Amusing Start to Bears Game as Both Teams Attempt to Defer Coin Toss

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Laughter came from the crowd as Chicago attempted to defer the coin toss which had just been deferred by the Lions.
A bizarre coin toss occurred today at the game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit LionsSenor Codo/Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving is always a huge day for football games in the U.S. Begun back in 1876 not long after the invention of the game, the day was thought to be a good one for these sports events since it was the day the most people were off from work.

The tradition didn't really take off in professional football, however, until 1934, when the Detroit Lions hosted the Chicago Bears in a Thanksgiving game that was broadcast nationally. The game had a huge draw because the 10-1 Lions and the 11-0 Bears were both excellent teams and well matched.

Since then, the Chicago and Detroit have played each other 18 times on Thanksgiving, with todays game being the 19th, and it's always a popular match-up across the country. It's no wonder then that the Chicago team captain might have been a bit nervous, choosing to defer after the Lion's had just done the same thing.

Things seemed to be going along fine as the to two team captains met at midfield for the coin toss. After winning it, the Detroit Lions captain chose to defer. The Chicago Bears captain was then asked if his team wanted the ball to which he replied they chose to defer. There was a moment of confusion, after which the referee informed the Bears captain that they could not defer, as the Lions had already chosen to do so.

This was not the first time there had been a bizarre coin toss kicking off a football game in Detroit. During the 1998 Thanksgiving Day game between the Lions and the Steelers, at the end of regulation play the teams were tied. The referee met the captains at the 50 yard line, tossed a coin into the air, and Steelers player Jerome Bettis could be heard calling out tails.

But as the referee retrieved the coin, which was tails, he announced that Bettis had actually called out heads, starting an argument settled by declaring Detroit the winner of the toss. A field goal kicked less than three minutes into the overtime by the Lions won them the game, something that could have been prevented if the coin toss had been awarded to the Steelers.

Watch Bettis talk about the controversial toss below:

During todays game, the mistake involved deferring the decision by the winning team. According to NFL rules, the away team captain is given the chance to call heads or tails which is used to determine which team has possession of the ball first. Traditionally in the past, the winner decided whether their team would kick or receive.

There is now another option, which was added in 2008, which is to defer. When a team defers, they have the option to receive at the beginning of the second half. Now winners of the coin toss defer 92 percent of the time despite there being little evidence that this provides an advantage.

Why Do Coaches Choose to Defer?

While there may not be statistical proof that deferring helps a team win, it may be that there is a belief that the greater the number of possessions in the second half provides a psychological advantage Coaches may think that the more possessions the team has in the more important half, the second half, the greater the likelihood is that they'll win. Another reason could be that coaches are counting on gaining momentum as the team moves closer to the end of the game. Coaches may also be hoping for a double whammy of scoring at the end of the first half as well as at the beginning of the second half.

Watch today's coin toss mix-up below:

Apparently, no one wanted the ball today!

Lions and Steelers on Thanksgiving Day, 1998. After the Steelers rallied to force overtime, Pittsburgh appeared to win the coin toss after Jerome Bettis shouted "Tails!" The referee, Phil Luckett, determined that Bettis had instead called heads, leading to an irate Bettis pleading his case to no avail. Detroit got the ball to start the half, and won the game on a Jason Hanson field goal. 

The odd sequence of events was captured by Fox's cameras. 

Chicago BearsDetroit LionsFootballThanksgivingCoin Toss

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