In 2002, Detroit Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg was roundly criticized for choosing to take the wind after winning the coin toss in overtime against the Bears, and it was cited in his firing at the end of the season (a 5-27 record didn’t help much). No coach had done so for another decade.
So, how many times has a coach chosen the wind instead of the ball? Why did he do so? What were the results?
1. Dallas Texans 20, Houston Oilers 17 (2OT)
12/23/1962 AFL CHAMPIONSHIP
Who: Hank Stram, Dallas
Why: strong wind, blowing in the direction of the south-end zone clock.
What had happened: Houston rallied from down 17-0 to tie.
The toss: After winning the toss, Abner Haynes, Dallas captain, told referee Harold Bourne that “We’ll kick to the clock.” Unfortunately for the Texans, he could not choose both options, and by starting with “We’ll kick,” Haynes committed the Texans to kicking off. The Oilers, of course, chose the wind.
What followed: The Dallas defense stopped the Oilers three times, forcing a punt and picking off George Blanda twice. In the second overtime, with the Texans now having the wind at their back, Tommy Brooker made a 25-yard FG, giving the Texans the 1962 AFL Championship.
2. at New York Giants 13, Dallas 10
Who: Tom Landry, Dallas
Why: 15 mph wind with gusts to 23, bitter cold. Giants kicker Joe Danelo had missed from 21 and 27 against the wind in regulation, after not missing from inside 36 all season (12 of 12). He also missed a 32-yarder, but it was nullified by a penalty.
What had happened: Danelo made a 40-yard FG with the wind to tie the game with 30 seconds left.
What followed: The Giants went nowhere on their first drive, punting to the Dallas 40. Two plays later, Lawrence Taylor recovered a botched pitch to Tony Dorsett, giving the Giants the ball at the Dallas 40. After a 23-yard bootleg by Scott Brunner, the Giants were in good position to win, but Danelo’s 33-yard FG hit the right upright. Dallas would turn the ball over three plays later, Byron Hunt intercepting Danny White and returning it to the Dallas 24. Danelo made a 35-yard FG three plays later to win.
3. at Chicago 13, Pittsburgh 10
Who: Mike Ditka, Chicago
Why: 17 mph wind, one of the best defenses in NFL history, Jim McMahon out for the season
What followed: After a touchback, the Steelers went 3 and out, gaining 0 yards. Mark Malone threw 2 passes described as “wounded ducks” by Ditka. Chicago returned the Steelers punt to its 49. After a 29-yard pass from Mike Tomczak to Keith Ortego on the Bears’ first play, Kevin Butler kicked a 42-yard FG to win.
Of note: According to Bears safety Dave Duerson, the referees were confused when the Bears decided to kick rather than receive. Said Duerson, “I think the refs wanted to talk us out of it.”
4. at Cleveland 13, Houston 10
Who: Jerry Glanville, Houston
Why: 20 mph wind, with gusts up to 30.
What had happened: Oliver Luck replaced an injured Warren Moon (5 of 23, 68 yards, 4 interceptions) and led the Oilers to the tying TD with 50 seconds left, throwing an 11-yard pass to Ray Wallace.
What followed: Houston forced a punt, taking possession on its own 39. After driving the Oilers to the Browns’ 35, Luck was intercepted by Frank Minnifield at the Browns’ 21. After another Oilers defensive stop and a punt to the Oilers’ 34, Minnifield intercepted Luck again, returning it to the Oilers’ 37. Mark Moseley, in his first game with the Browns, would kick a 29-yard FG to win the game 9 plays later.
5. at New York Giants 23, Philadelphia 20
Who: Bill Parcells, Giants
Why: 14 mph wind, with gusts. 7 of 8 scores during regulation were scored by the team with the wind, with the exception coming 2 plays into the 4th quarter.
What had happened: The Eagles came back from a 20-6 deficit with two long TD passes (36 and 40) in the last 3:32.
