If memory serves me the NFL has a rather complicated system for determining its playoff teams. In case two or more teams finish with the same record -- do the numbers 8-8 and the word "parity" come to mind? -- the NFL has ways to break a tie:
Greek mythology for $50, please.
You can name it in one note? Fine, name that tune.
Do-over coin toss.
Best two out of three coin toss.
But what happens if a team barely gets into the playoffs, let's say, by one game, and that one game was one game that team shouldn't have won, and probably wouldn't have won without some help from the officials?
When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, Hello, Houston.
Apparently the Redskins weren't just lucky to beat Houston, 16-13, Sunday.
Apparently the Redskins didn't beat Houston, 16-13, Sunday.
Houston scored at least 25 points, and assuming that the 10-yard line isn't completely out of Twinkletoes Tony Zendejas' range, the Oilers probably would have scored 27. (Undoubtedly those high-flying Redskins -- a cool seven points in the second half so far this season -- would have come back and won anyway. Yeah, sure.)
Deep Zebra, an unnamed source in the NFL office, made it official the other day, telephoning the Oilers to apologize for official decisions disallowing two second-half touchdowns.
DZ: "Sorry, we blew it. The penalty we called on Keith Bostic for illegally blocking Joe Theismann was wrong; the films show Theismann purposely turned his back on the play to draw the flag. (Remember that World Series game a few years ago when Reggie Jackson stuck his gluteus octoberus in the way of a throw, and the Yankees scored?) And the Drew Hill catch in the corner of the end zone; his feet were in bounds. Our best guess is that we go the wrong way on six to eight TDs a year. Some we allow when we shouldn't. Some we don't when we should. Look on the bright side: we're maybe 33 percent home already. What can I tell you?"
HO: "What are you gonna do about it?"
HO: "No sweat."
DZ: "Good for you."
HO: "Anyway, what would it have done for us, given us back-to-back victories over Miami and Washington right out of the box? How tough is that? We were 3-13 last season and we had back-to-back victories then. So it's no big deal."
DZ: "You're real sports."
HO: "Yeah. Just keep that TV money coming."
So here's the moral dilemma facing the Redskins. From Jack Kent Cooke down, they know that no matter what the actual final score would have been, it surely would not have been 16-13. What is the honorable thing for them to do?
a) retain the law firm/doubles team of Flach and Seguso to argue their case before the world court in The Hague.
b) coat the goalposts at RFK with pine tar and refer all inquiries to George Brett.
c) send champagne to the officiating crew.
d) send champagne to Zendejas.
e) send champagne to Pete Rozelle.
f) drink the champagne themselves (who cares about Houston?)
Hold it! Stop! Wait! How many letters of the alphabet must we pass through before we arrive at the honorable, the conscientious, the charitable, the moral thing to do, the kind of act that would send the word out loud and clear: Sure, the Redskins want to win, but not desperately enough to turn their backs on the principles of sportsmanship that have helped make big-time sports what they are today. I know Joe Gibbs said, "The win is all that is important." But he didn't mean it, did he?
The Redskins must do the fair thing. It would not be fair for the Oilers to simply be awarded the victory. Who knows what would have happened in those last few minutes? Babe Laufenberg might have . . . oh, scratch that. Anyway, Houston may have won the game on the field, but it has yet to win it on the scoreboard.
The fair thing would be for the Redskins to offer to replay some portion of the game, with the score standing at 16-13, of course, because allowing Houston both touchdowns may be righteous, but it would be demonstrably insane.
Now, how much time should be put back on the clock?
The NFL has no mechanism to deal with this question. A NFL game lasts for a specified number of commercials, and then it's back to your local stations. But there is international precedent. In 1972, Olympic officials kept restoring the last three seconds of the game until the Soviet basketball team finally got it right, making the shot that won the gold medal.
Jack Kent Cooke can be a hero by giving Houston the ball and three seconds. All he has to do is just make sure the ref keeping the time knows the words to America The Beautiful.