The "Kneeldown": A Triumphant Finish? Or Most Cowardly Play In Sports?

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"Taking a knee".  "The Kneeldown".  "The Victory Formation".  All names for the same play.  My team has done it.  Your team has done it.  We all know what it is and what it means.  It's either that sigh of relief or that final nail in the coffin. 


Other sports have some safe strategies.  The NBA and NHL might spend extra time dribbling or just skating around trying to milk every last second out of the clock.  Of course, baseball has the intentional walk to create a more favorable fielding situation or to avoid pitching to a big hitter.  But those are different.  The create a more favorable situation for the team, but they still carry an element of risk.  Of chance.  Of something going wrong.


I can understand why the kneeldown exists.  It's the safest and most risk free way to end a game (or even end the first half).  Most players, coaches, and fans will argue that the winning team has even "earned" the right to take a knee, to get in the glorious "victory formation".  It prevents injury.  But here's the real reason teams use it - it prevents that slim chance of a fumble from ever happening.


I don't anticipate that the competition committee will hear my complaint and that they'll change the rule for next year.  Nor do I think that the play will ever go away.  It's too much a part of our football culture to take it out now.  But every time I see any quarterback take that step backwards, I can't help but feel like I'm getting ripped off as a fan.  


Flashback to January 15, 2006.  The Steelers are leading the Colts 21-18 with under two minutes to go.  After sacking Peyton Manning for a loss on 4th down, the Steelers ended up with the ball inside the Colts' 5 yard line and the game appeared to be over.  However, there was 1:20 left, the Colts had all three timeouts, and the Steelers couldn't just run out the clock by taking a knee.


So the usually sure-handed Jerome Bettis took a carry for what most everyone thought would be a touchdown.  However, that's not what happened.  That miniscule chance of something going wrong actually went wrong.  Gary Brackett's helmet knocked the ball loose and the Colts recovered.  The remaining minute was one of the most exciting divisional playoff game finishes we had seen in a long time.


It's not just that divisional playoff game, though.  So many close games have had the impossible become possible.  There's the "Music City Miracle".  The "Immaculate Reception".  And most relevant, there's the "Miracle at the Meadowlands."


The best games we've ever seen rarely end with 2 minutes of nothing.  Why not make the teams earn the victory with a full "60 minute" effort?  


Turnovers are the big wild card in football.  They're often how an inferior team is able to beat a superior opponent.  The knee takes all those possibilities away.


Where's the spirit of competition?  Where's the idea of playing a full "60 minutes" when you're taking a knee?  Is it really the victory formation?  Or is it really just evidence that "we're too afraid that we might fumble"?

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