Heads or tails?
A flip of the coin could determine the winner of Super Bowl XLIV (aka 44) this Sunday.
If the game ends in a tie, one of the most ridiculous scenarios in the history of sports will go into effect -- even more ridiculous than the shoot-out that can determine the winner of the World Cup in soccer. A sudden death 15-minute overtime period will begin.
A referee will flip a special commemorative coin and the captain of the "away" team -- New Orleans in this case -- will make one of the most important decisions of his football career. He will call "heads" or "tails." If he calls it correctly, his team gets to choose whether to kick off or receive the kick-off.
In the history of the National Football League, no winner has ever chosen to receive. Understandable, since if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown or a field goal, it wins. The opposing team never gets the ball.
Imagine that if a baseball game is tied at the end of nine innings and the visiting team scores in the top of the 10th. Under the NFL rules, the visiting team would win the game without the home team ever coming to bat.
In 2008, the team that won the coin toss won 63 percent of the time -- 43.4 percent on the first possession.
Defenders of the rule point to that latter statistic to validate it. They say it's up to the defense to stop the offense, and if they don't do it, too bad.
Some proponents of change have suggested that the margin of victory in overtime should be larger than 3 points, so that the team with first possession can't win on a field goal. But the League argues that rules that apply during the regular season should not be changed for the championship game.
So far the NFL has dodged the tied game bullet in the Super Bowl. No championship game has ended in a deadlock. The closest was 2000, when the Tennessee Titans, trailing by 23-16, fell a desperate yard short of a touchdown on their final play.
But after 43 years, the odds in favor of a tied game are getting shorter.
When that happens, the coin toss will follow. And if the team that wins the toss scores on its first possession and wins the championship, then the controversy will come. And it will be loud and long.
By the way, if you want to bet on the game, there are about 900 propositions you can choose besides the final score-including the coin toss. If you think it will be heads, you'll have to lay $110 to win $100. If you think it will be tails, you'll have to lay $120 to win $100.