I can’t remember why, but at the beginning of the playoffs, I was about to draft Atlanta for our newsroom’s Super Bowl pool but stopped myself and picked San Francisco instead.
Once the 49ers came back to beat Atlanta and Baltimore upset New England, I thought to myself, “Man, you really nailed it with whatever that thing was you were thinking.”
Surely, San Francisco would cruise to victory! I began making plans for approaching windfall.
You see, the Super Bowl means more to me than just football or commercials or getting drunk on a Sunday. It’s also about camaraderie. It’s about celebrating an American institution. Mainly, though, it’s about gambling.
In my case, however, "gambling" didn't seem like the appropriate term this year. When you’ve got a sure thing, it’s more like investing (by the way: if Mitt Romney had responded to criticism over his $10,000 bet with that line, he probably would have won the election).
Of course, Colin Kaepernick knew the importance of that final set of downs inside Baltimore’s five yard line. Maybe he simply buckled under the pressure, knowing how closely gamblers around the world were watching that series. I assume the gambling community was at the top of his mind at the time.
It’s not Kaepernick’s fault, though. Baltimore should never have been in position to win the championship. The Ravens, for crying out loud, were only 10-6. They even lost to the Bengals! The Bengals!
After Sunday night's tragic end to the season, I propose the following rule change:
If you can't beat Cincinnati in the regular season, you should be disqualified from participating in the Super Bowl.
This requirement would be named the Ickey Woods Rule.
Before everyone in Ohio sends me an angry email, let me point out that I grew up in Dayton. I have nothing but respect for the state of Ohio and beloved TCU alumnus Andy Dalton. But listen, let's be honest with ourselves: the NFL loses integrity by letting just anyone advance to its championship, even a team that only managed to split its season-series with Cincinnati.
Consider the way our nation's other most notable institutions protect their credibility:
- Non-Catholics are not allowed to participate in the Eucharist
- Most states do not allow convicted felons to participate in elections
- The Constitution does not allow the judicial branch of government to participate in the enforcement of its legal interpretations
And nor should teams that lose to Cincinnati be permitted to participate in the Super Bowl.
After several hours of painstaking research on company time, I discovered that prior to Sunday night's game, Super Bowl winners were a stunning 25-4 against Cincinnati during the regular season. Only the 2005 Steelers, 2001 Patriots, 1979 Steelers and 1969 Chiefs had lost to Cincinnati before going on to win the championship.
I'm not advocating that this rule change be retroactive, although I would, as the commissioner of the NFL, entertain the notion of forcing the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers to vacate their championship on the grounds they lost to Cincinnatiand needed overtime to beat the Cleveland Browns. I think we can all agree those combined actions are especially heinous.
In fact, Super Bowl champions fare even better against Cleveland than they do against Cincinnati, with a pristine 26-1 record against the Browns (Ironically, the only blemish comes from the San Francisco 49ers back in 1981).
A rule against losing to Cleveland is unnecessary. The Browns seem more like loveable losers. It's adorable when they achieve something, no matter how modest ("Five wins this year! Headed in the right direction!" one of my facebook friends confidently declared last month).
The Bengals are an organization that is just competent enough to cause problems, similar to the Miami Marlins.
Instead of a punitive punishment, the time has come to adopt the Ickey Woods Rule. At the very least, the NFL should make fans aware of the remarkably long odds of a team losing to Cincinnati or Cleveland in the regular season and then winning the Super Bowl so they can adjust their betting strategies accordingly.
It wouldn’t have helped this year, but it’s the right thing to do.