Supplemental material including comments on clock management in recent football games and errata for the book Football Clock Management.

Copyright by John T. Reed

These items are in chronological order with the most recent at the top of the page. This page got so big that it began to download too slowly so I broke it into separate pages for various years.

Silicon Valley Bowl, 12/31/00

My son and I attended the Silicon Valley Bowl today and saw Air Force beat Fresno State in an exciting game. I was anxious to attend in person, because watching on TV prevents you from seeing most of the clock action.

I keep thinking that my book and my articles in American Football Quarterly got coaches thinking the right way regarding clock management. I saw some improvement over before my book came out in 1997, but in general, I was appalled at both Air Force and Fresno State clock management. Mind you, these are two well-coached teams in general. The game came down to the next-to-last play. Fresno State was down 37-34 and on the Air Force 16-yard line. On fourth down with :14 left in the game, they lined up for a field goal. It was a fake. Two guys were open in the end zone, but the holder overthrew them.

Air Force scored on their first possession as I recall, and led the whole game thereafter. That means Air Force should have been a slowdown for the whole game with the possible exception of the end of the first half when you either try to score before half time or prevent your opponent from doing so. That last possession of the half could require either a hurry up or a slowdown or something in between.

One of the slowdown rules is wait until the end of the play clock to call for the snap or a time out. Air Force called one time out when the game clock was running and did it correctly at the end of the play clock. But when it came to snapping the ball, they appeared oblivious to the play clock. Here is how much time was left on the play clock for a bunch of Air Force snaps: 4, 10, 16, 13, 11, 6, 10, 7, 8, 3, 16, 6, 12, 6, 3, 7, 5, 9, 12, 11, 7, 12, 11, 7, 4, 5, 9, 8, 15, 10, 4, 6, 4, 9, 10, 2, 5, 4, 8, 3, 5, 9, 5, 2, 5. What is the amount that should have been left on the clock for those snaps? Ideally, 0. To avoid delay penalties, 1 or 2. How many times did they violate that simple rule of clock management? All but two times in this list. If you will add all these numbers, then subtract 2 x that many snaps, you will see how much time Air Force unnecessarily left on the game clock. Actually, it was more. I did not keep track on every down.

So all that sweating they were doing in the fourth quarter was unnecessary. Had they killed clock like they should have all along, which was a very easy and simple thing to do, the game would have ended several minutes before the nerve-wracking fake field goal play.

The Silicon Valley Bowl clock operator was incompetent. You can tell you have an incompetent operator when the ref as to keep using his public address microphone to ask that the clock be changed. One of his stunts was to run off :04 during a P.A.T. play! My book says to make sure you have a competent clock operator at your home games and to watch the opposing clock operator at away games.

Referee ball placing time (time between end of play and ready-to-play signal) ranged from 9.9 seconds to 28.8 seconds.

Air Force once called a time out with :13 left on the play clock because the QB was having trouble having his audibles heard. Why not just wander around telling everyone the play? :13 is a lot of time.

Air Force stopped the clock several times with incomplete forward passes toward the end of the game when it was finally obvious to everyone that they should be killing time. I don’t say you never pass when you are in a slowdown. Sometimes you have to but one of the forward passes was an option pitch. That was unnecessary.

Fresno State did some good clock stuff. They used two time outs in the fourth quarter to prevent AF from doing their slowdown. That’s quite correct. But they kept the third time out in reserve. That was wrong. They should have used all three to stop AF from killing max time with their slowdown offense.

The big clock story of the game was Fresno's spikitis. In their next to last series (four downs), they spiked the ball to stop the clock—on a 1st & 10 play! Jesus that’s dumb! The clock is stopped to move the chains. Use that time to call your audible play then snap the ball as soon as the ref lets you. That would use almost exactly the same amount of time as a spike, but the play would be far more likely to gain yards than a spike.

Also, when you stop the clock for a last play field goal attempt, you wait until it gets down to :03. You do not stop in a panic at :14. Had they kicked the field goal and it been good, they would have had to kick off to Air Force and probably would have had to defend one or two scrimmage plays. You do not put yourself in a position where you have to do that unnecessarily.

In the final series, they spiked the ball two out of four downs! I believe the first such spike was also after a play that gained a first down, thereby causing the clock to stop to move the chains. All the time they were doing this spiking, they still had one time out! In fact, on the fourth down of the final series, they both spiked the ball and called time out!!! There were still 14 seconds left on the clock, Had they refrained from those two spikes, they could have had two more shots at the end zone. If they had used that time out back when they should have, on defense, there would have been about another 35 to 40 seconds left in addition to the 14 at the end.

Fresno State also failed to be in a hurry up for the whole game (possible exception just before half) as they should. The amount of time left on the play clock when they snapped should have been about 23 or 24 seconds. Instead it was 3, 6, 11, 2 11, 5, 3, 12, 7, 7, 5, 15, 14, 21. Amazingly, Fresno State, who should have been in a hurry up, did a better job of running a slowdown than Air Force, who should have been in a slowdown. That is, on average, Fresno State took more time off the clock with each snap than Air Force did, the exact opposite of what they should have been doing!

In addition to spikitis, Fresno State also seemed to be suffering from audiblitis. But Air Force was suffering from audiblitis far more than Fresno. Has anyone ever done a study of the success rate of audible plays and plays run after time outs? I have not run any numbers, but it appears to me that the average audible or post-time out play sucks in terms of its results. Also, audibles are not a sensible thing to do when they are inaudible. Teams need some sort of visual signals to replace “audibles.” The Silicon Valley Bowl stadium was packed, mostly with FSU fans. They stayed the whole game and were sophisticated enough to know to cheer when Air Force was calling a play, but Air Force continued to call audibles on almost every play, in spite of the fact that some players seemed not to know what play they were running at times.

In basketball and volleyball, coaches use time outs to break up the rhythm of opponents who are doing well on offense. It’s very effective. Why do that to yourself? The only time you spike is on third down before a field goal attempt when you have no time outs. For all other occasions, you should have one or more quick plays to be used when you would have spiked in the past.

