ORLANDO, Fla. — Following a memorable season in which the New Orleans Saints won their first-ever Super Bowl, NFL owners overwhelmingly voted to alter the rules of postseason overtime on Tuesday.
Under the new rules, a team can win in sudden death with a touchdown or a safety, but a field goal will result in a subsequent possession for the opposing team. If both teams score field goals, or fail to score on their first possession, then classic sudden-death rules kick in.
The changes come in the wake of this year’s NFC Championship Game, in which New Orleans defeated the Minnesota Vikings 31-28. After winning the coin toss, the Saints drove 78 yards downfield in 12 plays to set up a game-winning field goal by kicker Garrett Hartley. Minnesota, led by 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback Brett Favre, never touched the ball.
After the game, many fans and NFL officials alike affirmed their opposition to the sudden-death set-up, arguing that the Saints should never be able to win the coin toss and just triumph like that.
However, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell denied any direct connection to that game.
“These changes are in no way related to the most recent NFC Championship Game,” Goodell stressed. “This proposal has been in the works for years. We have long been wary of the idea that a team like the Saints could simply boot a ball through the uprights and go to the Super Bowl. The game of football should not be decided by a foot.”
Goodell cited increasing sentiment against the coin toss, which many critics say virtually determines the winner in a heavy percentage of games.
“What we’re trying to avoid is a coin flip deciding the winner,” he said. “Which happens almost 60 percent of the time. I don’t like such severely skewed odds.
“Oh, but it’s OK if they win instantly with a touchdown or even a safety,” Goodell added. “Just not with the field goal like Hartley did. So, really, the coin toss still matters. Just not like it did during the Saints game. That’s gone for good.”
Pictured above: A bygone era.
Advocates of the change say that the new rules will add an extra strategic element to the game, so that teams have to find more creative ways to win than the Saints did.
“We’re in the business of giving the fans what they want,” Goodell said. “This change will ensure that we have an exciting and high-rated Super Bowl featuring the two best teams.”
Super Bowl XLIV, which pitted the No. 1 Saints against the No. 1 Indianapolis Colts and was broadcast by CBS, was the highest-rated television show in U.S. history, beating out the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H. NFL Films dubbed it a match “pitting the biggest name in football against the game’s greatest story.” *
“The NFC Championship Game brought up the question of what would happen if the Super Bowl came down to to a tie,” Goodell said. “I mean, would you really want it decided by the fate of a single kick? That’s not the kind of game people will remember for years to come.”
Scott Norwood was not available for comment.
Owners voted nearly unanimously for the change, with only four voting against the proposal. The Vikings were among the four, though sources say that they wanted to vote for it, but couldn’t control their hands.
Despite considerable opposition from within, Saints owner Tom Benson voted in favor after a long period of hedging, calling Commissioner Goodell “a beacon of light who represents all that is right with the world. I have nothing bad to say about him. Why, what have you heard?”
Several coaches, most notably Saints head coach Sean Payton and Vikings coach Brad Childress, expressed disbelief over the changes, saying coaches should have had input on the vote. Goodell dismissed the criticism, saying that he had previously talked at the coaches about the proposal.
“This may not come as a news flash, but the owners have the vote. ...We had a full discussion with the coaches on Tuesday morning. The ownership thought that was good for the game and good for the fans,” Goodell said.*
Fans were split on the change.
“I love it,” said one Vikings fan. “Yes, we have a great team full of superstars who had a sterling season. And, yes, multiple turnovers and the 12-man huddle penalty hurt us in the championship game, but we were still the better team that night. If only Brett Favre had had one more chance to save the day. Now that would have been a game to remember.”
"Raise your hand if you want this to not count!"
Others scoffed at the decision.
“In its zeal to revise the decades-old sudden-death rule, the NFL created as lame and awkward a situation as they possibly could,” said me, a fan of the Saints, sudden death and reason. “With such a convoluted rule change that applies only to a specific part of a specific game, the league has undermined its claim that it’s trying to create a more exciting finish. At the very least, it could have reverted to a version of college rules. I don’t like college rules, but a lot of fans do. This, on the other hand, looks like the league felt the Saints’ claim to the NFC title was not legitimate, that that game was an error in need of fixing. It assumes that a field goal cannot be exciting. But I don't really know what overtime they were watching if they thought this drive was a drag. There was a long kickoff return, two penalties, three booth reviews, a near-interception, an almost-sack, a fourth-and-inches conversion and a long field goal that was anything but a given. Er, yawn?
This could have used a little more suspense.
“Worst of all, the change implies that some points are more equal than others. And that fans were frustrated by the lack of utter complexity under the old rules. What an insult to players, defenses, special teams and fans alike.
“Let’s just call this what it is: a sour-grapes reaction to the fact that Brett Favre did not get a chance with the ball in overtime. It’s no secret that the Goodell and the rules committee favor hot-property quarterbacks with tuck rules, stringent roughing-the-passer penalties and other revisions designed to micromanage the outcome for what they perceive to be a more exciting ‘competition.’ This is only a continuation of that trend.”
Goodell declined to discuss any future rule changes. “A lot depends on how our top stories pan out in 2010. What is Brett Favre’s fate? Will Tom Brady bring the Patriots dynasty back from the brink? Will Ben Roethlisberger overcome his personal woes to return the Steelers to the big game? Will Donovan McNabb ever take another snap for the Eagles? So much drama awaits. Tune in this fall and see what develops.
“But one thing is clear — the Saints’ miracle playoff run is something we’re not likely to see again for a long time.”