Friday, August 8, 2014


The great Duffy Daugherty with two Spartans.

The legendary quipping (American) college football coach, Duffy Daugherty, declared that “A tie is like kissing your sister.” Daugherty, who led Michigan State University to some of its finest gridiron achievements, won an outright national championship in 1965 and a share of the national title in 1966. He head-coached 183 games at MSU, drawing five times. We understand that the pronoun “your” in Daugherty’s quote doesn’t refer to anyone’s specific sister—it’s not an insult—but rather, the “any brother” kissing the “any sister” as part of a tepid, passionless, formal greeting. You play your guts out, you muddy your uniform, you bleed, you curse, and you weather the cold rain only to hobble off with a tie; that’s “kissing your sister” according to Daugherty. The quote probably matters more than we think. Many sports, including college football, have done away with ties, and in some cases, break ties in ways that smack of the artificial. Is Daugherty right? Or can some draws matter? And who do you get to kiss if you win?

In 1996, college football instituted an overtime procedure, in which both teams get possession of the ball on the 25 yard line. If each team scores the same tally of points (or none at all) the procedure repeats, until one side prevails. In 2003, Arkansas defeated Kentucky by an inflated count of 71-63, after seven overtime periods. It’s a famous game that ultimately produced a winner, and Arkansas players, in the end, didn’t have to kiss their sisters. At least college football plays actual football to avoid a tie. Not so in the National Hockey League, where teams participate in a “shootout” to break a draw that has survived a five minute overtime. The shootout does not involve hockey, which I’d define as five-on-five, plus the two goalies. No, the shootout involves a player skating in, one-on-one—a situation that rarely transpires in the flow of most hockey games. (Although, even in those cases, many other players are skating, somewhere, on the ice.) In world football tournaments (but not league games) a draw that survives two added periods will be decided by dreaded penalties, which, like the hockey tie-breaker, doesn’t simulate the sport.  

I haven’t delved too deeply into Duffy Daugherty’s collected quotes, but I don’t automatically conclude that he advocated for sports to abolish ties altogether. If an underdog team travels to face a powerful foe but prevents the powerful foe from winning in their own park, hasn’t the underdog team gained a valuable result away from home? In a week’s time, my (world) football team, Swansea City, will travel to Manchester, to face storied Man U in front of 75,000 people, most of whom will expect to see the Red Devils stomp the Swans by three or four goals. If Swansea, however, escape with a draw, I think the players should kiss some very attractive women to whom they are not related. The EPL incentivizes winning by offering victors three points in the table; teams who draw receive one point apiece. Famously, the Notre Dame football team played Daugherty’s Spartans to a 10-10 tie, in East Lansing, in the final game of the 1966 season. The Fighting Irish, ranked #1 in the polls, preserved their position atop the rankings, but with the tie, Daugherty’s #2 Spartans ultimately won a share of the national title that year. A home draw counted.

A win, of course, in any sport, guarantees greater treasure than a draw, but as we’ve shown, a draw, under some circumstances, should be cherished. Perhaps we can modify Daugherty’s quote a little bit. We can allow that a poor tie—i.e., a powerful team drawing a weaker foe at home—is like kissing your sister. On the other hand, the reverse of that—an underdog team tying the big club on the road—might be like kissing your cousin. I mean, if it’s a third or fourth cousin, the kiss, perhaps, could lead somewhere. The OED defines “kissing cousins” as “relatives or friends with whom one is on close enough terms to greet with a kiss.” It doesn’t say what kind of kiss, and it provides no additional reflections on what might be appropriate after a sports team draw. I think we can all agree that a player on a losing club should go home and train harder for the next contest, but should receive no kisses, at all. Maybe that player should receive a somber handshake—that, or the fake nudge of the chin with the fist.

Sports Week #1 of 5: My Grandfather, Emil Ringel
Sports Week #2 of 5: The Landover Football Team


Anonymous said...

does anyone else think is mainly about cousin-sex? what exactly does drawing in a sporting contest have to do with sleeping with your cousins? weird.


hi casey.

to be fair, i don't know the answer. if you had a hot cousin -- three or four levels removed (or whatever) it'd probably enter your mind to kiss her anyway, whether or not you even played a sport. so i guess i'm just aiming for a "universal statement" if at all possible.