What followed: The Eagles were completely ineffective in overtime, running 18 plays for a total of negative 3 yards. Possession by possession, the Giants gained field position, with a 59-yard Sean Landeta punt pinning the Eagles at their own 4, followed by an Eagles punt returned by Phil McConkey to the Eagles’ 33. Seth Joyner blocked a 50-yard Raul Allegre FG, but the Eagles would go 3-and-out yet again. After a 36-yard Simms to Bavaro pass, Allegre would hit from 28 for the win.
Of note: Eagles punter John Teltschik set an NFL record (since broken) by punting 15 times in the game.
6. Denver 16, at San Francisco 13
Who: Dan Reeves, Denver
Why: swirling wind. Said Bill Walsh, “It looked like a beautiful day, and then all hell broke loose. I’ve never seen wind like that in the 10 years I’ve been here.” The wind was so unpredictable that at one point in the third quarter, the teams combined to run on 29 straight plays (18 by San Francisco and 11 by Denver).
What had happened: Rich Karlis missed a 34-yard FG with two seconds left in regulation. Said Karlis, “I aimed for the middle, and that was my mistake. I thought I hit it good, but it took off. This wasn’t a day to hit a golf ball or kick a football.”
What followed: Steve Young threw interceptions on both possessions, the second of which was returned by Steve Wilson to the 49ers’ 5. One play later, Karlis kicked a 22-yarder to win.
Of note: Jerry Rice, who had seen passes intended for him randomly sail away or stop dead, quoted after the game: “We need a dome.”
More: Reeves tried to take the wind in a 1985 overtime against the Raiders, but team captain Barney Chavous misunderstood and chose to receive. The Broncos lost 17-14.
7. at New England 10, Tampa Bay 7
Who: Ray Perkins, Tampa Bay
Why: 25 mph wind, -25 degree windchill. Tampa’s John Carney had missed a 33-yarder into the wind earlier in the game.
What had happened: Tampa scored on a two play, 41-yard drive to tie the game with 2:09 remaining.
What followed: The Patriots returned the kickoff to their own 35, and proceeded to drive down the field for only the second time all game, highlighted by a 26-yard Tony Eason to Irving Fryar pass. The drive was capped by a 27-yard Jason Staurovsky FG.
Of note: Winston Moss, Bucs linebacker, on how the cold hampered communication: “(Eugene) Marve would call the defensive signals and it sounded like he was going, ‘Ubba-ubba-ubba.’”
8. at Chicago 23, Detroit 17
Who: Mike Ditka, Chicago
Why: Swirling 20 mph wind, better defense than offense. Ditka: “We just thought it was best to put our defense out there and play.”
What had happened: Chicago tied the game on a 19-yard field goal with 33 seconds left.
What followed: The Lions returned the kickoff to the 35 and drove to the Bears 17, but Eddie Murray missed a 35-yard field goal wide left. The Bears responded with a 50-yard Jim Harbaugh to Neal Anderson touchdown pass.
Of note: The official gamebook makes no note of the Bears’ decision to take the wind, and the last 25 editions of the NFL Record & Fact Book have claimed the Lions won the toss:
9. Denver 23, at Buffalo 20
Who: Mike Shanahan, Denver
Why: 15 mph wind, freezing rain
What had happened: Buffalo rallied from 20-0 4th quarter deficit behind backup QB Alex Van Pelt, capping off the comeback with a 55-yard Steve Christie FG with 8 seconds left.
What followed: An exchange of punts left Buffalo on its own 1. The Bills drove to their own 32, but a botched reverse option pass, fumbled by Andre Reed, lost 20 yards. After a punt, the Broncos took 9 plays to set up Jason Elam’s 33-yard game-winner.
10. New England 13, at Buffalo 10
Who: Wade Phillips, Buffalo
Why: 32 mph wind with 50 mph gusts, 35 degrees at kickoff, driving snow.
What had happened: Lee Johnson bobbled the snap on Adam Vinatieri’s potential game-winner with 1 second left, resulting in the 27-yarder falling well short.