When I was in the Army, I was appalled at the waste, inefficiency, and incompetence I saw. I wondered how we ever won a war. Then I realized that our military opponents all also used government bureaucracies to run their armies. So it was with Air Force and Fresno State. My son made the comment that the clock-management incompetence of one team was offset by the clock-management incompetence of the other. Had Air Force managed the clock even a little more competently, they would have had an easy victory. Had Fresno State managed the clock a little better, they may not have won, but they would have had far more time at the end to try to do so.

Throw out of bounds

[email from a reader] I have a suggestion which I believe is a legal tactic, but which I don't believe I have seen you mention -- please correct me if I am wrong. Why don't players simply throw the ball out of bounds when they can't make out-of-bounds in situations in which they need to preserve time on the clock? The players themselves don't need to get out of bounds, only the ball does. As long as the throw is backwards or is a lateral, I believe the tactic is legal under current rules. But even throwing the ball forwards would stop the clock, though a spot-of-the-foul penalty would be absorbed. What do you think?

[Response from John T. Reed: My Web site mentions throwing it out the back of the end zone, which is a safety.

Throwing it forward after you have crossed the line of scrimmage is an illegal forward pass. Throwing a legal forward pass out of bounds could be considered to be intentional grounding in high school. In college and the NFL, it would depend upon whether the passer, who could be any player on the offense, complied with the various throw-the-ball-away rules. If you throw it backward, the next spot is where it went out of bounds, so that would lose yards. Throwing it sideways would appear to neither lose yards nor constitute an illegal forward pass.

At the college level, deliberately throwing the ball out of bounds to stop the clock is illegal (NCAA Rule 7-2-1). There appears to be no such rule in H.S. or the NFL.

In the last two minutes of an NFL half, “unusual action” to conserve time is penalized five yards and ten seconds are taken off the clock. Although ten seconds is less than what it usually takes to get lined up for the next play, so other than the penalty, and situations where there are less than 11 seconds left in the half, you are probably better off with the ten-second penalty than with the clock running.

For high school, college, and the rest of an NFL game, the question is whether such a backward pass would constitute delay of the game. If you had a target receiver for the lateral and he missed, I suspect there would be no penalty. But if it were an intentional grounding sort of backward pass, it might trigger the various delay-of-game penalties (H.S. Rules 3-6-2 f and 3-6-3; NCAA Rule 3-4-3 Unfair Game-Clock Tactics; NFL Rule 4-3-9). However, the penalties would appear to be inadequate in that they move the ball back five yards, but never take time off the clock above and beyond what time would have been taken off had the player been tackled inbounds. The ref is directed to start the game clock on the ready-to-play signal after each of these violations. That’s supposed to be punishment, but it’s not because the clock would have continued to run throughout the ball-placing time if the ball had not been lateraled out of bounds.
John T. Reed]

Division III national championship 12/15/00

There were a couple of clock issues in the Division III national championship which I just watched. In the second half, St. Johns had fourth and one, got a delay penalty, and had to punt. Dumb. At the end of the game with the score tied, Mount Union ran to the three-yard line, let the clock run down to :04, then called a time out. Also a little dumb. They need to let it run down to :03 or less, not :04. Their field goal attempt was good. Predictably, they celebrated on the field, and drew a 15-yard penalty. Their head coach was out on the field trying to stop the celebration. Too little too late. He should have stopped it in practice. The resulting 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, combined with the fact that :01 remained on the clock after the field goal, could have cost Mount Union the national championship. In the event, it did not. Mount Union kicked a squib kick. In my opinion, it should have been an onside kick. St. Johns tried to do a multiple-lateral return. That’s the right idea, but it did not look like they had practiced it much. One of their laterals was intercepted. The interceptor tried to run with the ball. That was incorrect. He should have immediately taken a knee. He was tackled. He should have been stripped. Mount Union won.

Premature celebration costs team a playoff game

On 11/25/00, Central College of Iowa was down by three points in overtime. They attempted a 38-yard field goal to tie. The kicker slipped and kicked the ball into the offensive line. Linfield instantly celebrated their victory in the second round of the Division III playoffs. Just one problem, though: muffing or blocking a kick does not end the play. While Linfield was celebrating, complete with fans on the field, Central College’s center Reid Evans picked up the botched kick and, as he was being tackled, handed it to fullback Joe Ritzert, who ran it 21 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Final score: Central College 20, Linfield 17. There was a similar story in Football Clock Management regarding Thomas More College.

I am old school. I have zero tolerance for on-field, during-game celebrations. It has gotten so bad that practice scripts ought to prescribe a way of behaving after a successful important play. For example, you might script an end-of-game situation where a touchdown and two-point conversion wins the game. You need to make sure the player who scores the touchdown is not taking a victory lap when he is needed for the two-point play. Matter of fact, since players do not celebrate in practice, you probably need to force them to do it both the wrong way and the right way. First time through in practice, tell them to celebrate their asses off if they score. Be creative. Let it all hang out.

Then chalk them about the need to hold all game celebrations until after the final whistle—not horn. Then redo the touchdown play without the celebration. This is especially true of blocked field goal attempts. Special-teams coaches must make sure their players complete the blocked-kick play, which means pick up and advance the blocked kick, or at least recover it, which is what you should do when you have reached the take-a-knee point. You should also practice waiting until the final whistle and then celebrating. It’s dumb that this is necessary. But TV and lax discipline and rules in college and the NFL have made it necessary. The XFL will make it more necessary. Do not be intimidated by the “Oh, let ’em have fun” argument. And never let the words “Act like you’ve been there before” pass your lips. Those words may have worked when you played. But they don’t work anymore. You now need different words, maybe, “Sean, do that again and you are suspended for one week! Capeche?”

