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Hail, Columbia
Alan Shipnuck
October 28, 1996
The former Ivy doormat is off to its first 5-0 start in 51 years, The thrill of overtime, the agony of overtime
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October 28, 1996

Hail, Columbia

The former Ivy doormat is off to its first 5-0 start in 51 years, The thrill of overtime, the agony of overtime

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Whether the Lions run the table this season remains to be seen, but they don't figure to revert to past performance anytime soon. Sixty-eight freshmen and sophomores are on this team. "The foundation for success has been laid," says Wilfork, who also is an NFL prospect. "We know where this program is going. We also know where it has been—that's why we can't let up now."

Over the Top

There is something palpably strange about college football's new overtime rule, which calls for tie games to be broken by teams alternating possessions starting 25 yards from the end zone. It's Football Lite, a quick alternative to the real game, played on a short field with no kickoffs and no punts, and it seems an unjust way to decide a game after 60 minutes of conventional football. That view, however, is fast being steamrollered by the raw excitement that overtime has created.

Last Saturday the rule came of age, as USC-Arizona State and Air Force-Notre Dame, two high-profile games with wide television audiences and high stakes, went into OT.

At Sun Devil Stadium a crowd of 74,947, which had been given a referee's warning for excessive noise, sat nearly silent while the rules for overtime were read over the public address system. That audience then was treated to a wild double OT, eventually won by fourth-ranked and undefeated Arizona State 48-35. At the finish USC coach John Robinson said of the tiebreaker, "I loved it. It's a hell of a lot better than going out and playing another 15 minutes of regular football." And Robinson, an old-fashioned sort, likes regular football.

Notre Dame was upset 20-17 at home by Air Force. The loss, the Irish's first to a service academy since 1985, came in overtime—and suddenly. Notre Dame had the first possession in OT, but ran only one play, on which quarterback Ron Powlus was sacked and fumbled, with Air Force recovering. The Falcons deadened Notre Dame Stadium five plays later, when Dallas Thompson kicked a game-winning, 27-yard field goal.

When college coaches voted last February to endorse regular-season overtime and recommended this to the NCAA rules committee (which rubber-stamped the motion), they could scarcely have imagined it would have such an immediate and profound effect. Last Saturday was the watershed day for overtime, but it was also in OT that Oklahoma emotionally won its first game of the season, 30-27 over Texas, on Oct. 12 at the Cotton Bowl. Both of Columbia's victories in the Ivy League have been in overtime. On Oct. 5 Florida A&M took five hours and six overtime possessions to beat Mid-Eastern Athletic conference rival Hampton 59-58. The score at the end of regulation was 20-20; then, astonishingly, each team traded scores tit for tat—five touchdowns, three PATs, one two-point conversion and one field goal each—before a missed extra point cost Hampton the game. After that marathon Florida A&M coach Billy Joe said, "I hope this never happens again. It almost makes you wish for a tie. I've never been in such a stressful situation."

What is stressful for coaches has been riveting for fans. Each possession in overtime is paramount, each play is run within easy scoring range. It's a high-risk event played at video-game speed. Still, the question must be asked: Arizona State's OT victory was thrilling, but if the Sun Devils had attempted an old-fashioned, all-or-nothing two-point conversion after scoring with 1:30 to play in regulation, instead of kicking the extra point that tied the game, would that have been less exciting?
—TIM LAYDEN

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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