San Diego at Pittsburgh (and the coin-flip)

On the flight from my old home (San Diego) to my new one (San Francisco), the captain announced that the San Diego Chargers had beaten the Indianapolis Colts in overtime to set up a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. John Cole reminds me that it’s been 14 years since their last infamous playoff matchup.

Here is a story from that time.

I remember that well. Here are some tidbits from that game:

  1. The Steelers had just reheared a rap video that they were filming about their Superbowl run in the days before they lost to the Chargers 17-13, having fallen short of the end zone on the last play by three yards. Oops!
  2. The Chargers won because their head coach had realized that the Steelers were a one dimensional team (run and short pass to the tight end) so placed 8 players in the box instead of the regular 7. The extra player made it so that every play seemed like a red-zone play. Now all defenses have regular field plays where they clog up the center this way.
  3. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and had just recently moved to San Diego. The Chargers went on to lose in a blowout Superbowl against San Francisco, my current hometown. I felt the Steelers and the Browns were the only two teams in the AFC who could compete with the Forty-Niners that year.
  4. The Steelers had seven pro-bowlers that year. They were so cocky they deserved to the humilation.
  5. 1995 was a really bad year to be a Cleveland Browns fan. They began that year with their third loss of the season to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers and ended the year with Art Modell moving the team to Baltimore. The coach for the Browns that year? Bill Belichick. Yes, that Bill Belichick.

The coin-toss

Living in San Francisco, nobody here remembers that—even though that would be the last time either Bay Area football team has won the Superbowl. Instead they were all talking about how the coin-flip decides overtime games. One joked that they should just eliminate overtime and flip a coin to decide who wins.

I asked, “I wonder what the winning percentage is off the first possession in overtime?”

“It’s outrageous.”

“Really? I’m sure they win more often, but really I wonder what the number is?”

“Over 70%.”

“Hmm, I wouldn’t think it’s higher than 60 for the overall winning percentage let alone…” I was then cut off, but I wanted to say “…let alone on the first possession.”

Since I wasn’t raised here, I’ve decided that entire West Coast fan base is made of football dunces who would probably run the Run and Shoot if they were NFL coaches. This makes me immediately skeptical of anything football that comes out of any fan of the Raiders, 49ers (and newly minted) Patriots fans.

So of course I looked it up.

From 1974-2003, only 28% of overtime games have been one on the first possession. The overall winning percentage? 52% vs 44%. Statistically significant, for sure, but a far cry from the 3 to 1 ratio that I was emphatically corrected by two die-hard Bay Area football fans.

I am going to be rooting for the Steelers next week, but with their offensive line the way it is, I don’t have an optimistic view of their Superbowl chances like most fans.

This lead me to observe this general rule of life: it’s important to be skeptical, it’s more important to be skeptical in the right way at the right times, and it’s most important to have ready access to Google and Wikipedia at those times.

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