What followed: After the Patriots turned the ball over on downs at the Bills’ 31, the Bills drove to the Patriots’ 12. However, Steve Christie’s 30-yard attempt was blocked by Chad Eaton. After a long New England drive, Vinatieri would make a 24-yarder with 23 seconds left.
Of note: “I think they just need a dome,” Vinatieri said. “That would help me out. Any time you come to Buffalo, you have to expect some crummy weather, especially at the end of the season. I’m just glad I only have to play here once a year.”
More: The game was quickly overshadowed by Ty Law’s arrest for Ecstasy possession at the Canadian border the next morning.
11. at Chicago 20, Detroit 17
Who: Marty Mornhinweg, Detroit.
Why: 17 mph wind.
What had happened: Chicago came back from a 17-7 4th quarter deficit with two scores in the last 2:33.
What followed: Chicago returned the kickoff to its own 35, crossed midfield 2 plays later, and eventually kicked a 40-yard FG. Inexplicably, Detroit decided to accept a Chicago holding penalty instead of an incomplete pass on 3rd and 8 from the Detroit 35, despite the wind. Chicago then completed 15 and 5 yard passes to get the first down. After the game, Paul Edinger, the Bears kicker, stated 43 yards was “his outer limit.”
Aftermath: Goodbye, Marty.
12. at New England 34, Denver 31.
Who: Bill Belichick, New England.
Why: 20 mph wind, new overtime rules eliminating game-ending first-drive field goals.
What had happened: New England came back from a 24-0 halftime deficit.
What followed: New England’s second punt of overtime hit a Denver blocker and New England recovered at the Denver 13. After two runs to center the ball and take time off the clock, Stephen Gostkowski made a 31-yard FG to win.
13. Minnesota 21, St. Louis Rams 18
Who: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota.
Why: 15-25 mph winds from the south, new overtime rules eliminating game-ending first-drive field goals, strong-legged kickers (the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein kicked a 61-yarder in the second quarter with the wind at his back), defense-dominated game, Vikings starting QB Teddy Bridgewater out with an injury.
What had happened: St. Louis tied the game on a 53-yard field goal with 12 seconds left in regulation.
What followed: The Rams lost 6 yards on their first drive and punted to midfield. On the ensuing possession. the Vikings ran on 5 of 6 plays before kicking the game-winning 40-yard field goal.
14. at New York Jets 26, New England 20
Who: Bill Belichick, New England.
Why: 11-18 mph wind, largely ineffective offense, new overtime rules eliminating game-ending first-drive field goals.
What had happened: New England tied the game with a touchdown with a touchdown with 1:53 left.
What followed: The Jets completed a 48-yard catch-and-run to Quincy Enunwa on the second play of overtime. Three plays later, Eric Decker caught a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Of note: Much like Abner Haynes, Patriots captain Matthew Slater started off by saying “We want to kick,” costing them both the wind and the ball.
15. Miami 30, Cleveland 24
Who: Hue Jackson, Cleveland.
Why: Offense led by third-string quarterback, new overtime rules eliminating game-ending first-drive field goals.
What had happened: The Browns missed a potential game-winning 46-yard field goal on the last play of regulation, one of three field goals they’d miss in the game.
What followed: The Dolphins failed to score on their first drive, but their punt pinned the Browns at their own 9. The Browns did little on their own drive, and a net 31 punt gave the Dolphins the ball at the Browns’ 44. Three plays later, Jay Ajayi ran for the winning 11-yard touchdown.
Of note: The Browns opted to kick rather than choosing a side of the field. (The gamebook notes a 16 mph wind coming from the East at kickoff, but Miami opted to defend the West end zone in overtime, so the wind may have shifted or died down.)
- Number of times: 15
- Number of wins: 8
- Number of times the team kicking off never possessed the ball: 3
- Number of Super Bowl-winning coaches to choose to kick off: 6 (Stram, Landry, Parcells, Ditka, Shanahan, Belichick)