Ties Are for Losers

Ties Are for Losers

Nearly seventy years ago, America and its allies demanded unconditional surrender from Germany. Today, America and its allies hope for a draw against Germany. Many partisans of the U.S. soccer team would regard even a loss, provided by not too many goals, as a win so long as the Americans advance into the round of sixteen.

Surely this perversion of the fans’ natural rooting impulse for victory stands as a reason why Americans can’t quite get behind soccer even as they enthusiastically get behind their soccer team.

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The numbness of a draw. Who prefers anesthetization to stimulation?  

Roughly one of every six 2014 World Cup matches has ended in a draw. Their status among FIFA officials, who award a point for teams that finish games in the same stalemate in which they started, surpasses their standing among fans. Enthusiasts buy a ticket for resolution, not ambiguity. Fans, by the very nature of their abbreviated name, go for black-and-white over shades of gray.

So do competitors. “As a player,” German midfielder Mesut Ozil told journalists, “we don’t play for a draw. Our objective out on the pitch is to do the utmost to win, and that’s what we’re going to do against the United States. We want to [finish] first in the group, and that’s why we’re going to win.” Jurgen Klinsmann, the German coach of the U.S. team, rejected conspiracy theories positing a gentlemen’s agreement of a draw so that both teams would advance: “We’re not made for ties.”

In his three years here, Klinsmann has learned much about the United States. Americans weren’t made for ties. When Walter Cronkite doomed the Vietnam War among large swaths of CBS viewers, he didn’t say, “We’re destined to lose.” The anchorman announced, “We are mired in a stalemate.” Americans had been there, done that. It’s the draw, not the deaths, that explains why we call Korea the “Forgotten Conflict.” We dealt with more casualties in the World Wars that preceded and Vietnam that followed. Americans just don’t deal well with pointless stagnation.

Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Streisand tied for “Best Actress” at the Academy Awards in 1969. In other words, the academy didn’t award a “best” actress that year. Everyone lost.

George W. Bush and Al Gore basically tied in the 2000 presidential election. The impasse initially resulted in two sets of sore losers and ultimately, once Florida broke the deadlock, in a massive portion of the country refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the loser of the popular vote who won the Electoral College. Ties turn everyone into such losers.  

American football players suffer from such a phobia of ties that long before they instituted overtime they invented four downs, yardage requirements to keep possession, and two-point safeties to prevent teams playing for gridlock. In 1881, Princeton strategized to hold the ball an entire half in a “block game” against Yale to force a tie and preserve their place as champions. The next season the two teams, for reasons confusing to posterity, both employed the block-game strategy–the 1880s equivalent of a quarterback taking a knee, but instead of doing this for the last two minutes doing it for the entire game–during their annual contest. The Ivy League fans, according to the late NCAA rules guru Dave Nelson, “catcalled, caterwauled, whistled, and clapped, finally lapsing into a stony, sullen silence.” Ties are terrible.

An exception to this truism might be the 1968 Harvard-Yale game. Down 29-16 to a superior squad with less than a minute left on the clock, the Harvard Crimson football team scored two touchdowns and two conversions in 42 seconds to tie the game. The school’s student newspaper’s headline famously announced: “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.” Surely the Portuguese soccer team felt similarly about their 2-2 victory over the U.S. on Sunday.

Alas, worse fates await competitors than ties. A hockey or soccer shootout plays like deciding a baseball game with a home-run derby or a basketball game with a dunking contest. Corrupting competition to artificially force a phony resolution beats a tie for bad.

But some fans of the American soccer team not only wish for a ninety-minute standoff with Germany, they imagine the two teams conspiring to not so much as throw the game as throw the fans overboard by deliberately playing to a draw that would advance both teams. They speak a foreign soccer tongue, not Americanese.

Americans come from Cowboys unimpressed by nuance and Puritans too certain of their beliefs. The Minutemen didn’t kill red coats because they wanted the quasi-independence–part sovereign yet part of the British Empire–of Canada. They killed for a clean break. Ties stem from laziness. The capitalist work ethic calls us to finish the job. Would John D. Rockefeller have played for a draw? Even our literature eschews shadows for light. Think the directness of Ernest Hemingway. As Malcolm X plainly put it, “Make it plain.”   

Americans may believe that all men were created equal. They detest the notion that equal scores deserve equal footing with the finality of victor and vanquished. Ties are for losers.  

Daniel J. Flynn, the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013), edits Breitbart Sports.