All Knotted Up: Culture's Great Tiebreakers

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The Tiebreaker Heard 'Round the World

In the Colorado Rockies' unbelievable 21-1 run to clinch a World Series berth, arguably the biggest win was their October 1 victory over the San Diego Padres, a tiebreaker game to enter the postseason. It was only the twelfth tiebreaker game in baseball history, an impressive slate of games that includes Bucky Dent's famous homer and a gem by Randy Johnson. But none is more famous than game 3 of the 1951 three-game playoff (back when tiebreakers were a three-game series), which ended in a Bobby Thompson walk-off home run. Baseball's version of "The Shot Heard "˜Round the World" came after an awesome 37-7 run by the Giants to tie the Brooklyn Dodgers. The tiebreaker started with the first game to be broadcast across the entire country and included (ominously) a Bobby Thompson homer. That's how it ended, too, when Thompson launched a three-run shot to give the Giants a spot in the postseason. The iconic baseball moment, memorialized by Russ Hodges' exuberant broadcast, has been sullied a bit in recent years with allegations that it was aided by sign-stealing.

The Tiebreaker that Changed the Country

We all remember the 2000 Election, the tiebreaker to end all tiebreakers. It was month-long battle of recounts, hanging chads, butterfly ballots and visions of democracy. And it all ended in the Supreme Court, with a narrow 5-4 vote giving the election to George Bush. The election changed the face of the White House for the next seven years (who hasn't had a vision of the bizarro USA where Al Gore is president?) and also sparked all kinds of election reform. It also brought the idea of how to resolve an even 50-50 election to the forefront of the nation. Here are some highlights of the world's election tiebreakers:

  • A December, 2000 election for township supervisor in a Michigan town ended in an even tie (after a recount). So they followed Michigan law, which calls for a lottery. First, the two candidates flipped a coin and the winner randomly chose one piece of paper. One read "elected," the other "not elected." Even the loser couldn't argue with the method, saying it was "the democratic way."
  • Hong Kong elections that end in a draw means breaking out the Bingo set. Candidates who are tied randomly pick ping-pong balls and the one with the higher number wins. Even though the system has detractors, the citizens are largely behind it, especially since the culture in Hong Kong believes in the power of fate.
  • Tied New Mexico elections end in a game of chance. What game? The law doesn't specify; it could be anything from a coin flip to a hand of poker. Heck, they could even break out the Uno cards.

The Tiebreaker that Popularized the Sports Bra

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The 1999 US World Cup team was almost entirely anonymous, since it's a) soccer and b) a women's sport. But the team made magazine covers and TV highlight reels with one image: Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey to reveal her sports bra. That came after one intense tiebreaker (which I distinctly remember watching), a shootout to take the title over the Chinese team. The funny thing is, Chastain wasn't even supposed to be in the game. But, on a hunch, coach Tony DiCicco put her in to break a 4-4 tie in the shootout. That kick and subsequent stripping put women's soccer on the map, made Mia Hamm a superstar and put the sports bra in style. Unfortunately, the appeal has worn off, as evidenced by the sport's new set of commercials featuring Rainn "Dwight" Wilson as a publicist trying to get people to notice the new women's team.

The Tiebreaker that Stopped the Senate

chester-arthur-picture.jpgOne of the perks of being vice-president, besides getting automatic speculation for a future presidential run, is getting to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate. It doesn't come up much (only 12 times since 1991), but when it does, it's a big deal and can tip the legislature in the president's favor. But no tiebreaker was as big, or as interesting, as the one in March, 1881. New Republican president James Garfield had put up a new slate of nominees for committee chairmen, but the Senate ended up in a 37-37 deadlock. So it fell to VP Chester Arthur, who went with the president and really peeved the Democrats. They tried to strike a bargain, then refused to continue to vote. For the next two months, they would walk out whenever the Republicans tried to get the vote going, Later, two Republican senators resigned in protest of Garfield's appointment of a New York federal post, giving the Democrats a two-vote majority in the Senate. Ever willing to negotiate, though, the two parties decided to just table the staffing issue for the term, ending the bitterness from Arthur's tiebreaking vote.

The Tiebreaker that Took Forever

Arkansas is the king of overtime in college football. Since the NCAA put their overtime tie-breaking method in place in 1996, the Razorbacks are 6-1 in overtime games, including the three longest overtime sessions. The longest was in 2003, when they took Kentucky to seven overtimes. After the seven OT's (Arkansas' second 7OT game), the final score was a then-record 71-63. The whole game took just under five hours and featured, oddly enough, two blocked punts returned for touchdowns.

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October 20, 2007 - 1:00am
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