No place for ties in the NFL

Marcio Jose Sanchez/APNeither Rams coach Jeff Fisher

Marcio Jose Sanchez/APNeither Rams coach Jeff Fisher

The best part of the 49ers’ 24-24 tie with the St. Louis Rams on Sunday was Dashon Goldson’s bewilderment at how the game ended.

“It’s a competitive sport, man — you’ve got winners and losers. You’ve gotta choose one. I never heard of tying in football — I really didn’t,” Goldson said.

He isn’t the only player who was oblivious to the concept of a tie game. Rams receiver Danny Amendola told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he expected to play a second overtime period at Candlestick Park. Four years ago, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was derided for echoing similar thoughts after the NFL’s last tie game.

It would be easy to ridicule these guys for slipping on an overtime procedure that most fans have been aware of since junior high. But Goldson, McNabb and Amendola’s confusion does raise an obvious question: Why are there tie games in the NFL?

If you agree with Rams coach Jeff Fisher it’s a length-of-game issue.

“This was a long game,” Fisher said at his Monday news conference. “These are two teams that played an extra quarter, so that’s the issue.”

Fisher would have a point if this were a regular occurrence in the NFL. The sport really is too demanding for multiple-overtime games and the league needs to be on top of player safety.

The NFL isn’t the NHL, however, where 300 of 1,230 regular-season games required an extra frame last season. Hockey instituted a tiebreaker system with the shootout seven years ago because American sports fans need a decisive winner and double- and triple-overtime games are unreasonable during the regular season.

But ties are relatively easy to break in football. The 49ers and Rams needed a series of improbable events to unfold — an illegal formation penalty that wiped out an 80-yard reception, a missed field goal, a delay of game penalty that negated a winning field goal — to stay deadlocked after 15 minutes of overtime last week.

In 20 years, only five NFL games have ended in a tie (the total number is 18 since overtime was instituted in 1974).

If Fisher’s length-of-game concerns had any merit, the issue would rear its head in the playoffs, where tie games aren’t an option. But the NFL hasn’t produced any of the marathon quadruple-overtime games that we see in the NHL playoffs. In fact, only four NFL playoff games have required a second overtime since 1967.

With so many ex-players suffering through physical disabilities, memory loss and depression, player health needs to be a top priority. But let’s be honest, the biggest safety concern Sunday was Alex Smith’s concussion, not the length of the game.     

Smith reportedly played with blurry vision after taking a hit to the head on a fourth-down lunge in the second quarter and, unfortunately, that’s part of the game regardless of how many minutes are up on the clock. Still, grown men like Smith will continue to play because they love the game and it sounds like both teams wanted to determine a winner on the field Sunday.

The NFL should look into tweaking its overtime procedure because the health concerns appear to be minimal and it’s the Goldsons and Amendolas, who in the words of Herman Edwards, “play to win the game!”

Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at paul.gackle@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @PGackle.

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