It's the championship game and now it's overtime. A coin is flipped to start the overtime, and the team that has already had a big comeback in the game wins the toss, elects to receive, scores a touchdown, wins. But while this happens, the quarterback of the other team, the MVP of his league, can only stand helplessly and watch, unable to do anything on offense because his defense is about to let him down for the final time on this particular day.
Are we talking about Super Bowl 51 here, when this happened to Matt Ryan, when he was the one standing helplessly and watching while the Patriots, who'd engineered a huge comeback on this day to get the game to overtime, shredded the Falcons defense one last time?
We're talking about the NFC Championship Game in Seattle, January of 2015, just two years ago, when it was league MVP Aaron Rodgers standing on the sideline and losing this game and his season because the Seahawks won the coin toss and ended up scoring a touchdown; because those are the rules in the NFL, if you score a touchdown on your first possession in overtime, that's it, game over, the offense of the other team never gets to touch the ball, at least not until next season.
The occasionally moronic response to this is: Well, (Packers, Falcons) shouldn't let them score a touchdown. Right. Got it. But what does that have to do with the best player in the league? Tell me another major sport where anything remotely like this happens.
And ask yourself a question: What if it had been Tom Brady on Sunday night in Houston who never got to play again because his team lost the coin flip and then lost the game? What if it wasn't just the best player of that season becoming a witness to the brilliance of the other team's quarterback, what if it was the best player of all time?
What would everybody have said then about the single dumbest and most capricious and unfair rule in big-time sports? It didn't happen to Brady the way it happened to Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, MVPs both. But it could have. The only difference between Rodgers and Ryan is that this time it finally happened in a Super Bowl, because it was inevitable that it would someday.
And now the geniuses of the NFL who allow this rule to stand are probably thinking: Once in 51 years, what are the odds of it happening again anytime soon? A one-in-51 chance so far in pro football history. The odds of it happening again anytime soon are far longer than the odds on whether a coin will come up heads or tails.
And here's the best -- actually, worst -- part for Aaron Rodgers: It happened to him again in the playoffs the very next season. And what are the odds on that? The Packers are playing the Cardinals and have tied the game at the very end because Rodgers has thrown not one, but two Hail Mary passes, total combined distance of 101 yards because there was a penalty in between the first one to Jeff Janis and the second.
Only then the Packers lose another coin toss and before long, Larry Fitzgerald is scoring the winning touchdown and once again Rodgers, one of the great players of all time, has lost a season right after he lost a coin flip, even after just throwing two of the greatest passes of all time.
I have been talking about this and writing about this since it did happen to Rodgers again. You might remember there was even confusion over the coin toss that night in Arizona -- there's a screw-in-a-lightbulb joke in here somewhere about how many NFL refs it takes to screw up a coin toss -- and they needed a do-over, prompting Rodgers to say this afterward:
"Clete [Blakeman, the ref tossing the coin] had it on heads. He was showing heads, so I called tails, and it didn't flip. It just tossed up in the air and did not turn over at all. It landed in the ground. So we obviously thought that was not right.
"He picked the coin up and flipped it to tails, and then he flipped it without giving me a chance to make a recall there. It was confusing."
Rodgers then said he would have called "heads" on the second toss if given the chance. Landed on heads again. Fitzgerald landed in the end zone not long afterward. This is what I wrote at the time:
"This isn't the regular season, and the need to resolve these overtime games so that the great god television can keep the line moving. This is the postseason, when there is no good reason why they can't play a fifth quarter, or a sixth, if need be. Maybe they're worried that this is World Cup soccer, and the two teams will play forever without a resolution. Only it's not World Cup soccer, it's the NFL, where they've done everything possible to get scores like they get when it's TCU against Texas Tech."
So I've been making noise about this for a while, then, and was sure they would change the rule after it happened to Rodgers, as big a star as they have, two straight years. They didn't. So they think this is a good rule, and a completely fair way to resolve their biggest games, and now the biggest game they have. For the last time: That notion is dumber, truly, than Deflategate.
This is a billion-dollar industry allowing showcase events -- and finally the showcase event, its World Series rolled into one night and one game -- to be decided by the flip of a coin. Imagine if there were any possible outcome where, say, LeBron James would have to sit out the last and most important moments of his season, and sports history being made without him having anything to do about it. Better yet: They're having a sudden-death playoff in the Masters this April. Both guys have birdie putts. First guy makes his. Other guy doesn't get to putt. But they do let him watch the green jacket ceremony at Butler Cabin.
And, again, imagine if Game 7 of the World Series had been decided when the Cubs scored in the top of the 10th, cancelling out the bottom of the 10th in Cleveland? It is a perfect equivalency? Of course it's not. There rarely are perfect imperfect equivalencies when you move the conversation from one sport to another. But this isn't a perfect system. It is stupid.
Play a 10-minute quarter. Or another one if you have to. But make sure that both teams get to touch the ball. This isn't the regular season. We no longer have to keep the line moving. In the playoffs, or in the Super Bowl, where's everybody going? Where does everybody have to be? If it's the Super Bowl we're talking about, and that's exactly what we're talking about today, what's the worse thing that happens if they play another half-hour, or hour? They have to push back the debut of "24: Legacy"? There are no games until next September, when the season starts up again. The only job is to make sure the current season ends right.
You see how this played out for another MVP. You really can only wonder if it had happened to Brady. Seriously: You don't have to flip a coin to figure out how wrong this is. What you really want to do is flip something else.