Playing to a tie

Published 8:36 pm Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Canadians — great lovers of hockey, which was perfectly accepting of tied games for its first hundred years or so — coined the phrase “a tie is like kissing your sister.” So it makes some sense that pro hockey has finally banished all draws.

Most “American” sports do everything possible to break ties.

Baseball games have been known to go 30 innings, get pushed into tomorrow and go until reserve outfielders are pitching. I’ve heard of as many as seven overtimes in a basketball game.

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In sports, when there must be a winner, when a tournament can’t go on to the next round without a winner, there must be some way to break a tie. Penalty kicks, getting the ball on the 10-yard-line, a coin flip, hanging chads — something has to end the game eventually.

There was the four-day-long Wimbledon match this summer that broke every record in the book, just with the fifth set itself.

In soccer, 99 percent of matches can end in ties. It seems wrong for four years’ of matches, anticipation and excitement to come down to penalty kicks in a World Cup Final match, but I guess there’s no other way.

In a Texas high school football game this past weekend, Jacksonville beat Nacogdoches 84-81 in 12 overtimes.

It’s, as best as anyone knows, a national high school record. There are two nine-overtime games on the books, including one in Detroit in 1977 which probably should still count as the record.

I’m not up on Michigan high school sports history, but if it’s like football everywhere else, 1977 was a couple of decades before the idea of starting each OT possession 10 or 20 or 25 yards from the goal line, so I’m guessing those nine OT periods were full 12-minute, sudden-death periods, with no team scoring through the first 96 minutes.

My college roommate’s brother played in the Pennsylvania high school state soccer final. On a nasty, spitting-cold late November night in Hershey 80 minutes of regulation ended 1-1. Four overtimes later, 20 minutes each if I recall correctly, it was 1-1.

Pennsylvania had nothing like penalty kicks in the rulebook, and no one had the authority to wing it in the state final. It was already a four-hour match, with no definite end in sight, unless frostbite gave one side a two- or three-man advantage.

Rightfully so, Erie Cathedral Prep and Strath Haven were named Pennsylvania Group AAA co-champions in 2001.

As far as I could tell from watching the game on TV, everyone was fine with the ending.

Of course, no one’s ever really happy with a tie. After, say, the 13th overtime, though, a competition simply deserves to be over.