TICK...TICK...TICK...

September 07, 1980

For 58 minutesthe game grinds on as the teams probe each other's weaknesses, trying toestablish a ground game to make the passing attack work, or a passing game tomake the ground attack work, take your pick. Then the clock strikes 2:00, so tospeak, and suddenly bombs start bursting in air. It's time for Two-MinuteFootball, the action part of any National Football League game, when thehurry-up offense meets the prevent defense and the quarterback goes head tohead against such creatures as the nickel back and the dime back—and, yes, eventhe penny back. It's a time for keen eyes, sharp minds, cool hands and fastfeet, but not a fluttering heart.

We have assembledthis forum, comprising some of the finest minds in the NFL, because of thefan's right to know. Our topic is Two-Minute Football. Specifically, we willaddress ourselves to these questions: Why do you call a prevent defense aprevent when it doesn't prevent anything? And if the two-minute offense is soproductive, why don't teams use it for all 60 minutes? Have we stated thequestions correctly?

FAN: Yes. Mycomplaint is this. The defense is shoving the offense around all day andthey're pressuring the quarterback, then all of a sudden the bell rings, theclock says two minutes left, and they go into their prevent. They pull in theirhorns, rush only three guys and drop everybody else deep. If you ask me, theyjust handed the momentum over to the other team. Instead of controlling thegame the way they have all day, the defense now is playing scared. So the otherguys march right down the field on them when they haven't been able to do thatall day.

Tom Landry,Dallas coach: I know it looks bad to the fans, but the percentages say you'rebetter off in a prevent defense. They might move on you, but it gets very toughto score.

FAN: Well, howabout your team? You rushed only three guys and dropped the other eight back onthat play last year when the Rams beat you with a touchdown in the playoffs.But in your last Philadelphia game, you threw an all-out blitz at the Eagles ontheir last play and pressured Ron Jaworski into a bad throw.

LANDRY: Sometimesyou have to gamble, just to shake the offense up. And the Rams thing was afluke—a guy tips the ball, a guy misses a tackle...I don't even want to talkabout it.

Cliff Harris,former Dallas safety: Percentages are percentages, and they say a prevent iscorrect. Besides, a team isn't going to open up against you and play home-runfootball until the last few minutes anyway.

FAN: But why not?That's what bugs me, this stodgy NFL approach. What would happen if a team wentinto its two-minute offense in the middle of the game, or even at thebeginning? What if a team ran a no-huddle offense, a hurry-up, just to shake upthe defense, to keep them from getting their signals in? What would happen,huh?

Silence.

More silence.

Finally, LouieKelcher, San Diego's 280-pound defensive tackle, clears his throat.

KELCHER: Why, itwould plumb wear me out, that's what would happen. Lawd, Lawd, I hate to eventhink of it. You'd never catch your breath.

Al Davis, Oaklandowner: It would be racehorse football. Not a bad idea, really. Everything wouldhappen so fast, the defense wouldn't be able to get their calls from thesidelines. If the other teams knew you had racehorse football in your plan, itwould force them to practice against it during the week. Of course, it wouldtake a lot of courage to use it in a game. Bill Walsh tried it with the 49erslast year, but you've got to have the people to make it go.

Bill Walsh, SanFrancisco coach: We'll probably do a little of it again this year, but you haveto be careful with something like this. An offense can run itself out of steampretty early.

Marv Levy, KansasCity coach: I've done it in college, but not here. You just can't duplicate atwo-minute situation when you're in the middle of a game. In a real two-minuteoffense, you're not as worried about an interception. You'll take a chance.Also, at the end of a game you're in a four-down situation, not a three-down;you're not going to punt on fourth down in the last two minutes. It's tough torun a two-minute drill when you have only three downs to work with. You can runout of downs awfully quick.

FAN: O.K., I getthe picture, but I don't buy it one bit. I think if you can force the defenseinto a three-man rush, a prevent situation, early in the game, you'reaccomplishing something.

Joe Theismann,Washington quarterback: As a quarterback, I'd love to play against pure preventall the time because it's easier to throw into.

FAN: Hold it.Let's define what we mean. I know that when a team goes with three or four widereceivers, the defense has to bring in an extra defensive back or two to coverthem. What I'm talking about is teams rushing only three men—against fiveblockers—and giving the quarterback all that time.

Terry Bradshaw,Pittsburgh quarterback: If I have time to throw, I know I should complete thepass, no matter how many people are back there.