Because fans often get on the field, you may need to coach your fans as well. Some may protest that they have no control over the fans. Well, you’d better get some because you will be penalized for their behavior and could even lose a game because of it. In the famous 1982 Stanford Band Game, Cal declined a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for the Stanford Band marching onto the field before the play was over. Had Cal not scored the game-winning touchdown on the play, they would have accepted the penalty and Stanford would have had to rekick from half the distance to the goal. Stanford had already had to kick off on the final play from 15 yards deeper than normal because of the Stanford players’ excessive celebration after their successful field goal to take the lead.

This incident also illustrates my principle of never allowing yourself to be tackled on the last play of the game when you are trailing by eight or less. You must always lateral, even to the ground if no teammate is available.

Wind considerations

Here is an email I got from a reader:

here are two strategic alternatives that teams may choose to employ when wind speed is likely to significantly impact field position.

1) team "a" wins coin toss and selects to defend the goal with the wind at their backs. team "b" must now choose whether to receive or kickoff. I would guess that 99% of teams faced with this decision would opt to receive without giving much, if any, consideration to kicking off. my position is this: if you have serious concerns about your ability to move the football offensively due to the quality of your offense, the quality of the defense you are facing, and/or the wind itself, you should kickoff. the explanation is simple: would you rather punt into a severe wind from your own goal line after a three and out? or, kickoff from the 35-yard line and thereby drive the ball deep into the opposition's territory?

[Response from John T. Reed: Interesting. I guess the key principle is that one can kickoff better into the wind than one can punt into the wind. Also that you are likely to have a better field position for a kickoff than for a punt after a kick return of a wind-at-the-kicker’s back kickoff followed by three offensive plays. I am told that punters should punt at a low trajectory when punting into the wind. Place kicks, including kickoffs, come off the foot at a low trajectory. I would ask my punters and kickers to experiment during a windy-day practice to confirm this theory. If true, it might make sense. But it is really a rather complex equation. Another theory is to hold down the number of offensive plays your opponent gets with the wind at their back. In that case, you would choose to receive the kickoff because you can control the ball on offense if you can get first downs.

The wind affects balls in the air: kicks and passes. It does not affect the running game. A team with a strong running game should be less concerned about the wind, IF it could get first downs against the defense in question. The wind mainly affects teams that rely heavily on the pass or who cannot get their first downs, therefore necessitating punts. In order to make a decision on the kickoff, you need to figure out whether you can get your first downs with the wind in your face. If so, you should receive in the above situation. If you cannot get first downs with the wind in your face, you are probably going to lose that half of the game and you had better manage the clock to make sure that half of the game has far fewer plays.]

2) you have just taken possession of the ball with a "field position" impact wind at your back and are deep in your own territory (let's say inside of your own 30-yd line) with little time (let's say two minutes or less) left in either the first or third quarter. my position is this: if for whatever reason, you think it is unlikely that you will have success moving the ball, then you should make sure that you are able to punt with the wind before the quarter expires. in fact, why not punt on 1st or 2nd down (if necessitated by time on the clock) if you have already determined that the wind speed is a major factor governing field position in the game? furthermore, even if your offense has moved the ball with some success, a well executed punt on any down would theoretically pin the opposition deep in their own territory as the 2nd or 4th quarter commences. about the quick-kick? seldom used, but definitely a weapon even if wind is not a factor provided you have a skill position player that can execute the kick properly.

[Response from John T. Reed: I agree. The quick kick, which should be used far more often in general, makes the most sense with a stiff wind at your back. Readers of my youth football coaching books know that I am a big advocate of what I call a “fourth-down quick kick,” that is, punting from your regular offensive formation on fourth down after giving the opponents a look that made them think you were going for it.

The importance of field position is a function of the two teams’ ability to drive in the game in question. If a team can drive in the game, field position is meaningless unless the amount of time remaining in the half is so short that they do not have time to score. So the quick kick against a team that can drive is only useful if the time remaining in the half is too little to enable the driving team to go the resulting distance. If a team cannot drive in the game in question, field position is probably the only way they can score.

In the old days, when final scores were typically 3-0 or 7-6, teams routinely punted on first, second or third down, even when the other team knew they were going to do so. As those low scores indicate, those teams could not drive. Their only hope of scoring was to get possession near the opponent’s goal line. Their only hope of moving the ball long distances was with their foot. If you are such a team in the modern era, you are probably in for a long season, but you increase your win probability by using quick kicks and the wind to move the ball, and by managing the clock so that the number of plays when you have the wind at your back is increased and vice versa.]


Here’s an email I received from a reader: The Michigan-Northwestern game provided a classic example of a principle that I believe you mentioned in your book about the importance of differentiating between more and enough. After a defensive goal line stand by Michigan, Anthony Thomas got the handoff with the lead in the last minute of game. He got the first down. He should have slid or knelt at that point. Instead, he seeing nothing but green grass ahead of him, he dreamed of further glory, and had the ball stripped from behind. Northwestern scored and won 54-51.

Illegal spike-the-ball formation

The clock is running out. The offense trails by one score. The quarterback needs to spike the ball, but one or more of his players cannot get into legal position before the snap. What should he do? Snap the ball and take the penalty. The alternative is to lose the game. You generally want to avoid penalties, but not always. Sometimes, as when a defensive back deliberately commits interference to save a touchdown, you should proceed even though you know that doing so will result in a penalty. End-of-half spikes are a classic example of a situation where stopping the clock is more important that worrying about penalties. In the NFL, an “unusual action” to conserve time in the last two minutes of a half results in a five-yard penalty and, if it was the offensive team, taking ten seconds off the clock. But if the alternative is to let time run out, spike the ball. There may be offsetting penalties or the officials may not see the illegal formation. Letting the clock run out surely has no merit.

USC-Colorado 9/9/00

At the end of this game, USC had 1st and 10 within field goal range. The game was tied and there were about 20 seconds left. USC had no time outs left. USC went ahead and kicked the go-ahead field goal. That’s incorrect. They should have taken a knee on first down then immediately lined to run the spike-the-ball play. The quarterback should have waited until the clock got to :04 then called for the snap and spiked the ball. Then there would be :02 or :03 left for the field goal attempt on third down. The field goal would kill all the remaining time. By doing it the way they did, they had to kickoff to Colorado. Colorado tried a Cal-Stanford or Titans-Bills style lateral kick return which used all the remaining time and USC won. But there should not have been any time left after the field goal. That’s how Stanford lost that famous five-lateral-kick-return game. They called time out too soon before their go-ahead field goal attempt and had to kick off.

