Something extremely unusual happened during the overtime coin toss of last night’s Packers-Cardinals game. After Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers called tails, referee Clete Blakeman tossed the coin and it landed on heads. But Blakeman noticed something strange: the coin didn’t rotate at all, it just went up then down.
Blakeman immediately decided to re-toss the coin. The second time it rotated properly, and landed on heads once again. The Cardinals chose to receive, and drove down the field to win the game.
This wasn’t the first time a referee has chosen to re-toss a coin. Before a very snowy Lions-Eagles game in 2013, Ed Hochuli warned both teams that if the coin landed in the snow askew, he would re-toss it. That’s exactly what ended up happening.
There is nothing in the NFL rulebook that mandates the coin most rotate at least 180 or 360 degrees to be considered valid. The NFL acknowledged as much in a statement released on the issue, but asserted that the referee is also allowed to make a judgement call:
“There is nothing in the rule book that specifies this. But the referee used his judgment to determine that basic fairness dictated that the coin should flip for the toss to be valid. That is why he re-tossed the coin.”
Adding to the evidence that Blakeman handled the situation in an appropriate manner, the extremely knowledgeable folks at Football Zebras noted that the officials manual (which as far as I can tell isn’t publicly available) allows referees to void the result of a coin toss in the case of an “anomaly,” which a non-flipping coin certainly qualifies as.
If anybody has a right to be angry about how the coin toss was conducted, it’s the Cardinals. They won the first toss that Blakeman could have allowed to stand, but instead had to win it a second time to have the opportunity to receive the ball. After the loss, however, it was Aaron Rodgers who complained the loudest.
Apparently, Rodgers does not believe that the result of coin tosses are random, and instead has a “strategy.” Via ESPN:
“Clete had it on heads,” Rodgers said. “He was showing heads, so I called tails, and it didn’t flip. It just tossed up in the air and did not turn over at all. It landed in the ground. So we obviously thought that was not right.
“He picked the coin up and flipped it to tails, and then he flipped it without giving me a chance to make a recall there. It was confusing.” Rodgers indicated he would have called “heads” on the second toss if given the chance.
Rodgers’s strategy, of course, doesn’t have any basis in statistics. In fact, there is some evidence that a coin toss caught by hand is slightly (51-49 percent instead of 50-50) more likely to show the same side that started face-up—the opposite of Rodgers’s strategy—though that’s thrown out the window when the coin is allowed to hit the ground, like in an NFL coin toss.
So why didn’t the coin rotate at all? Presumably Blakeman used the same successful flipping technique he’s used throughout his six-year NFL referee career. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews speculated that “there was a little protective case that might have been weighted in the heads favor.” Here’s a closer look at that coin:
Ultimately, the simplest explanation is also the likeliest. There were almost 300 coin tosses in the NFL this year that resolved normally, and this was the 0.3% of them where something abnormal happened. But Clete Blakeman handled the situation fairly and within NFL rules, and the Packers just couldn’t stop Larry Fitzgerald.
Photo via Getty