National Hockey League Changes the Rules
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Professional hockey will be back in September and with it a rule change that commentator Frank Deford says is a long time coming.
In its return from self-induced purgatory, the National Hockey League comes back with high hopes and without something that all right-thinking Americans can only applaud: There will be no more tie games in the NHL. Hallelujah! Now the NHL has a real chance to succeed, for if there is one thing that sets us sons of liberty apart from most of the rest of the world, it is that we cannot abide ties. It is summed up in that gnarly old expression that has been attributed to most good Americans from Ben Franklin on down. You know it, and it must be uttered with a growl, just so: A tie is like kissing your sister. If there is one thing the red states and blue states can agree on, it is that. A tie is like kissing your sister.
In the rest of the world where soccer is worshipped, ties are sacred. Why, in some countries, the national lotteries are decided on the basis of what soccer games will be ties. That is, people actually root for ties. Among the greatest unsolvable mysteries in American history, along with why in the world did Custer divide his forces, and who did blow up the Maine in Havana harbor, there is the age-old question of why didn't the United States take to soccer like everyone else? And most students immediately suggest, of course, it was because of the ties. We can't stand ties.
By contrast, in our national pastime, it is understood that only God can cause a tie; hence the other famous American expression on the subject: Some you win, some you lose, some are called on account of darkness. Of course, games being what they are, how do we go about avoiding a buss to the sister? In baseball, it was called extra innings. As other sports caught the anti-tie spirit, they usually called it overtime.
The best overtimes are the ones that are most decisive and spectacular. For instance, college football, which can do very little else right, nonetheless has a terrific overtime, where in succession, each team gets the ball on the opponent's 25-yard line. Boy, is that fun. The NHL will now have what is called a shootout, if the overtime period still ends in a deadlock. One after another, one man with the puck goes against the goalie. Yippee!
Alas, two of our own institutions still don't know how to break ties properly. The US Open golf requires the players who are tied after 72 holes to come back the next day and play another 18. That is so wussy, so un-American. Send 'em right back on the course, the way they do at the Masters, PGA and British Open, one extra hole, or three, sudden death, shootout, tie-break. May the best man win right now, that's the way to do it.
Then the NFL has this insane overtime where the teams flip to see who gets to receive the kickoff, and if that team scores even a silly little field goal, the other team doesn't even get a chance. That is unfair and unfun. But the important thing is to rid ourselves of all ties in our sports, and now that hockey has gotten religion, may I suggest that you take your best girl to an NHL game this winter and tell that sister of yours that the jig is up and henceforth she's got to pucker up for someone else.
MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
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