This mistake is constantly made at the college and NFL levels. (It’s made at lower levels, too, but field goals are always an adventure at those levels.) Why is beyond my comprehension. These coaches get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to know what they are doing. But they still cannot learn a simple thing like letting the clock run down to :04 before a last-minute field-goal attempt.

Seahawks-Rams 9/10/00

The same mistake I just discussed in the USC-Colorado game was made by the Rams in their game against the Seahawks.

High school first-score stats

In Football Clock Management, I noted that the team that scored first won the game 84% of the time during the 1994 NFL season. A Wisconsin high school coach, John Sterner computed the statistics for first score and the correlation to win. These stats were taken from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over the course of the 1999 season. 211 times the team who scored first went on to win out of a total of 262 games for a percentage of 80.5%.

My point is that you should manage the clock starting with the first offensive play of the game because, throughout the game, you almost always have a good idea who is going to win the game, and therefore want to run out the clock. If I told you there was an 80.5% probability of a pass on a given play when you were on defense, you would darned sure call a pass-oriented defense for that play. By the same token, if I tell you there is an 80.5% probability that you will be wanting to run time off the clock later in the game, you darned sure should be running it off now. The only exception is certain end-of-first-half situations when you decide you want to try to score before half-time and the time and distance remaining in the half require a hurry-up.

1/2/00 Raiders-Chiefs—Kicking a field goal on third down

In several games in recent years, teams have kicked a winning field goal on a down other than fourth when there was time to run another play or two before attempting the field goal. The announcers usually explain that this is to give the offensive team a second chance if they foul up the snap or hold. Is that smart clock management?

My book, Football Clock Management, emphasizes the principle of not going for more when you already have enough. Running a regular play might get you closer or even a touchdown. But by definition, in these situations three points is enough to win, so there is no point in scoring six or seven. Furthermore, the probability of scoring a touchdown is always relatively low, even if you are inside the ten-yard line, so you cannot wait until fourth down to try to score. With a field goal on the other hand, the probability of success is high inside the 50-yard range, so a team can run the clock down to three seconds then kick the field goal on fourth down.

In the Raiders game, the only reason to run a non-kick play on third down would be to get closer to the goal posts. Getting closer does increase the probability of success, but the closer you get, the less it affects the already high probability. Nedney's kick only traveled 33 yards. In 1998, the NFL average success rate between 30 and 39 yards was .850.; between 20 and 29 yards, .962. If you interpolate, moving from 33 yards to, say, 30, with a running play would only increase the success probability by about .905 - .877 = .028. Why risk it for such little benefit? Every play risks a fumble turnover, especially in this situation where the defense will emphasize stripping the ball.

So Oakland did the right thing, but not for the reason stated by the announcers. The probability of a bad or fumbled long snap is quite low. The purpose of going on a down earlier than fourth, when you have time for more downs, is simply to avoid the turnover risk of a scrimmage play that tries to advance the ball.

It should be noted that during regulation, you would run the clock down to :03 before attempting the field goal, if you could. But this kick took place during sudden-death overtime, so the time "left on the clock" after the score was meaningless.

1/2/00 Running up the score

One of the most bizarre clock-management scenarios in history occurred on 1/2/00. The Packers and Panthers and Dallas were fighting it out for a playoff berth. If Dallas won, they got it. But if Dallas lost, whether the Panthers or Packers got it would depend on which scored the most points.

Apparently monitoring the other games second by second, the Panthers and Packers both ran up the score against opponents. Fans in the stadium probably were wondering what possessed the Panthers and Packers coaches. The Packers beat the Cardinals 49-24 and the Panthers beat the Saints 45-13, yet they were running hurry-ups near the end of the game when they were way ahead! When the Cowboys subsequently beat the Giants, the scores of the Panthers and Packers games no longer mattered.

Did the Panthers and Packers coaches do the right thing clockwise? Yeah, I suppose. In fact, they should have been considering running up the score all season.

But they ought to change that rule. There should never be a rule that encourages running up the score. I prefer tie breakers like adding the losses of the opponents you did not have in common with the other teams in the tie to your own win-loss record. The object of the game is to score more points than your opponent on the field. Running up the score should never be the goal. What happened in the Panthers-Packers situation was a travesty.

