- In the latest edition of the Weekend Read, the crew discusses ties in the NFL, a foam-filled retirement for one former football star and remembers a legendary performance from the late Roy Halladay.
In an alternate NFL Week 4, Colts coach Frank Reich sends his punting unit onto the field with 27 seconds left in overtime of a 34–34 game at home against the Texans. Fans in Lucas Oil Stadium boo the decision from the first-year coach, who has just guaranteed his 1–2 Colts move to 1–2–1 on the season.
In reality, Reich calculated the risk and opted to try a fourth-down conversion. It failed, the Texans got the ball on their side of the field and, after a 21-yard gain by DeAndre Hopkins, were in position for the game-winning field goal. The Texans snapped the league’s longest active losing streak and Indianapolis fell to 1–3.
“We’re not playing to tie,” Reich said after the game. “We’re going for that 10 times out of 10. That’s just the way it’s got to roll.”
I get it. Go for it and you energize your team and crowd, setting the tone for your squad for the rest of the season. But you also increase your chances of losing by attempting to win.
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No one in football likes to tie. No one in football even knows how to feel after a tie, from players to coaches—even writers covering the game (I covered the 2014 Panthers–Bengals tie and you really don’t know how to frame your questions in the locker room). It’s like kissing your sister, they say, and no one wants that. From Pop Warner through college, it’s possible a football player has never experienced a tie game before. How can they suddenly get used to it at the highest level of competition?
I posit that players and coaches grit their teeth and start becoming more comfortable with the idea of ties. Sure, there are gimmicky ways to ensure NFL games don’t end in ties, but there’s no reason to undergo massive rule changes from 60 minutes of regulation to 10 minutes of overtime. Furthermore, teams must start considering ties for exactly what they are: half-wins.
Want to see how important half-wins are? Of the six tie games prior to the 2018 season, half of them had direct playoff implications.
In the 2008 tie where Donovan McNabb famously said he didn’t know a tie could even occur, the 9–6–1 Eagles got the final wild-card spot over the Cowboys, Bears and Bucs—all 9–7.
In 2012 the 11–4–1 49ers won the NFC West over the 11–5 Seahawks, with whom they split the season series, and even earned the No. 2 seed over the 11–5 Packers. That tie gave the Niners a home game against the Packers on their way to the Super Bowl.
In the previously mentioned 2014 tie, the 7–8–1 Panthers topped the 7–9 Saints to win the NFC South.
Overtime periods are quickly becoming a bigger part of the game. Since the overtime period was shortened from 15 minutes to 10 minutes at the start of the 2017 season, we’ve seen 20 games go to the extra frame. So that’s 20 overtime games in 21 regular-season weeks.
If you take that small sample size, you see ties are more prevalent. There have been two ties since the start of the 2017 season for 20 overtime games, meaning 10% of games are ending in ties. Just 3.4% of overtime games ended in ties between 1974 and '11, and it ticked up to 5% between '11 through '16 before the latest rule change.
If overtimes, and thus ties, are happening with more frequency, we must ask why. The obvious and most logical answer is that the NFL is experiencing greater parity than ever. The coaching cliché of a play here or there, an inch here or there, is truer than ever before. On any given Sunday the Buffalo Bills could beat the Minnesota Vikings.
I don’t mean to say that teams should play for the tie. In fact, it’s not necessarily embracing the tie game so much as it is not pushing it away. A win is good. A loss is bad. But a tie cannot be thought of in such a binary way. A tie should not be viewed as bad but rather not good.
And if that’s an outcome you can stomach, maybe it sneaks you into postseason play.
• NFL pass rushers are being neutered in the name of quarterback preservation and the bottom line, to the confusion of everyone. (By Tim Layden)
• The man who hacked the Houston Astros’ database breaks his silence after spending time in prison. (By Ben Reiter)
• The paths of Tommie Smith and John Carlos have diverged since Mexico City, but they’ve endured together as symbols of dissent. (By Tim Layden)
• If everyone waited a month before the first Top 25 came out, would that change how we watch college football? (By Joan Niesen)
• SI has obtained documents detailing the depth of the FBI’s investigation into MLB recruitment of foreign players. (By Carl Prine and Jon Wertheim)
• Stanley Cup picks, surprise teams and storylines we’ll be watching this season. (By SI Staff)
HOME BREWING: JOE THOMAS IS ENJOYING RETIREMENT, AND AN OCCASIONAL BEER
By Mark Bechtel
Joe Thomas racked up virtually every individual accolade imaginable during his 11 seasons with the Browns, but he didn't receive the ultimate honor—his face on a beer can—until this fall. Thomas, a longtime suds connoisseur—"I grew up in Wisconsin," he explains—adorns 73 Kolsch, the limited-edition release from Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewing Co., that was developed with the former lineman.
Thomas lives next door to Great Lakes CEO Bill Boor, and they had talked for a few years about collaborating before finally pushing forward in the spring. "I was there from soup to nuts sitting in the pub at 8 a.m., trying 25 different beers and talking with the brewmaster about what I liked, what I didn't like," says Thomas. "I like hoppy beers, I like light beers, I like Hefeweizen. There's really nothing that I don't enjoy. But if there's a beer I could drink every day, it would be that 73 Kolsch. That's kind of how we brewed it. We didn't want it to be something that was too hoppy, and we didn't want it to be too light where it just tasted like any light beer. We wanted to make it an everyday beer." It worked: the brew, which was introduced in northeast Ohio in September, is virtually impossible to find on shelves now. (GLBC is considering revisiting the collaboration in the future.)
Don't think Thomas is just letting himself go in retirement. He's 50 pounds under his playing weight. "I cut my carbs way back," Thomas says. "When I was playing, I had to eat an outrageous amount of sugar to keep my weight on because I was burning 7,000–8,000 calories a day. Now I eat more vegetables. And I'm doing a lot of yoga and swimming."
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Thomas is also keeping himself busy. He has a podcast with former teammate Andrew Hawkins, and is an NFL Network analyst. "I always thought about retirement because I wanted to be prepared," he says. "I would track my friends' careers to see the trials and tribulations of transitioning to whatever's next. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to stay busy because I see guys having trouble transitioning. If you're just waking up whenever you want and you don't have a schedule, you don't have responsibilities, you don't have people counting on you. I think you lose a lot of that identity. And I think that's when people struggle mentally."
BEST OF THE REST
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list is curated by Jonathan Jones.
• This New York Times investigation into the shady (and probably illegal) tax schemes the president and his father took advantage of for decades is the Read of the Month, via David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner.
• Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook account just got hacked, and that reminded me to finally read this gem from Evan Osnos of the New Yorker on whether Zuck can fix Facebook before it breaks democracy.
• GQ’s Joel Pavelski takes a fun, interesting look at how (male) reporters covering the White House are spending more money on themselves as they land correspondent gigs across cable news networks.
• ESPN’s Jake Trotter takes a look back at Mike Leach’s fake play script that almost won the underdog Sooners the 1999 Red River Rivalry.
• I enjoyed this column from Carron J. Phillips of the Daily News on Eric Reid being educated and unapologetically black as he starts his new job with the Carolina Panthers.
VAULT PHOTO OF THE WEEK
It's hard to believe it's been almost a decade since the late Roy Halladay spun one of the greatest postseason pitching performances ever. He no-hit the Cincinnati Reds in his first-ever postseason start, looking every bit like the Hall of Famer he's likely to be. The photo above captures the priceless interaction between Halladay and his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, just before their teammates mob them on the center of the diamond. Photograph taken by Chuck Solomon.
Editor's note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.