. ”Its residents were still morosely pondering the awful truth: That this one could and should have been theirs, and somehow, it had slithered from their grasp.”

And this is what we missed out on yesterday: Cursing the refs! Cursing Don Shula! Morosely pondering the awful truth! The NFL instituted its always-unpopular overtime rules the next season, and ties have plummeted. Now that the extra session is down to 10 minutes, ties are ticking up again. One day, we may have not just two but three ties again on the same day—but maybe not until the NFL returns a team to Dayton, Ohio.

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