Remembering Abner Haynes

Thanks, John “Big Foot” Phillips for reminding me what a great column this story would make.

If you watched the New England Patriots’ 26-20 OT loss to the New York Jets on December 26, 2015, you saw how important those pre-OT coin toss calls are to winning and losing. To fully appreciate the mistake in this instance, if Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was on the level with his post-game attempt to explain the confusion, we need to begin with a clear statement of what the two choices are for the team that wins the coin toss.

Coin Toss Winner Options: Winning the coin toss gives the winning team the right to (1) either receive or kick off on the first possession; or (2) choose which goal your team will defend.  If a team chooses to kick off, as the Pats did Saturday, the other team automatically earns the right to receive the ball, without doing anything else, and also now has the right to choose which goal they will defend as the receiving team. That choice is not always a big deal, especially in indoor venues, but it can also be huge this time of the year when fields have a north-south layout and some tough winds are roaring in from the north.

When Pats special teams captain Matthew Slater jogged out to make the coin toss call for the Pats, he says he had clear instructions from Coach Belichick to tell the officials that his team wanted to kick off, although his need to confirm that choice three of four times suggests that even Slater may have privately questioned the wisdom of kicking off and giving the Jets a chance to win the game with a sudden death TD on the first possession.

“We thought it was the best thing to do,” Belichick said in his post game press conference, reinforcing his statement that Slater’s call was not a mistake, even if still remained a mistake on another level.

You see, Slater expressed his team choice in these words: “We want to kick, that way.”

It took a few moments to clarify for Slater that he didn’t own the choice of goals too since he had already used it first as the team that would choose to kick off.

As fate sometimes dictates, the choice to kick off was fatal. A few plays later, the Jets scored a a touchdown which, under the modified rules governing scoring in NFL OT games, immediately made the Jets the winners by 26-20.

Slater apparently had confused the choice call to the more normal way a team uses it when they want the ball second. The coin toss winner  states which goal they choose to defend in almost 100% certainty that the other team will use their default choice to receive. It’s hard to figure what Belichick was thinking. He knows that better than of us. Sure, the Jets might have chosen to kick, but it’s not probable they would have done so. Technically, however, Belichick was correct. – The only certain way to assure that your team kicks off is to win the coin toss and have your representative say “We want to kick,” as Slater did. He simply didn’t own the “that way” portion of the selection.

Abner Haynes Dallas Texans AFL, 1962

Abner Haynes
Dallas Texans
AFL, 1962

If you are old enough, the Pats-Jets coin toss call mix-up is remindful of one that great running back Abner Haynes made in behalf of his Dallas Texans club in their 20-17 double OT AFL 3rd Championship game over the Huston Oilers at Jeppesen (later Robertson) Stadium on the UH campus back on December 23, 1962. The Oilers had won the first two new AFL crowns in 1960-61 under QB George Blanda and were battling hard to continue their string against the hated foes from Dallas. No true Houstonian cared at all for these Texans back in 1962. As you also probably know, owner Lamar Hunt got squeezed out of his market by the Cowboys, transferring his first Texans team to Kansas City and re-naming them as the Chiefs.

A crowd of 37,981 showed up at “The Jep” to cheer the Oilers. Yours truly was young, single, and down in Beeville, Texas in 1962 with my girl friend for a family Christmas visit. We watched the game on ABC-TV with my dad, hoping that the Oilers would win one for him on his birthday, but they did not.

After falling behind 17-0 in the first half, George Blanda brought the Oilers back to a 17-17 tie at the end of regulation time. It was also time for Abner Hayne’s signature call of the coin toss as the Texans’ representative.

Because of strong winds from the north, Coach Hank Stram wanted to defend the north goal in OT and to move toward the goal that held the large scoreboard to the south. (Remember, this is one of those things in which you “can’t never get what you want you want if you don’t say it right.”)

Wanting to defend the north goal and allow Houston the right to receive, Haynes won the pre-OT coin toss, expressing his wishes in these words: “We’ll kick to the clock!”

Haynes got what he asked for, not what he wanted. – The Oilers got to receive the ball by default and then use their pick to defend the goal with the wind at their backs.

Fortunately for Abner Haynes, the Oilers weren’t able to convert their good fortune on the call into a third straight AFL championship. The absence of scoring in the extra quarter simply carried the game into professional football history as the first double overtime game ever played. The Dallas Texans won it all on a Tommy Brooker field goal in double OT, 20-17.

Happy New Year Again, Everybody! – Hope your Christmas time was as peaceful, simple, and blessed as ours!






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