Today in Sports History: January 6th

Romo sulking after the fumble. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

1/06/1951 - Royals-Olympians goes six

In the infancy years of the NBA, the Indianapolis Olympians defeat the Rochester Royals in six overtimes, 75-73, in what remains the longest game in NBA history. Despite going an extra thirty minutes, neither team could get out of the seventies -- a common result in the pre-shot clock days, when teams would routinely freeze the ball in order to reduce the score. In this game, neither team scored at all in the second or fourth overtime periods, and only 18 total points were scored in the extra sessions.

Fans and columnists were not impressed at the way the record had been set. "Fans Irked at Freezing Tactics Used in Royal-Olympian Marathon," wrote the Rochester Democrat the next day, as quoted in Todd Gould's book, Pioneers of the Hardwood. "[For] more than 26 of the 30 overtime minutes, the ball stayed neatly tucked away under an arm of a Royal or Olympian player. One or another player just stood there with the score tied, waiting out the clock for a last-second 'nothing-to-lose' shot. ... Customers who complained were burned up at the unchallenged freeze. For the Olympians, it sure wasn't good basketball, but it paid off."

In basketball circles, it was becoming clearer and clearer that allowing teams to sit on the ball was a problem that needed addressing. The league wasn't even two months removed from the lowest-scoring game in its existence, when the Fort Wayne Pistons toppled the Minneapolis Lakers by the paltry score of 19-18. And not even a week after the Royals-Olympians game, the Penn State University basketball team defeated Bucknell by the score of 25-15, in a game in which there wasn't a single point scored in the first 16 minutes and that Bucknell coach Jack Guy called "a disgrace to basketball."

"Coaches who freeze the ball are only freezing themselves out of business, yet by now it must be clear that even the professionals are doing it," NEA writer Harry Grayson wrote in January of 1951. "Holding the ball in the closing minutes to protect a lead is reasonable, but unpopular."

In 1954, the NBA adopted the 24-second shot clock, which prevented similar totals from occurring again. The Royals would move around the country and eventually became the Sacramento Kings. The Olympians, who had replaced the Indianapolis Jets as Indiana's professional basketball team, lasted only two more seasons before folding in 1953.

 (Michael Strahan sacks Brett Favre to become the single-season record-holder. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

1/06/2002 - Strahan's record comes on Favre fall

In the final game of the year, New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan records a sack against the Green Bay Packers, moving him past Mark Gastineau for the single-season sack record. Strahan, whose 22.5 sacks were a half-sack greater than Gastineau's total in 1984, was lauded for his impressive season and was later named the defensive player of the year. However, the way the record had been set that had many people outraged and others wondering if it was even a record at all.

With under three minutes to go in regulation, the Packers had possessed the ball and a commanding 35-24 lead, and Strahan had yet to tally a sack. Green Bay coach Mike Sherman called for a running play with Ahmad Green, but when the ball was snapped to quarterback Brett Favre, who was chummy with Strahan, the Green Bay QB changed the play to a "keep-pass" and rolled to the outside. The Packers had been expecting a completely different play and failed to adequately block him, giving Strahan a clear path to the quarterback. As Favre shifted back in the pocket, he fell on the ground to avoid impact, allowing Strahan to lightly wrap him up and record the sack.

"I just react to what happens," Strahan told the Associated Press. "He was booting out on the same play earlier and I missed him, as far as containing and keeping him in the pocket. ... This time he went down and I hopped on him. What am I supposed to do? Get up and say, 'Brett! Why didn't you throw it?'"

Because of his relation to Strahan, as well as the time of the game the sack had occurred and the nature of the sack itself, in which he had altered the play without telling anyone, many believed Favre had taken a dive out of courtesy for Strahan. He had even joked in the week leading up about working out "a little side deal" with Strahan to manufacture the record. "Strahan's sack looks like gift," wrote Tom Pedulla of The USA Today. "Strahan is No. 1 -- with an asterisk," wrote Vic Ziegel of the New York Daily News.

New York Times writer Mike Freeman called the sack "cheap" and said that "the next time Strahan sees Favre at a golf tournament, or they're having a beer, Strahan should slap his good friend silly. ... Favre had committed a basic sin in football: nothing is free. When Lawrence Taylor was in the same position in 1986 -- facing Green Bay, just a sack and a half behind Gastineau -- did the Packers' quarterback then do a little fixer-upper so Taylor could get it? No. Taylor was shut out."

