© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003
John Madden was wrong.
Now, that may be second-guessing, as he says his critics have done, while he took the risk of first-guessing, but he was wrong.
Scary thing -- he says he'd do it again.
You may recall Madden told the New England Patriots last year to lay down in the Super Bowl. Play for overtime. Let their hopes ride on the flip of a coin.
Play not to win, but not to lose.
It was a bad call. Maybe one he'll never live down, unless the same thing happens this year and he gives the right advice.
Problem is, he'd give the same advice.
"I would say the same thing," said Madden, who will call the Super Bowl again this year for a different network, ABC, and with a different partner, Al Michaels. "I would say the same thing for the rest of my life. Inside the 20 less than two minutes to play, no timeouts. The odds are against you 90 percent of the time. I would say the same thing this game."
Even with last year's result staring him in the face, haunting him ever since? While Madden deserves credit for facing up to his error, he hasn't learned from it.
He made last year's call with some compelling and contrary evidence suggesting otherwise.
St. Louis had just scored in a 21-second drive to tie the score, erasing a 17-3 deficit. Momentum was so convincingly on the Rams' side that Madden's suggestion to the Pats was suicidal.
The prevent defense. Need we say more?
With 1:20 left in the first half, the Patriots led 7-3 and had the ball. But using a hurry-up offense, they cut right through the Rams to score to make it 14-3 at halftime. So they had already done it once in the game.
You play games to win.
The moment showed Madden to be what he is: a coach from an older, more conservative generation who probably couldn't win in today's game. What would Madden's call had been in the famous Ice Bowl, when Green Bay was on the Dallas 1 with 13 seconds left and trailing 17-14?
Kick the field goal? Because if the Packers failed there would be no time left for another play, and playing for overtime is nice and safe.
Instead, Bart Starr sneaked his way into the end zone and football lore.
Come the fourth quarter Sunday, Madden insists he would stay conservative.
If the Bucs are on the 20, with 1:21 left, the advice?
"I would say the same thing."
Well, what about the Raiders, and that vaunted offense?
What if Jesus Christ were quarterback, Superman was at running back, and the Flash was at wide receiver with the Incredible Hulk blocking?
"Without beating a dead horse, it was the Patriots' best chance to win," Madden said, ignoring the fact that their best chance to win was exactly what the Patriots did -- short passes designed to get the receivers out of bounds.
What he seems to ignore is this -- it was 1 minute, 21 seconds left, not 21 seconds, for God's sake, an eternity in the NFL. And they needed 50 yards to get in field goal position. That's all.
"The best chance to win the game with no timeouts and inside your own 10-yard line is to play for overtime. Any fumble and turnover would lose the game. That was the point. The way to do it was to prolong the game."
Take a knee, possibly lose the toss, watch the red hot Rams go in for the winning score, or go down fighting. What would hurt more?
"If you would have told me they would get out of bounds three times, and get the spike, well, I would have done that too," Madden said. "I didn't know that would happen. . . . That's the difference between first-guessing and second-guessing. The other one is a little easier because you know what happens. Life is full of those kind of people."
Touche, John. But it was still wrong.
Here's hoping you do better this year.
And if you don't, here's hoping the Bucs and Raiders aren't listening.