We've all heard the football coaches say it. In the movies, in the interviews, in the pep talks, "You've got to play hard for 60 minutes."
Aside from the obvious mathematical problems the possibility of overtime can present, recent results in some big-time football games seem to suggest this is just typical coachspeak.
In many games, one team jumps to a big lead early on and then just coasts through the rest of the game (see last Sunday's Broncos-Chiefs game where the Broncos went up 35-0 midway through the second quarter).
Even more prevalent are the games that are pretty close (often ugly games where neither team is playing particularly well) until one team makes a big play late to decide the outcome.
With six wins and four losses this season, the University of Richmond's football team is looking to secure a playoff spot this Saturday at the College of William & Mary. Putting them in that position was its recent two-game winning streak. Both were close games at home, with one long touchdown throw in each putting the game in Spider hands.
In the game against James Madison University, a 41-yard hookup from John Laub to Tre Gray completely switched the momentum away from the visitors.
Last Saturday, down 6-3 to the University of Rhode Island for much of the game with sloppy play on both sides (12 combined turnovers), Laub again connected for a long touchdown pass, this time to Donte Boston for 77 yards late in the fourth quarter.
In both cases, the game may have technically been 60 minutes (ignoring the fact that the JMU game went to overtime), but a matter of seconds essentially decided the outcome. This trend is reaching out past our small FCS team too.
In the NFL last week, six games were decided by a touchdown or less. Of those games, half of them had a long, game-winning touchdown pass determine the winner.
First, Roddy White hauled in a Matt Ryan pass for 33 yards with less than a minute remaining to lead the Falcons past the Ravens. Then, 16 seconds away from concluding the game in a tie as overtime ended, Mark Sanchez found Santonio Holmes for a 37-yard score to give the Jets the win over the Browns.
Finally, in the most improbable of the week's finishes, a Hail Mary pass by David Garrard on the last play of the Jaguars-Texans game was deflected right into the arms of the trailing Mike Thomas, who proceeded to walk into the end zone to complete the 50-yard play.
All three were heartbreaking for the defeated and had to make the players wonder whether playing so hard the other 59 minutes was really that important.
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For coaches, these sort of games can oddly prove their claims.
In all five of these examples, the argument could be made that it was a defensive back or two taking a play off (except in the Jaguars game, where the Texans' defender just made a bad decision) that led to the long touchdown pass. Like it or not, "play hard for 60 minutes" is here to stay in the coach's motivational playbook.
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