Clock screw-ups in Bills' loss to Titans 1/8/00

All season long I have been harping in Football Clock Management News about letting the clock run down to :03 before you kick an end-of-half field goal. On 1/8/00, in the Wild-Card playoff game, Bills coach Wade Phillips broke that rule.
With :20 left in the game, the Bills were down 13-15 to the Titans. The Bills had just completed a pass for a first down and went out of bounds to stop the clock. Also, the Titans called their first time out after the play. With first and ten at the Titans 23, the Bills kicked a go-ahead field goal. Although the Bills had no time outs left, they still should have run one or two dive plays, then a spike-the-ball play at :03. At the very least, that would have forced the Titans to use their two remaining time outs. The Titans should not have called time out after the play that gained the first down because the clock was already stopped by the play.
If the Titans called time out after each of the two dive plays, the clock would have been down to about :13. That assumes that the Titans were very quick to use the time outs and the officials and clock operator were very quick to respond to the Titans' requests. The third-down, spike-the-ball play would have taken it down to about :10. The fourth-down field goal would have taken the time remaining down to about :06 for the ensuing kickoff. Although it is also possible that those six seconds would have been consumed between the ends of the plays and the granting of the time outs.
That kickoff-return play was a hand-off followed by a backward pass for the game-winning touchdown. The touchdown was actually scored at :03 so the Titans had to kickoff to the Bills, but the Bills were unable to score before time ran out.
The Titans actually made a clock-management mistake on the touchdown kick return. The ball carrier was all alone and protected by three or four blockers as he approached the goal line. He should have stopped at the one-yard line and waited until a bad guy got almost near enough to touch him, then stepped across the goal line. That probably would have wiped out those last three seconds and thereby eliminated the need to defend the Bills' kick return. Half the players in the NFL already slow as they approach the goal line to taunt the other team. They can easily learn to do it to kill clock.
The Bills lateraled multiple times in the final play of the game, as they should, but not enough and not successfully. I call that the keep-hope-alive play and it must be practiced so it goes better than it did with the Bills. There is a whole chapter on the final-play-of-the-game lateral in my book, Football Clock Management.
On that kickoff return, which everyone knew would be the final play of the game, the ball carrier must never allow himself to be tackled. Rather he must lateral to a teammate or to the ground. The Bills sort of did that, but the last Bills ball carrier held on too long.
Another question, however, is did the Bills kill as much clock as they should have earlier in the second half or was it unavoidable that they had to kick off to the Titans after their go-ahead field goal? The Bills should have been killing clock when they were ahead. They took the lead 13-12 at 11:08. They got the ball back at 7:29 still ahead. They went three and out giving the ball back at 6:15. Could they have made that possession last another :06, thereby preventing the kickoff to the Titans and losing the game?
The first- and second-down plays were runs that should have taken about :45 each for a total of 2 x :45 = 90
seconds. The third-and-eight play was an incomplete pass, stopping the clock. When you are in a slowdown, you should prefer the run to the pass, if both plays are equally effective at gaining the first down. Few teams have a running play that is as effective as a pass for gaining eight yards. But even an incomplete pass should take about six seconds. The fourth-down punt play would have taken about seven seconds for a total of 103 seconds or 1:43.
In fact, the Bills only took 7:29 - 6:15 = 1:14 off the clock. That means they left at least :29 on the clock
unnecessarily, probably by calling for the snap too soon. The Titans used :06 of that :29 to beat the Bills.
Football is a game of seconds. Every second you leave on the clock unnecessarily may be the one that your
opponent uses to beat you.

After the game, the Bills fired their special teams coach, Bruce DeHaven. That's not right. I do not know anything about DeHaven, but a couple of NFL coaches told me they thought he was the best special teams coach in the League. I agree that he screwed up on the lateral touchdown play, but you don't fire the best special teams coach in the NFL for one mistake. Plus, defending kick returns is difficult. But any head coach could have easily eliminated that kick return by running :16 more seconds off the clock in the second half. The firing sounds like an attempt to use a scapegoat to deflect attention away from the much more important and much less excusable clock-management screw-ups. DeHaven was hired by the 49ers.

Peyton Manning fake spike 1/16/00

In a game against the Titans, Peyton Manning faked a spike, including pumping his arm downward after receiving the snap. When Dan Marino did his famous fake-spike play in 1994, he only indicated before the snap that it would be a spike. Mannings extra fake is apparently legal, but it faked out not only the opposing team, but also the officials, they inadvertently blew the play dead. I assume that in the future, they will be slower to blow the whistle on such plays.

Manning is known for the quality of his fakes, but one of the occupational hazards of good faking is having some of your plays blown dead prematurely. The best offense for fakes is the single wing with the spinning fullback. One of the banes of coaches who run that offense is great plays that are blown dead when the faking ball carrier is tackled. (Another is fooling your team cameraman.)

Two-point stance

Truman State offensive coordinator Keeth Matheny gave me an idea for the slowdown. Put your offense in a two-point stance and line up ready to go. Be able to start a play from the two-point stance. Many, if not most, opponents, will then get into their three- or four-point stances. Then you wait as the play clock runs out. They will get tired. Your players will not.

Division II national championship 2000

I have heard that the game between Carson-Newman and NW Missouri State involved an interesting clock finish. Have not yet researched it.

Premature celebrations

In the Miami-Jacksonville blowout in Week 19 of the 1999 NFL season, premature celebration was taken to ridiculous lengths. Here is how the NFL described it at their Web site.

"Two plays later, [Tony] Brackens provided another memory. Sweeping in from the right, he stripped Marino and recovered the fumble. He got up and started strutting, mobbed by teammates who thought the play was over. Noticing Brackens hadn't been touched down, linebacker Bryce Paup shoved his teammate toward the end zone. By the time Brackens figured out what was happening, he had crossed the goal line."

This is an official recap of an NFL game?! It sounds like the rejected script of a Marx Brothers movie. The people in the stadium paid sixty bucks a ticket to see "professionals" and got this? Brackens and the other players on the field for that play get paid hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to give this kind of effort?

How about we start putting disincentive clauses in player contracts? Every time you stop playing before the whistle, you get fined $5,000. Every personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct or celebration penalty that is confirmed by post-game film review results in a $10,000 fine. If players want to engage in publicity stunts to increase their endorsement income or recognition, and the NFL wants to let them, as it apparently does, at least put in rules that result in that behavior only occurring on the sidelines, not on the field and certainly not during live play.

Sports broadcasters long ago learned not to give free publicity to yahoo spectators who run onto the field. But they routinely show players who are acting in even more juvenile ways on the field. Cut to a replay or a stat chart or back to Howie and Terry or to a commercial—anything but a professional football player acting like an amateur WWF freak. What you tolerate—or broadcast—you encourage.

Do NFL coaches have no authority any more? They used to prohibit players from giving the opponent any "bulletin board material" in the press. Now, their players give the opponent real-time "bulletin board material" after every sack, interception, big play, or touchdown.

Oh, by the way, before you conclude Bryce Paup and the officials were the only guys on the field who knew what they were doing, review NFL Rule 12-1-1. It says, "No offensive player may: (a) assist the runner except by individually blocking opponents for him."