George Martin,New York Giants defensive end: Joe and Terry are dead right. Dallas beat us inthe last few minutes last year because we rushed only three and gave Staubachtime. God, I hate that three-man rush. You're just spinning your wheels.

Red Miller,Denver coach: We rush only three in prevent situations because that's our basicdefense, a three-man front. The trend now is for 3-4 teams to go to a four-manrush on third-and-long, but we want to do what we know best.

FAN: Yeah, that'swhy Denver finished last in sacks last year.

MILLER: I'm notworried about that. The whole idea is to prevent a score.

Haven Moses,Denver wide receiver: Personally, I like to run my patterns against a prevent.Everyone's trying to stop the big bomb, and you can nickel-and-dime your waydownfield.

Nat Moore, Miamiwide receiver: If you have the time, you'll get open.

Bum Phillips,Houston coach: Look, personnel has a lot to do with it. For a few years wedidn't have more than two or three guys who were any good at rushing thepasser, anyway.

FAN: But howabout the psychology of the three-man rush on a prevent?

LEVY: There's noquestion that psychologically the three-man rush helps the offense.

Joe Collier,Denver defensive coordinator: It helps the defense, too. It's cat-and-mouse.You're sitting back there waiting for them to make a mistake.

Buddy Ryan,Chicago defensive coordinator: Don't forget, when you're not playing prevent,there's always the chance a defensive back will trip and fall and give up thebig one.

Len Dawson, NBCanalyst, retired K.C. quarterback: I can't see a strategy based on that kind offear. He can trip at any time. Besides, you can play aggressively up front andpressure the quarterback and still tell your secondary to keep everything infront of them.

Anonymous Coach(covering his face because he doesn't want people to get mad at him): It comesdown to this. Every profession has its limitations, and coaching is noexception. It's tough. You're under the gun from management and ownership. It'smuch safer to do what everyone else is doing. It's much easier to take thestandard NFL approach, both on and off the field.

In the frenzycalled Two-Minute Football a game, a season, possibly a career melts down intotwo minutes of agony. The offense is running without a huddle, the clock isticking the game away, the fans are screaming, and the quarterback keepsbegging for silence. His coach is yelling something at him from the sidelines,but can't be heard. The coach rips off his earphones and hurls them to theground. Damn things won't work right anyway. His heart is going whack, whack.His pulse rate is up to 150. His offensive coordinator has lost his mind.

"In asituation like that," Tom Landry says, "your probability of success isvery low. We call it a negative situation."

The rules areslightly different in the last two minutes. So are the players. They've shrunk.Wide receivers replace fullbacks. Nickel and dime backs replace linebackers. Aseventh defensive back (a penny back, we'll call him) sometimes replaces alineman. Maybe some team will go to eight defensive backs this year. Maybe thefield will be covered with Munchkins, with Lilliputians. Speed, get more speedin the game. The whole tempo of the action has picked up, and all of a sudden agame that has been deadly dull bursts into flame.

Does anyoneremember that the first 58 minutes of the Immaculate Reception game betweenPittsburgh and Oakland in 1972 put everyone to sleep? Can anyone recall asingle moment from the Ice Bowl NFL championship between Green Bay and Dallasin 1967 until that final Packer drive, when Bart Starr followed Ken Bowman andJerry Kramer into the end zone? Does anyone remember the first 58 minutes ofany Dallas game ever?

There are playerswho seem to come alive under the pressure of winning it all in the last twominutes. Ken Stabler has been a struggling 58-minute quarterback the lastcouple of seasons, but no one wants to go against him in the final two."When you need five yards in those last two minutes," says BumPhillips, the Snake's new boss in Houston, "you can bet he'll get yousix."

Roger Staubachhad moments of terrible frustration in his 11 years in Dallas, times when hispasses fluttered and sailed and the fans booed him. But given a win-or-elsesituation in the closing moments, no one was better. It's almost as if thesepeople are suddenly transported to a higher plane in the last two minutes.Pressure sharpens the senses and elevates every aspect of performance.

"I honestlyused to feel sorry for the other team's defense sometimes when I'd watch Rogergo to work in those last two minutes," Cliff Harris says. "You'd putyourself in their position and realize the feeling of utter helplessness. Therewas really nothing you could do to stop him when he was on."

To Staubach,there is nothing mystifying about it. "It was just a matter of having yourhead clear and your concentration sharp, of understanding what your peoplecould do and what the other team's people couldn't do," he says. "Andthen, of course, it was a matter of performing."

