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NFL Changes Coin Toss Rule

The NFL wants no more flaps over coin flips.

Four days after thePittsburgh Steelers blamed a disputed coin flip in overtime for their Thanksgiving loss to the Detroit Lions, the NFL announced the first changes in the coin toss rules in 22 years.

The changes, which take effect for Thursday's Eagles-Rams game, require the visiting captain to call heads or tails before the referee tosses the coin, instead of when the coin is in the air. Also, the back judge and field judge will stand by the captains throughout the coin toss ceremony to make sure there is no confusion over the call.

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"Our new procedures should make certain that the Thanksgiving Day incident is not repeated," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Monday. "Prior to Thanksgiving we used the existing procedures for more than 20 years without any serious incident, and expect our modifications to apply for 20 times 20 years."

Thursday in Detroit, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis said "tails" for the coin flip for overtime. But referee Phil Luckett heard "heads." The Lions won the toss and the Steelers never got the ball as Detroit drove for Jason Hanson's game-winning 42-yard field goal.

Luckett explained later he heard someone say "heads" before Bettis said "tails." Bettis and Carnell Lake, the other Steelers co-captain at the toss, both denied that.

"All three individuals have excellent reputations and are known to be men of integrity, but their conflicting accounts do not resolve the matter," Tagliabue said.

The Steelers hope the NFL's action prevents future foulups over what usually is the simplest task performed by any official.

"If the resolution they came up with helps alleviate this situation in the future, it's probably a great thing for the game," director of football operations Tom Donahoe said. "Sometimes you assume and take things for granted, and maybe you shouldn't take anything for granted."

The Steelers nohope the NFL reviews its entire overtime procedure so the coin toss isn't so important and that both teams are guaranteed possession.

Currently, the game ends as soon as one team scores, even if the other team hasn't touched the ball.

"If maybe the most important thing about overtime is the coin toss, something is wrong," Donahoe said.

There were no flaps on Sunday as players and referees made sure there would be no confusion over the call. The most creative moment was in St. Louis, where Atlanta's Jessie Tuggle showed up for the opening ceremony with a sign that said "heads," so referee Ron Winter would have no confusion. The Falcons won the toss, elected to receive and drove to an opening field goal against the St. Louis Rams.

The last alteration in the coin toss ceremony came in 1976, when the coin toss was moved to three minutes before kickoff. Before that, the coin toss was held 30 minutes before kickoff and a symbolic re-enactment was held moments before kickoff.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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