I discussed a number of premature celebrations in Football Clock Management. In the second edition, I will devote a whole chapter to them---from the Oklahoma Sooner Wagon circling the goal post to the Stanford Band to the Shawnee Mission congratulatory handshake to Leon Lett to Tony Brackens and more. In many cases, although not in the Miami-Jacksonville game, they result in the celebrating team losing the game. For example, in a 1993 Thomas More-Defiance (Division III) game, Defiance was up 18-16 when a Defiance player blocked a 23-yard field-goal attempt on the last play of the game. Unfortunately for Defiance, while the guy who blocked the kick was posing and flexing for his sideline, and before the play was blown dead, the Thomas More holder picked up the ball and ran it in for the game-winning touchdown. Celebrate that!

Boomer had it right

People watching Super Bowl XXXIV on TV heard analyst Boomer Esiason make a critical comment about Tennessee's clock management in the final seconds of the Super Bowl. Play-by-play announcer Al Michaels disagreed and Boomer subsequently acknowledged that Al was correct.
No. Boomer got it right the first time.
Tennessee had the ball inside Ram territory trailing 23-16. They had one time out left. With :44 remaining in the game, the Titans got a first down with a middle-of-the-field pass. In the NFL, unlike high school and college, the clock does not stop to move the chains in the last five minutes of the game.
Instead of using their last time out, the Titans chose to stop the clock by spiking the ball. That stopped the clock at :31 and allowed :13 to run off the clock unnecessarily.
Boomer Esiason said he would have used the last time out instead. Al Michaels expressed surprise and said he would keep the time out in his back pocket just "for insurance." Michaels noted that by saving the time out, the Titans could still run one play in the middle of the field.
On page 38 of Football Clock Management, I explicitly denounced the "insurance" theory of time outs. Had the Titans used the time out instead of the spike, they would have saved a certain :13. But whether they would ever need the time out in the ensuing drive is uncertain.
In the classic 1997 Rose Bowl, Ohio State foolishly saved a time out for offense, letting Arizona State run :40 off the clock! But it turned out that OSU never needed the time out during Joe German's legendary last-minute drive to victory. OSU ended up using the time out for the PAT---an untimed down---and it was blocked! Not a very good trade for :40, especially considering they scored the winning TD at just :19.
Back to the 2000 Super Bowl. With 2nd & 10, the Titans threw an incomplete pass. An offside penalty on the play made it 2nd & 5 with :26 left and the clock stopped until the snap.
McNair's next pass hit a not-looking Eddie George in the back of the arm stopping the clock at :22. 3rd & 5.
On the next play, after a long scramble, McNair threw complete to the Rams 11, another middle-of-the-field, first-down play. With the clock still running at the end of the play at :06, the Titans used their final time out. Michaels said they had saved the time out "exactly for a situation like this." "Way to go, Al," was Boomer's response.
Not so fast.
Had the Titans used the time out instead of spiking the ball earlier, the time remaining when the middle-of-the-field pass play ended would have been :19, not :06. Although it could be scary, the Titans
should be able to spike the ball within :19.

Probably would not have run a play over the middle if no time out

Also, the Titans would likely not have run a play over the middle if they had not had a time out remaining. Rather they would have run a side-line play. Being able to go over the middle increase your chances of success, but it also makes you a little lazy about the clock. Michaels treated the over-the-middle play as a sort of act of God and aren't we darned glad we took out "insurance" in case that happened. But over-the-middle plays do not just happen. They are called by the coach. And one does not call them unless one has a time out or it is the last play of the game. Had the Titans called time out at :44, they probably never would have run an over-the-middle play at :22 and Michaels would have been saying to Esiason, "Way to go, Boomer. I guess you were right. They never needed that time out after all."

Spike-the-ball play

The spike-the-ball play needs to be practiced and the team must know that you only need seven men on the line and everyone else motionless. Linemen who are far from the line can simply step off the field. There is no requirement that the offense have eleven on the field.
The spike-the-ball play is the subject of a whole chapter in John T. Reed's book Football Clock Management (as is use of time outs). The 1997 edition of Football Clock Management News tells how Dallas lost a 10/5/97 game when Tackle Erik Williams did not make it to the line of scrimmage after a long gain in time for Troy Aikman's spike at :01. In fact, Williams was not needed at the line of scrimmage. He could have left the field or just frozen in place many yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Using the time out when Boomer said to would also have preserved a down. At the time, the Titans would have had :44 left. You can run as many as eight hurry-up plays that stop the clock in :44. So using a spike instead of a time out cost the Titans :13 (three clock-stopping plays) and a down.
Michaels' saying that the Titans saved the time out exactly for the final play situation may be true, but it fails to acknowledge that the Titans did not know for sure that such a situation would ever occur. Based on what they knew at the time, they should have used their time out rather than spike the ball.
The pertinent clock-management principle is that the Titans should have been in a hurry-up. The reason is they needed to operate on the working assumption that they will score the go-ahead touchdown. A pace graph in Football Clock Management tells the proper pace for the last possession of the game for a team trailing by 8 or less. The pace graph prevents you from scoring too fast or too slow. In this case, the pace graph called for a maximum hurry-up pace.
One of the rules of the hurry-up pace is that you call a time out immediately after the previous play, as Boomer said.
Had the Titans done it Boomer's (and Reed's) way, they would have spiked the ball at the Rams 11-yard line with about :08 left in the game. They then could have run an out-of-bounds, incomplete, or end-zone pass play followed, if necessary, by a run or pass play for their last play of the game. As it was, they had :06 when they ran their final play from the 11-yard line. The difference between :08 and :06 is one more play if you are able to stop the clock after the first play. Presumably, the Titans would not have run a play in the middle of the field if they had :08 rather than :06. Having the opportunity to run two plays instead of one from the eleven would have increased the Titans' win probability, although they probably still would have lost the game because teams who have only two plays left at the eleven generally do not score a touchdown.
The Titans got into the Super Bowl because the Bills screwed up clock management on their first-down field goal at :16, thereby unnecessarily leaving time for the Titans to execute their lateral touchdown play (see above story). If the Titans had managed the clock correctly in the Super Bowl, that is, used their last time out properly, they probably would have had time for at least one more play and maybe two.
Had the Titans scored, they would have needed to decide whether to go for one or two. Or, in other words, to go for the win or the tie. Mathematically, one should probably go for the tie because NFL teams tend to succeed less than 50% of the time at two-point conversions and the win probability of each team is, by definition, 50% in OT. But in Football Clock Management, I discussed the emotional asymmetry of going for the tie. It creates a situation where the defense is going for the win (if they block the PAT kick), but the offense is only going for a tie. I would go for two, which I believe gives the Titans an emotional advantage, especially coming on the heels of their dramatic last-minute drive. There is also the Ara Parseghian effect. His 1966 decision to go for the tie against Michigan State is still criticized.
I would rather be two yards from victory and attacking than calling a coin toss to start an overtime period. Football is not all mathematics.