There was alwayssomething a little cold-blooded about the way Staubach went to work in the lasttwo minutes. Johnny Unitas was very cold-blooded, too. Stabler is. But thereare other two-minute styles: the hot-blooded approach of a Jim Zorn or a BrianSipe, both scary two-minute quarterbacks; the hectic, near-frantic manner inwhich Fran Tarkenton got the job done.

"It helps methat our basic offense is a little crazy anyway," Zorn says. "Sometimeswe run four wide receivers on first down, no matter what part of the game we'rein." Seattle Offensive Coach Jerry Rhome shakes his head. "It may seemlike madness when Jim takes us on one of those last-minute drives," hesays, "but it's a controlled kind of madness. He always knows exactly whathe's doing. It's amazing how some people come apart in that time, hownerve-racking it is. I've seen quarterbacks throw the ball out of bounds tostop the clock on fourth down. I've seen receivers step out of bounds to stopthe clock when there's no one within 30 yards of them. I've seen it in highschool and college and the pros."

In the eyes ofLen Dawson, "There's one constant in the two-minute game, and that's theconfidence of your teammates. The guy who seemed unbelievable to me last yearwas Sipe. I covered five of Cleveland's games—Houston, the Jets, Pittsburgh,Baltimore and Miami—and he pulled four of them out at the end. I talked to theCleveland players, and they really believe he can get it done. The receiversfeel he'll get them the ball if they get open. So the linemen are going to tryto hold their blocks for that one extra split second. Now you've won it.Everything's a sales job when you get that many people involved."

It's anunpredictable time, those last two minutes, and sometimes the clouds part whenthings look darkest. The Immaculate Reception was really the result of a gooddefensive play; trouble was, the ball was knocked into the hands of FrancoHarris. San Diego beat Kansas City 29-23 in overtime in 1978, but the Chargersalmost blew it when Dan Fouts misread the clock and threw a pass instead ofsetting up a point-blank field goal; a K.C. defensive back slipped, and JohnJefferson caught Fouts' pass for a TD while on his back in the end zone.

These are thegrace notes of Two-Minute Football, though. "The whole idea," Landrysays, "is to have the poise when it's fleeing away from you."

And the courage."In my second year in Philadelphia," says Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil,"we had a chance to tie Washington in the last 30 seconds. I called mykicker over, and he looked at me and said, 'What about a fake?' We tried thefield goal and he missed it. The guy was just looking for a way to shift theresponsibility. Last year in Dallas I asked Tony Franklin if he thought hecould make a 59-yarder, and he said, 'You're damn right!' And he madeit."

Confidence can bean extension of the coach's outlook. Vermeil's quarterback, Ron Jaworski, callsthe two-minute period "my turn to have fun." Most coaches who call allthe plays will give the quarterback latitude to call his own stuff at the end."You can waste as much as 10 to 15 seconds per play by having it sent in toyou," Dawson says. "Our quarterback is on his own as soon as it becomesimpractical for plays to come from the sidelines," says San Francisco'sBill Walsh. "Usually, that's with a minute or so to go. If we have a firstdown, goal to go, we'll have a set order of plays to be called. We go for theend zone with our best play on first down, a strategy not many people agreewith. Once, when I was with Cincinnati, we scored on Pittsburgh from a yard outon a screen pass. You simply couldn't run it over from there on Pittsburgh. Itcouldn't be done."

Walsh isacknowledged as one of the NFL's master architects of quarterbacks, ofoffenses. He builds statistics from nothing. Walsh looks at the final momentsof a game this way:

"When it'sdown near the end, and we're in a no-huddle situation, we've got the first twoplays called before the series starts. Usually the second play in the two-playseries will be a bomb, because that'll stop the clock for us, one way oranother, and then we can call the next two plays without wasting time. You canfigure the defense generally will be the same on the second play as it was onthe first, unless they've blitzed the first time. Two no-huddle plays of noyards can knock you on your rear end, and so will an incomplete pass, becausenow you have to set something up. This gives the defense time to catch itsbreath and develop strategy. That's what you're trying to take away fromthem.

"When theclock is running out, you can go to a third no-huddle play, but before you calla fourth-down play, you should take your time-out. That is, if you've got anyleft. There are three final plays we use: We attack the weak side with a tallman down the middle; try a hook-and-lateral, where a guy catches the ballinside and pitches out to a trailer; or go with Big Ben."

