I will always remember the championship game from my final year in Little League.
As a 12-year-old, my Braves team was going up against the arch-rival Giants in a winner-take-all showdown for Major Division supremacy.
Although we took an early 2-0 lead, the Giants came roaring back to tie the score at 2 in the final inning.
Luckily we were able to get the final out, and our side figured we would have a good chance to win the game in extra innings.
However, we never got the chance.
After the coaches, umpires and the league president met in a meeting at home plate, it was determined the game would be called a tie and both the Braves and Giants would share the championship.
My teammates, I and the other team’s players stood in disbelief. “There was no way they could let it end in a tie,” we thought. “That’s un-American.”
We all walked off the field dejected, unfulfilled and feeling cheated. Even as youngsters, we realized that nothing good comes out of a tie, and ties have no place in sport.
Some of those same feelings I experienced as a 12-year-old came rushing back this week with the opening rounds of the 2010 World Cup. Too many ties and two few goals left me feeling unfulfilled once again.
I believe that one of the reasons why international soccer will never be anything more than a fringe sport in the United States is because of ties.
As Americans, we love winners. We are used to our sports having a distinct winner and a distinct loser, and when things get muddied up with a tie, we tend to lose interest.
We need a clear-cut winner. Whether it is a presidential election, a Pillsbury Bake-Off or the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, we want someone — or something — to win.
And don’t give me the retort that I just don’t understand soccer and don’t realize the significance of a draw. I have been covering soccer for years and understand the game better than most. Ties just diminish the sport.
If it wanted, international soccer can do something about the draw problem, just like the NHL did.
The NHL and many fans had had it with the ties that were plaguing the sport. After the lockout of 2004, the organization instituted new rules. One of those rules abolished ties. After a tie in regulation, the rule called for five minutes of four-on-four overtime to break a tie. If the score remained tied, a shootout would determine the winner.
The rule brought the sport into the 21st century and provided more excitement for the fans.
Although ties in the NFL are rare, they do happen.
On Nov. 16, 2008, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb expected to keep playing until someone scored, no matter how long it took, after his team finished regulation tied, 13-13, with the Cincinnati Bengals.
But when neither team could score in overtime, the result went down as a tie — to the dismay of McNabb.
“I didn’t know that,” said McNabb, who played a leading role in keeping it tied. “I’ve never been part of a tie. I never even knew it was in the rule book. I was looking forward to getting the opportunity to get out there and try to drive to win the game. But unfortunately with the rules, we settled with a tie.”
The NFL could learn something from college football, which has gone to overtime to break ties.
Even Major League baseball, in a sport that usually doesn’t allow ties, has had a few over the years.
At Fenway Park in Boston in 1961, the first All-Star Game tie in history occurred when the game was stopped after the ninth inning due to rain. The only other rain-shortened game had been in 1952, but it had a winner.
The 2002 All-Star Game, held in Milwaukee, ended in controversy in the 11th inning, when both teams ran out of substitute players available to pitch in relief. At that point, Commissioner Bud Selig (a Milwaukee native and former owner of the Brewers) declared the game to end in a tie. The crowd booed and the media were highly critical of this unsatisfying conclusion.
Those baseball fans were upset because they didn’t want the game, even in an exhibition, to end in a tie.
Some times, ties can lead to epic frustration for both teams.
The longest cricket match in history was between South Africa and England in Durban, South Africa. The contest began on March 3, 1939 and continued until March 14. Unfortunately for England, it had to catch a boat home on the 15th, so after play on the 14th the match was called a draw and both teams went home.
Talk about unfulfilling.
Leave ties for the YMCA youth leagues, horse races and bowling. However, when it comes to big-time sports, ties should be broken — at any cost.
In 1981, the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings played a 33-inning minor-league baseball game. And yes, there was a winner, as the Red Sox scored the winning run in the bottom of the 33rd.
That is the way to do it: play until there’s a winner.
Until soccer figures a way to fix its tie problem, I’ll instead watch sports where I know there will be an ultimate winner.