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The Social Utility of Watching Professional Football

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It is one thing to analyze a situation and make great strategy to
achieve your goals. It is quite another to do that while under the
pressure of a certain deadline. Coaching decisions in a football game
can serve as a lesson on how to juggle multiple decisions while time
ticks away.

How would you make each of the following four decisions that came up
during an actual National Football League playoff game? Keep in mind
that two clocks are running on you: the game's play clock (time shown in
bold) and a 30-second time limit between plays.

The mission here is near-impossible and requires top strategy for any
chance for a win. Somehow the decision maker must consider a number of
factors in a short period of time and adjust to the changes in the

You need not be a football fan to learn from this scenario. If you are
unfamiliar with football rules, here is a summary of what you need to
know: The team with the ball (here, the Raiders) need nine points to
tie and ten points to win this game. They have a short period of time,
only 24 game seconds, to do so. Some plays stop the game clock and
others do not (see Decisions below).

If they move past the Steeler goal line (24 yards away), they score a
touchdown for six points and have the opportunity to kick the ball
through the uprights for one more point. If they kick the ball through
the uprights instead of trying to move past the goal line, they get a
field goal, which is worth three points.

After a team scores a touchdown or field goal, they must kick the ball
off. Ordinarily, they must kick the ball long to the other team, which
then takes possession. However, the kicking team always has the option
to kick the ball short and recover the ball themselves. They then keep
the ball and try for more points.

The Situation: January 4, 1976. The Oakland Raiders are playing the AFC
Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium against the Pittsburgh
Steelers in the 4th Quarter. The score is Steelers 16, Raiders 7 with
24 seconds left.

0:24 2nd Down, 2 Yards to Go from Steeler 24 Yard Line. The last play
ended in-bounds and the Raiders use their third and final time out.

Decision #1: Should the Raiders pass or run?

A pass could be thrown into the end zone, but it risks an interception
which would end the game. Of course, the Raiders could get lucky and
get a pass interference call against the Steelers! That would give the
Raiders the ball at the Steeler one-yard line.

A short pass will more likely be caught, but with no time outs, the
receiver will have to get out of bounds in a hurry. The same problem
happens if the pass is thrown over the middle as opposed to a sideline.

A run would have to go the distance because if the runner is downed
before the end zone there will not be enough time to get the teams lined
up for another play.

Speaking of, there are not many plays left in the game. A pass to the
end zone from 24 yards out could take about seven seconds.

The Call: After a conference with Coach John Madden, Raider quarterback Ken Stabler throws to wide receiver Morris Bradshaw in the right, deep corner of the end zone.

The Play: The Steelers break up the pass.


0:17 - 3rd Down, 2 Yards to Go from Steeler 24 Yard Line.

Decision #2: Should the Raiders continue to try for a touchdown or instead go for a field goal?

Going for a touchdown involves the same considerations mentioned above.
But the time on the clock now plays a crucial role. If the Raiders
score a touchdown, very little time will be left to do an onside kick
and recover it and get the ball in position for a game-winning field

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Dean Hartwell's book, "Planes without Passengers: the Faked Hijackings of 9/11," reached the top of Amazon's charts for large print books on history. He has authored three others: "Facts Talk but the Guilty Walk:the 9/11 No Hijacker Theory and Its (more...)
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