Big Ben, so namedby Atlanta Coach Leeman Bennett "because it's a beat-the-clock play,"takes advantage of a 1978 rule change that allows a receiver to tap a bail to ateammate. On this play, three wide receivers flood a deep area downfield, andthe quarterback throws into the mob and hopes for the deflection. In 1978Atlanta used Big Ben to pull out two games in the final moments against NewOrleans in the regular season and against Philadelphia in the playoffs. Big Benalso helped Buffalo beat the Jets last year. The Eagles have another name forthe play: Geronimo. Harold Carmichael, who stands 6'8", races downfield,rises like a Colossus and tries some volleyball with a teammate.

"It's uglyfootball," Walsh says. "It's no way to win a game. That rule is one ofthe least attractive in football. But it's there, so you can't ignore it. Ifyou become preoccupied with it, though, you're playing a game of chance. Andyou can't build a program through chance."

Like most thingsin the NFL, you build a program through the draft. Or, as Staubach says ofTwo-Minute Football, "The key to it is playing on a team that's drafted alot of big-play people." Bum Phillips disagrees mildly. "The key,"he says, "is playing good the other 58 minutes so you won't need atwo-minute offense."

For his part, AlDavis says, "You have to know the rules and know the clock, and I don'tthink a lot of people do. I've seen the quarterback throw the ball out ofbounds to kill the clock, and everyone starts screaming 'intentionalgrounding.' But it's not. It's grounding only when he's doing it to escape thesack. I've seen teams call time and line up for a field goal with eight to 10seconds left when they could've run another play. If I'm on the other guy'stwo-yard line with five seconds to go, I can throw a pass in four seconds andstill have one second left to get my field-goal team on the field. That is, ifthe pass is incomplete. If it's not incomplete, it should be a touchdown; youmust make sure that every receiver is over the goal line. There are no checkoffreceivers at a time like that.

"Ken Stablercan complete a 10-to 15-yard pass, turn to the official and call time-out—andonly six seconds will have run off. A 30-yard completion downfield takes 10seconds, and if you've called two plays in the huddle, it will take anotherseven to 10 seconds to put the ball in play again. If you complete that passand call a time-out, it's another 10 seconds. But you can run up and throw theball away, and the whole thing has taken only 12 seconds—and you've saved atimeout. Those are the things a quarterback and a coach have to know, orthey're going into the game unprepared."

On the other sideof it, Levy keeps a chart showing how much time you can reasonably hope to eatup when you're sitting on a lead. If the other team is out of time-outs, youcan milk two minutes off the clock with three downs and a punt, 1:25 if theyhave one time-out left, 50 seconds if they have two, and only 20 seconds ifthey have all three and can stop the clock after each play. So, if you'rebehind, it pays to use your time-outs when the other team has the ball.

Like it or not,the clock is always there, the ever-present host at the two-minute party, theeternal policeman. "You can get far more done in a short time than youthink," Walsh says. "One, two, three seconds, that's not important. Thekey is your ability to function under the pressure of the clock, to functionwhen you're running more than one play from a single huddle. And I don't mean asimple play; I mean something complex. You must be able to play in a relaxedmanner, without high anxiety and a hysterical approach."

What's ahysterical approach? According to Levy, it's immediately resorting to crazystuff, to gimmicks. "Trick plays seldom work in the last two minutes,"he says. "People are more wary of them. You won't find flea-flickers beingused."

"Repeats killyou, too," Walsh says. "It doesn't pay to fall back on a big play thatworked earlier. The defense will make you think it's there again, and they'lltrap you. People are smart in the NFL. It's not just a wild game we're playingout there, with people slashing through each other."

To the cold-eyedquarterback, the last two minutes of the first half can be even more importantthan the final two of the game. Dawson says, "If you score at the end ofthe first half, you can use it to set up something else at the end. Once whenwe were playing Oakland, I was throwing quick outs [sideline passes] to stopthe clock at the end of the first half. I told Dennis Homan, 'Run a quick outand up,' a takeoff pattern, on Willie Brown. Willie liked to gamble on thoseouts. He did, and we beat him on the play. That kept Willie loose in the finaltwo minutes of the game. It's like getting caught running a bluff in a pokergame. It could be a good thing for you, if you've got any money left."

Most coachesfavor a Dawson-style calm, cool approach in their two-minute quarterbacks. Or,as Walsh says, "an avoidance of theatrics."