"Sometimes the best keep-pass is when your line blocks the run and has no idea," said Favre, who steadfastly insisted the play was legit. "Sometimes if they know it's a keep, they might peek back. That's not the first time where I've faked a run without anyone knowing. Sometimes it's the best play out there. I just wish I was a little faster."

"Favre is incredulous that the entire Western world is down on him for the Strahan sack," Sports Illustrated's Peter King wrote. "I explain why -- that people don't like it when records are manipulated, and when Favre changed a play in garbage time so he could roll out toward Strahan's side, without the rest of the team knowing he was going to do it, and dove right at the feet of the onrushing Strahan ... well, it looked precisely like nice-guy Favre was handing the record sack to Strahan, his buddy."

 (Tony Romo runs with the ball after fumbling the snap of a potential game-winner. Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

1/06/2007 - Romo fumbles the snap

It was a day Tony Romo wished he could have back.

In a wildcard matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas' season rested in the arm of their neophyte quarterback. After leading for most of the way, the Cowboys had relinquished the lead when wide receiver Terry Glenn, after catching a pass near his own goal line, had the ball slapped away from him. The Seahawks got the ball on a safety and minutes later took a 21-20 lead when Matt Hasselbeck found Jerramy Stevens for a 37-yard touchdown.

Now, with a little over four minutes to go, it was Romo's turn. The Seahawks had failed on their two-point conversion, meaning the Cowboys merely had to get into field goal range for Martin Gramatica, who had already hit a pair of field goals, including one from 50 yards away. Drew Bledsoe, who had been replaced as Dallas' starting quarterback midway through the season, watched from the sideline as the Cowboys marched into Seahawks territory, thanks in large part to a 35-yard run from Julius Jones that put Dallas at Seattle's 11. Jones ran for 112 yards and thoroughly outplayed Seattle running back Shaun Alexander, the reigning MVP, who produced just 69 yards.

The Cowboys got to the two-yard line but failed to move the chains. On fourth-and-1 with 1:20 remaining in the fourth, Martin Gramatica came on to attempt the potential game-winner. Gramatica, who himself had replaced Mike Vanderjagt as the team's place-kicker late in the year, was looking at a field goal from extra-point territory -- 19 yards away. But when the snap was pitched to Romo, who was the holder on the field goal unit, Romo bobbled the ball and then, in a frantic attempt to salvage the game, picked up the football and scrambled to the left side of the field, where he was tackled by Jordan Babineaux before he could reach either the first down marker or the end zone.

With Dallas still possessing timeouts, Seattle couldn't fully run out the clock, and after a horrific punt that put the Cowboys near the middle of the field, Romo had one last shot at redemption. However, his Hail Mary pass fell incomplete as time expired and the Seahawks came away with a 21-20 victory. Afterward, the Dallas players sulked into the locker room, knowing full well they had given away a sure win.

"I know how hard everyone in that locker room worked to get themselves in position to win that game today and for it to end like that, and for me to be the cause is very tough to swallow right now," Romo said after the game. "I take responsibility for messing up at the end there. That’s my fault. I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win, and it’s going to sit with me a long time."

While Romo was largely blamed for the loss, there was plenty of blame to go around. Terrell Owens -- who had referred to Seattle's defense as "guys off the street" -- was nonexistent in the contest, producing just two receptions for 26 yards. And had Terry Glenn protected the ball better, and deprived the Seahawks from scoring eight points off his fumble, the Cowboys would've been in control. Still, all the focus was put on Tony Romo, whose botched snap had expelled his team from the playoffs.

Dallas could only wonder what could have been, since Seattle would push the eventual NFC champion Chicago Bears to overtime the following week.

The Seahawks-Cowboys game was the last one ever coached by Bill Parcells. Two and a half weeks after the loss, Parcells announced his resignation, telling ESPN's Ed Werder, "Physically, I could still do it. But, mentally, this is a 12-month-a-year job and I've been doing it since 1964. It was time to stop. I just have to let go." Terrell Owens, who had clashed repeatedly with Parcells, wasn't teary-eyed to see his departure. "I am just hoping his retirement brings promise to what the team has to offer," he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "This past year was a big letdown. On paper we were as good as anybody we played against every week. The end result didn't show that. Our play was not indicative of what we could have done. What we should have done. Hopefully, the owner will hire a coach to take the team to the next level."

In February, Dallas hired Wade Phillips as their new head coach. In October, they handed Romo a six-year, $65.7 million deal -- solidifying their faith that he was their quarterback of the future. The Seahawks made it back to the postseason the following year but faltered after that, winning only four games in 2008 and five games in 2009.

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