Here is a little email debate I got into with a college statistics professor on the subject of whether the Titans should go for two had they scored a TD in regulation:

Professor: John, the NFL average success rate for 2-pt conversions is nowhere near 50%. It is possible that the Titans are better (but they miss their first try). I don't know what momentum you are referring to. Is it the carryover from having scored the TD. If so it didn't help them after the first score. It also didn't help Nebraska against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Also why wouldn't the momentum of scoring a last second TD carry over into overtime?

The real questionable action was going for two at the end of the 3rd quarter. Had they kicked a 1-pt conversion your discussion would be moot.

In Las Vegas and Atlantic City they love people who play hunches and make decisions based on emotion.

Reed: I have not yet focused on the decision to go for two earlier in the second half. The discussion below relates to whether the Titans should have gone for two had they scored a TD on the final play of regulation.

The two-point conversion rate of the NFL was .431 for the 1997 season, which is why the math says to go for the tie. The Titans 2-point conversion rate that year was .500, but the sample sizes for both the Titans (4 attempts) and the NFL (109) are small. The NFL success rate for scoring from the three-yard line or closer was .462 in 1997 (645 attempts), which is arguably within an emotional momentum's throw of .500, especially when you consider that the ball is on the two-yard line for the extra point, not between the two and three. (Source of stats: 1998 Pro Football Revealed by Stats, Inc.)
Yes, you have momentum from the drive leading to the TD---length of the field in less than two minutes with only one time out in the Super Bowl. The reason the momentum does not carry over into OT is the long delay between the last play of the regulation and the first play of OT and possibly a change of possession in the transition to OT. To the extent that there was momentum, the Titans' offense had it, not their kickoff team or defense, units that have a 50% probability of starting the OT period on the field.
In regulation, you have the ball. In OT, you may lose the toss. I will not say that a possession in hand is worth two in the bush, but it is true that the Titans can elevate their probability of scoring from the two-yard line by sheer will power, whereas their will power and every other football virtue mean absolutely nothing to an OT coin. To a statistician, a single play with a 50% probability of success and an OT period with a 50% probability of success with the coin as well as OT offense, defense, and special teams may seem equivalent. But to a football team, the former is preferable because a single play's worth of effort, concentration, etc. can improve their chances above the statistical average.
The Titans have an unusual QB who is akin to a legitimate NFL running back. That makes him a run-pass option threat. The run-pass option is hard to stop in general and very hard to stop within two-yards.
When he was a kid, every player on the Titans and Rams imagined himself in the Super Bowl for the final play with the game on the line. In those dreams, the player won the game for his team. If you go for one, the Rams have a chance to achieve that dream on this play by blocking the kick. If you go for two, both teams do. One should not lightly abandon the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness the psychic energy of such lifelong dreams, or cede that power to one's opponent.

I am also a football coach, or was for eleven seasons. Dice, cards, and roulette wheels do not respond to emotion. Football players do. I have been in games as both a player and a coach where our victory clearly stemmed from our emotional advantage for the whole game or just for a moment in the game. Football coaches have all sorts of inside information that gamblers are not permitted to have. Plus coaches get to make their "bets" a lot later than gamblers, like five seconds before the play in question is run.
Football coaches also have a longer term to think about. Jeff Fisher is still the Titans coach. His 2000 squad will include most players from the 1999 team. If you go for two and come up short, you generally go away with the feeling that you gave it your best effort. If you go for the tie and it gets blocked, you lose just the same as failing in a two-point conversion attempt, but you feel much worse and that feeling becomes a handicap in the 2000 season. And if you kick the PAT and go into OT, and never get within to a field position with a better win probability than the two-yard line you had in regulation, you feel a profound remorse for which probability and statistics are cold comfort.
In general, I think the math in this case comes out pretty close to 50-50. It is only in such close calls that I will decide in favor of emotion.
This is the first time I have ever been on this side of an argument like this. In all previous such arguments, I was arguing in favor of the statistically-correct course of action against more emotional football coaches. I think you'll see that when you read my book.
Jack Reed

Clock management earlier in the second half

In Super Bowl XXXIV, there are also questions as to whether the two teams managed the clock correctly earlier in the game. In general, the leading team should be in a slowdown and the trailing team should be in a hurry-up. There are some exceptions to that rule, but it would generally have applied to this Super Bowl except for about the last five minutes of each half.
When the Rams were ahead in the third and fourth quarters, they should have been in a slowdown. Surely, if they had, they would have eliminated most of the scary (to the Rams) final drive of the Titans. But if they had wasted more time, they would also have eliminated their own retake-the-lead touchdown. If they had wasted even more time, they might have eliminated the Titans' game-tying score.

Football is a game of seconds. Every second you leave on the clock unnecessarily may be the one your opponent uses to beat you.

I am not especially interested in which of those three outcomes proper clock management would have produced. Slowing down when you are ahead is the right thing to do, not because it always leads to victory, only because it usually does (over 90% of the time when you are up by more than two touchdowns at half time). The fact that it sometimes does not lead to victory does not change the recommendation any more than a kicker missing a 22-yard field goal proves the coach should have gone for the first down instead. Stuff happens.