"Aquarterback's theatrics can destroy a two-minute offense," he says."Some quarterbacks feel they must work the big play as soon as they get theball. When I was an assistant coach at Cincinnati, we lost to Cleveland oncewhen Virgil Carter came out of the pocket, threw desperately over the middleand got intercepted. When you leave the pocket, you can't control the defenseanymore. They'll come from angles you don't expect. It happened with Greg Cook,too. Quarterback theatrics. The quarterback feels he must make a trulyincredible play. It's self-defeating."

Coaching errorsalso can be self-defeating in the two-minute period. Teams waste seconds beforecalling a time-out; Dallas let 10 seconds go by before calling a time-out inthe closing moments of the Washington caper. The coach-assistantcoach-quarterback trio yells at each other as seconds tick off. It's all partof a coaching paralysis that strangles a two-minute operation.

"A coach willblow it," one player says, "and then when the reporters question him,he'll lay it off on the team. It's always, 'They didn't run hard enough, theydidn't block hard enough, they didn't want it bad enough.' It's never, 'Ididn't coach well enough.' "

What kind oftwo-minute offensive, or defensive, statistics are good? Green Bay Coach BartStarr says, "We consider 50% good, but we prefer better." He wastalking about offense—one out of two series producing a score in the two-minuteperiod at the end of either half. "We keep stats on everything," saysDetroit Coach Monte Clark. "None of them are very good." Bum Phillipsdoesn't want to be reminded of his team's offensive failings in the two-minutephase the last few seasons. Phillips says that, defensively, the Oilers shootfor 100% success if the opponent begins its two-minute drill beyond midfield,80% inside the 50. "But that's just clinic talk," Bum says. "We tryto stop everybody all the time."

Two coaches havebroken it down by the numbers. Landry's offensive goal is a modest 50%; theCowboys hit that in 1978, but they slumped to 30% in 1979, despite the fourgames Staubach pulled out at the end. "It's deceiving," Landry says."You could have four or five two-minute series in a game and cash in ononly one of them, but if it's the last one in the game, then you're in goodshape." On defense, the Cowboys' prevent stopped people 70% of the time in1979, 88% in 1978.

Washington CoachJack Pardee produced some eye-catching statistics in 1979—57.1% success onoffense (12 for 21), 80% on defense (20 for 25). However, two of those fivedefensive failures came in the final Dallas game and cost the Redskins a berthin the playoffs.

Pardee is one ofthe few coaches who devote more than one day a week to practicing Two-MinuteFootball. Most coaches install the two-minute game at training camp, then spendabout 15 minutes a week polishing it—usually on Friday or Saturday. Generally,the more talented veterans on the roster, the less work is needed. "Mostteams practice it more than we do," says Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll,"but that will change." Paul Brown supposedly didn't practice thetwo-minute game at all. "He knew he couldn't cope with it," says one ofBrown's former Cincinnati Bengals, "so he didn't want to deal with it. Hedidn't like anything that gave control to the players. He'd be totallyhelpless, from an authoritarian and ego standpoint. For Brown, it would be likestanding there totally naked."

On the whole,most of the innovations in the two-minute period have been on defense. Oh,there have been a few offensive ripples, and at least three NFL coaches saythey'll use the shotgun this year. "Why they're just getting to the shotgunnow is what I can't understand," says New York Giants General ManagerGeorge Young. "I mean, Dallas has had it all these years, and other peopleare only starting to copy it." The use of extra wide receivers has beenstandard third-and-long practice for years, and the 1978 rule change createdBig Ben and Geronimo.

But the defense,in its never-ending search for a prevent that will actually prevent something,has gone to a fifth back (nickel), a sixth (dime) and last year a move by L.A.to a seventh (penny) in the playoffs. The basic 3-4 defense turns into a 4-2-5or 4-1-6 or even a 4-7 in the clutch, and designated pass-rushers such as MarkGastineau of the Jets and Jesse Baker of the Oilers become common.

And then there'sthe Maniac Blitz, with its roster of aliases. In New England it's called Sic'em or Sticky; in Kansas City it's Sticky Sam; in Oakland it's Showdog; inAtlanta, where it originated, it's the Grits Blitz. Fans love it, quarterbackswith little confidence fear it. Cornerbacks lie awake nights thinking about it,because to them falls the task of covering for it; they don't blitz, they justbackpedal like crazy in one-on-one coverage.

The Maniac Blitzis a thumb in the nose at the cautious, don't-make-a-mistake reasoning behindthe prevent defense, a devil-may-care sneer at the fates, a guy facing thefiring squad and scornfully flinging his blindfold to the wind. Eleven men goup to the line, then eight of them charge and three fall back into coverage.This strategy, an all-or-nothing shot, is designed to knock an offense out offield-goal range in the two-minute period. The result: usually a sack or atouchdown.

