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Original Issue

It's Time to Tie One On

It was Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty who some believe first said, "A tie is like kissing your sister," to which George Brett added the corollary, "And losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out."

But some people like kissing their sister. (Think of Angelina Jolie's brother at the 2000 Oscars.) And some of us are fond of tie games, a useful and honorable institution that has suddenly vanished from North American sports, as reader William DiMarco of Westbury, N.Y., points out. In its last full season, the NHL had more ties than the Duke of Windsor: 170 of them, or 14% of all games. But this season, the NHL will have more dreadlocks (see Anson Carter of the Vancouver Canucks) than deadlocks (zero, thanks to shootouts).

The Chicago Bears tied six games in 1932, but the NFL has had only one tie in the last eight seasons. It came in 2002, when the Steelers tied the Falcons 34-34. "It's a win for them and a loss for us," Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter said after Atlanta had rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit. "They're out there celebrating."

Porter knew that ties come in many stripes: Some ties are blowout wins, others are epic losses. In The Van, a novel set in a Dublin suburb during the 1990 World Cup, Roddy Doyle writes of Ireland's roller-coaster run: "We beat England one-all, we lost to Egypt nil-all, an' we drew with the Dutch."

Soccer embraces ties. In Italy's Serie A, a tie is like kissing Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren and Ornella Muti at once. Already this season Cagliari has tied five of its seven home games, and nobody there feels cheated. But in America, not having a clear winner and loser has become downright ... un-American.

So college football has done away with ties, even though many of its most famous games resulted in draws--or in desperate attempts to avoid them. Daugherty's Michigan State team tied Notre Dame 10-10 in 1966 when Irish coach Ara Parseghian ran out the clock for the final 1:10, a strategy Dan Jenkins described in this magazine as "Tie one for the Gipper."

But that tie won Notre Dame the national championship. If Tom Osborne had played for a tie in the 1984 Orange Bowl, Nebraska, too, would have been national champs. Instead, the Huskers went for two, lost to Miami 31-30, finished second in the polls and sent their coach to the United States Congress, where a tie is also tantamount to defeat. (In the case of congressional tie votes, the motion in question makes like the Huskers: It doesn't pass.)

Indeed, by playing for a 16-16 tie against Syracuse in the 1988 Sugar Bowl, Auburn might have cost the Orangemen a national title, which is why Tigers coach Pat Dye was inundated with thousands of hideous neckties from upstate New York. (It didn't help that his name lends itself to all manner of unflattering alterations, from "Stand Pat" to "Pat Tie" to "Tie-Dye.")

"We didn't tie them," Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson said of the Tigers, who kicked a field goal with four seconds left and the ball on the 13-yard line. "They tied us." Please. There's nothing worse than a sore tie-er.

When baseball's 2002 All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings, commissioner Bud Selig was chastened by a thousand identical headlines: THERE'S NO TYING IN BASEBALL.

But whatever you call it--a draw (soccer), a push (blackjack), a dead heat (track)--the tie best reflects life, which is usually neither a thrill of victory nor an agony of defeat, but something in that vast muddle in between.

Remember when Tiger Woods and Ernie Els agreed after three playoff holes, in gathering darkness, to call their match at the 2003 Presidents Cup? The halved match meant an overall tie, which was apt, and not only because Tiger is half Thai.

To avoid saying that two teams are equal, we've conceived all manner of unsatisfying gimmicks with urgent-sounding names: shootout, sudden death, golden goal. But on that night in South Africa, two individuals did not decide a team game on one hole played in the dark. Instead, the world's two best golfers shook hands and called it a draw. "I have never seen two teams that played harder and better," said U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus, "and I did not find a team that deserved to lose."

It's usually the winning coach who says of a close contest, "It's a shame someone had to lose." But if it's such a shame, why have we turned all of our contests into zero-sum games? At the Presidents Cup, Nicklaus recognized that a tied contest is not the same as a no-win situation. "I think," he said of the experience, "it will enrich the lives of all our guys forever."

How many wins do that? Sometimes, tying isn't everything. It's the only thing.

■ If you have a comemnt for Steve Rushin, send it to

When the 2002 All-Star game ended in a tie, Bud Selig was chastened by a thousand identical headlines: THERE'S NO TYING IN BASEBALL.