Thank You, Raiders, For Kicking That Field Goal

On Friday, June 25th, 1982, Group 2 play of the 1982 World Cup was winding down. In fact, there was only game left: West Germany vs. Austria, to be played in Gijon, Spain.

The other two teams in the group, Algeria and Chile, were already done were already done with group play. This is how it came to be that West Germany and Austria knew that a 1-0 or 2-0 win by the West Germans meant both West Germany and Austria would go through to the knockout stages — that is, the "playoffs" of the World Cup.

Any other result would mean Algeria would advance to the knockout stages at the expense of either Austria or West Germany depending on who won and by how much. A tie would also send Algeria through.

So here we have teams with full knowledge ahead of time that a certain result benefits both of them at the expense of another team. The first 10 minutes were played at an aggressive pace, and the West Germans scored. 1-0, West Germany.

Then, with advancement assured for both teams should that 1-0 score hold, they both stopped trying.

Oh sure, occasionally a player or two would make an attacking run, but generally, both teams were content to just lazily pass the ball around their own end.

Everyone knew what was happening, and most everyone was very angry about it. Quoting from the Wikipedia article:

This performance was widely deplored by all observers. West German ARD commentator Eberhard Stanjek at one point refused to comment on the game any longer. Austrian commentator Robert Seeger bemoaned the spectacle, and asked viewers to turn off their television sets. George Vecsey, a New York Times journalist, stated that the teams "seemed to work in concert," though added that proving such would be impossible.[4] El Comercio, the local newspaper, printed the match report in its crime section.

Likewise, many spectators were not impressed and voiced their disgust with the players. Chants of "¡Fuera, fuera!" ("Out, out!"), "¡Argelia, Argelia!" ("Algeria, Algeria!"), and "¡Que se besen, que se besen!" ("Let them kiss, let them kiss!") were shouted by the Spanish crowd, while angry Algerian supporters waved banknotes at the players.

As a result of this travesty, the final group stage matches of World Cups are played at the same time. This ensures teams are highly unlikely to know what they will need to do to advance, giving them no choice but to play hard and try to win. Other leagues and tournaments across many sports have followed suit. You can learn more about it by searching for what it's called nowadays: The Disgrace of Gijon.

Now 30 years on, we have another high-profile sporting matchup where both teams playing knew in advance of a result that would benefit both of them at the expense of a third team. That of course, was this past Sunday Night Football game between the Chargers and the Raiders, where a tie would send both teams to the playoffs, where as a win by either team would send that team to the postseason along with the Steelers, while the loser would be eliminated.

And lo and behold, the game went into overtime, and indeed came down to the dying seconds of overtime.

Now, there are differences, important ones, between this game and the disgrace of Gijon; while the game going to overtime was unfortunate for Steeler fans, there's no real case to be made that the Raiders and Chargers conspired towards that result. It was a thrilling back and forth game that ended up tied at 29, clearly both teams were giving due effort.

While the offenses stalled in overtime, again, I don't find the case that this was intentional to be plausible.

In case you missed it, with two seconds left in overtime, the Raiders were in line to try a 47-yard field goal to win it.

I'm writing this column, however, because I am shocked and disgusted at just how many pundits, reporters, fans I respect — it seemed like the majority of people who were watching this game — implored the Raiders to just take a knee and let the game end in a tie instead.

If, with two seconds left, you have the ball at your own 10, okay, take the tie. But there is no other situation where a team would settle for a tie with a win in their field-goal-range grasp. To take the tie there would have been scandalously anti-competitive and would have been a stain on the integrity of the league.

Thank goodness Rich Bisaccia, interim head coach of the Raiders, has integrity and a spine. He did attempt the field goal (it was good) while my whole twitter feed wailed and moaned.

Some of them said it was stupid because the Chargers could've blocked the kick and run it back for a score. Gimme a break. That is an astonishingly rare event to begin with, the Raiders field goal unit would be alert for the possibility, and if the Chargers blocked the kick and scooped it up, using this logic, shouldn't or wouldn't they just take a knee themselves?

Everyone reading this: stop suggesting that teams should ever, ever, ever, ever lose (or tie, when winning is decently possible) on purpose. Not to get you and your opponent into the playoffs, not to give yourself an easier opponent in the playoffs, and not for getting a higher draft pick. No tanking. No "riggin' for Wiggins."

It would be eminently reasonable to think that a head coach and other decision makers in the employ of a team owe it above all to do what's best by their team's players, fans, and stakeholders, but actually there one entity that they owe an even bigger debt to, and that's to the game itself.

I want to see us, as fans, demand integrity. If you won't listen to me, maybe you'll listen to Herm Edwards.

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