The Maniac Blitzrequires a pair of exceptional cornerbacks. "Without them, it's just ablackboard device," Levy says. New England qualifies as a bona fide MB teambecause of Raymond Clayborn and Mike Haynes (who was still holding out as wewent to press). For a while the Sic 'em worked spectacularly well for thePatriots, but last year they got burned with it. "People seemed to getcaught up in the wrong rush lanes," says Coach Ron Erhardt. In Atlanta, theGrits Blitz has gone through a rise-and-fall period over two years. "TheFalcons were among the leaders in defense in 1978," says Minnesota CoachBud Grant, "but last year their blitz collapsed and they had nothing tofall back on."

But is the Maniacdead? Not likely. In the last Super Bowl the Steelers threw more and betterblitzes at young Vince Ferragamo than they had against any quarterback inrecent memory, rushing as many as eight people on at least two occasions. Itwas a radical departure from their two Super Bowls against Dallas, when theywent conservative and Staubach got two fourth-quarter touchdowns in eachgame.

"The keymatchup this time," says Steeler Assistant Head Coach George Perles,"was Wendell Tyler trying to block either of our outside linebackers—RobinCole or Dennis Winston. You've got to like a matchup like that. When we playedDallas in the 1976 Super Bowl, there was no such thing as a blitz for us; we'dblitz maybe 18 times a season. O.K., smart people learn from their mistakes. Ihate a prevent defense where the quarterback has time to throw. When theprevent breaks down, it demoralizes you. It destroys your confidence. You stop'em on first down and second down, then they complete one on third-and-long,and pretty soon you're saying, 'What's the use?' "

O.K., George, weget it. You're mad and you're not going to take it anymore. But 2,500 milesaway there's L.A. and that seven-back prevent, a frightening offspring of thenickel and dime. The nickel back is a definite type. "He lines up close tothat third wide receiver and has the ability to cover him man to man," saysRed Miller. "The ideal nickel back is fast and experienced and able toadjust quickly. You'll notice I left one thing out—tackling ability. That's theplace where you can get away with a guy who isn't a boomer."

The dime backpicks up the fourth wide receiver or the halfback, one-on-one. "That's theplace to use your all-around utility back who can play any of threepositions," Walsh says. And what about the seventh back? "It's anyoneyou have left on your roster," says L.A. Coach Ray Malavasi. Will L.A.'suse of the seven-back prevent cause a trend?

"I don'tthink so," says Tampa Bay Coach John McKay. "Not everyone carries thatmany on the roster. Besides, what if you prepare for it all week and one ofthem gets hurt?"

"The seventhback worked for L.A. against Dallas because of the surprise factor," saysNew Orleans Coach Dick Nolan. "With time to prepare for it, the Cowboyswould have beaten it."

So innovationscome and go, but the sheer emotion of Two-Minute Football remains. "Therehave been times I played the whole two minutes with my heart in my throat,"Cliff Harris says. "You can tell when a team is scared. The defensivehuddle gets real quiet. Nobody's looking around; everyone has his eyes on theground. Other times, you hear people criticizing each other, looking for ascapegoat. I heard the Giants do that. We've done it, too."

"It's astrange time in a football game," Staubach says. "Sometimes you justget a feel that things are going to happen."

"We've alwaysfallen short in the last two minutes," says Levy. "We've come frombehind, but haven't been able to hold it. I have yet to win a game in the lasttwo minutes at Kansas City. Until we do, we haven't matured as a team.

"That's thesign. That's what I'm waiting to experience. To steal one that looks like it'slost."

The last two minutes are always a race against theclock; the offense presses furiously to beat the clock with a score, thedefense simply wants to see the seconds fly by.

As the clock winds down, placekickers become packagesof nerves, knowing that their time may come; coaches prefer kickers with moresteel in their hearts than in their feet.

Some teams call the desperation volleyball pass"Big Ben" because it's supposed to beat the clock; the Eagles shouldcall it "Big Harold" because their Mr. Carmichael is 6'8".

Peace and order rarely reign on the sidelines in theclosing moments; usually the scene is one of confusion, with the quarterbackcompeting with his coaches for speaking privileges.

For the quarterback, it's usuallyall-or-nothing-at-all when the defense sets up in that 11-man front called theManiac Blitz. The all: a touchdown. The nothing-at-all: a sack.

 

ILLUSTRATIONTOMMY SOLOSKI FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)