"Dr. Z" likes Rams' not running out the clock
Sports Illustrated's
Paul Zimmerman ("Dr. Z") commended the Rams offensive coordinator for his clock management, or I should say lack of clock management, on their final possession saying, "When conventional wisdom screamed that he should run down the clock, Mike Martz stuck to his guns and went for broke." Actually, that is the subhead on Zimmerman's 2/7/00 article. Often, the subheads are written by a different person than the article author and say things that the article author hates. I cannot tell if that's case here. Both the subhead and the brief article are laden with slogans and platitudes.

Some comments on Zimmerman's analysis: I do not think conventional wisdom screamed for running down the clock. My book doesn't even scream for running down the clock in the situation the Rams found themselves with 2:12 left. After a post-field goal kickoff, they had the ball 1st & 10 at their own 27 with the scored tied. The Rams threw a 73-yard bomb for the winning TD on their first play of the possession.

Since it was likely their last possession, the Rams clock-management assistant coach should have consulted my pace graph (page 83 of Football Clock Management). It says that with 2:12 left and about sixty yards to go (for a high-probability field goal), you should operate at a top-speed-hurry-up pace. So I do not know where "Dr. Z" gets the idea that the Rams should have been running out the clock. They had too far to go and too little time in which to do it.

The phrases "stuck to his guns" and "went for broke" are unbecoming a serious analysis. Reduced to more neutral language, what Z or his headline writer is saying is that Martz is a pass-oriented guy, even to the point of passing when most coaches would be running. Neither pass- or run-orientation is correct. You have to look at the situation, including personnel. Also, long passes have a high failure rate and a relatively high interception rate. One must not let 20/20 hindsight that what Martz did worked cloud analysis of the validity of his decision at the time he made it. I would like to believe that the spotters in the booth saw a specific reason to think that a long pass would have an increased and acceptably high probability of working because of the way the defense was lined up or some such. I do not like the picture of NFL coaches making end-of-Super-Bowl decisions on the basis of emotional cliches like "sticking to one's guns" or "going for broke." If the spotters did not see a specific opportunity, I think most knowledgeable analysts would characterize Martz's play call as overly risky. With 2:12 left, he can run as many as 22 clock-stopping plays. If he did that, he would only need to average about 60 yards ÷ 22 = 2.73 yards per play. When you are in a situation where you can win by averaging just three yards a play, why risk throwing a 73-yard bomb?

To put it another way, I believe that if you analyzed dozens of games where a similar play call was made, you would find that it failed or backfired more than it succeeded.

When I was a freshman offensive coordinator of a high school team, we got a huge gain from a pass-interference call against our arch rival in a close game. Normally, I ran on first down and we were running well in the game. But I had read somewhere that after giving up a big penalty, the opponent sometimes suffers a psychological letdown, so it's a good time to "go for broke." I called "32 pop pass"---a dive fake and fade pass. It was intercepted. We lost the game 8-6. Essentially, I made a similar decision to what Martz did. When it works, you're a genius. When it doesn't, it's, "Why did you risk the interception?" I should have stuck with what was working and not "gone for broke." Martz's first-down call with 2:12 in Super Bowl XXXIV could easily have gone the same way for the Rams---that is, an interception.

In the event, the pass was underthrown because of pressure. The Rams are extremely fortunate that the defensive back did not know the ball was underthrown because he was in a better position to catch it than the Rams' receiver.

Also, Titans probably failed to conserve time before they tied the game

It would also be interesting to see if the Titans were conserving time when they were behind in the third and fourth quarters. After all, they ran out of time, not downs, at the end of the game. (The final play was a first-and-eleven play and possibly gained another first down at the one. Because the game ended on the play, there was no spot or measurement.) How the Titans used their final time out was a factor, but probably more important was how soon after the ready-to-play whistle they snapped the ball on every offensive play in the second half. If they ever dawdled, just once, that, too, may have cost them the game. They should have been complying with all the hurry-up rules when they were behind, including calling any time outs right after the previous play, throwing the ball away rather than take a sack, and so forth. In a game that ends on first or second down on the one-yard line, even a single lapse in proper clock management can cost you the game.

I have not yet done that whole-second-half analysis. It will take some time. Plus I have not been able to find the usual play-by-play at the NFL Web site. But I will very surprised if the Titans conserved as much time as they should have in the second half before they tied the game. If they ever dawdled when calling for a snap or a time out or took an unnecessary sack earlier in the second half, the photo of Dyson futilely stretching for the goal line with :02 remaining takes on a whole new meaning.

Football is a game of seconds. Every second you waste may be the one you need to win the game.

John Wooden's high school championship game

This anecdote involved a basketball game, but it well illustrates the principle of more versus enough. I was reading Wooden's autobiography They Call Me Coach to learn how to be a better coach in general. (I never coached basketball.) With seconds to go in the state championship basketball game, in Indiana, Wooden's team was up 12-11 (basketball?). The opponent committed a technical foul ("called" a fourth time out by a player getting hurt).

Wooden, who was team captain, wisely declined to take the foul shot. His team had been in possession at the time of the technical foul, so they would just get the ball back and run out the remaining seconds. But Wooden's coach went nuts yelling, "We'll shoot it! We'll shoot it!" Wooden argued, but lost. He shot and missed. By the rules in force then, that made it a jump ball at center court. The center grabbed the ball for himself, also allowed at the time, and fired an underhand shot the length of the court. It was good, giving them the lead by one. Wooden called time out. Wooden's team managed to get a shot which circled the rim. He had a teammate under the basket, but he was jumping up and down in jubilation and made no effort to tip it in. When it came out instead of going in, the player batted it up but missed the basket. Wooden's team lost the state championship.

This story illustrates the stupidity of going for more points when you already have enough, whether the sport is football or basketball. It also shows the clock-management danger of premature celebration. Actually, I thought premature celebration was a recent phenomenon. Wooden 's high school championship game was in 1928!

Please click here to send me your questions about football clock management issues not covered by my book.

Please click here to send me any football game stories you know of which illustrate clock-management principles.