In the 1982 World Cup there was an incident of collusion between two teams for a mutually advantageous result that was so flagrant that it became known, among other things, as “Disgrace of Gijón”, and it changed how it was that games were played. It is often the case when determining playoff or knockout rounds in sports that a given result is known to have a given outcome in terms of who moves on and who does not. In the 1982 World Cup, a result of 1-0 between West Germany and Austria would ensure that both teams went on to the knockout round and any other result would allow Algeria to go on. As it happened, after West Germany scored a quick goal, the rest of the game was so desultory that it has ever since then become scandalous as a travesty to fair play. The way that this game changed how the World Cup was played was that all last group games are to be played at the same time precisely to avoid this sort of outcome, where players manufacture the desired outcome knowing how it will turn out, thus forcing them to actually play in order to achieve the best outcome for themselves.
As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I was definitely concerned about this sort of outcome after yesterday’s football games. In the early games, the results turned out exactly as I had hoped. The Jaguars defeated the Indianapolis Colts at home, knocking them out of the playoff hunt with a 9-8 record while ensuring the top pick in the next NFL draft because the Detroit Lions also beat the Green Bay Packers, who had already clinched homefield advantage in the NFC. The Steelers also did their part by winning a narrow and hard-fought 16-13 victory in overtime over the Baltmore Ravens, who had been ravished by injuries and dropped a lot of games to fall out of the playoff hunt at 8-9 themselves. Sitting at 9-7-1, the Steelers only had one result to fear after the morning games were played, and that was the Las Vegas Raiders and San Diego Chargers game ending in a tie, which would lead in all three teams finishing with a 9-7-1 record and the Steelers missing out on the playoffs via tiebreaks.
At first, in the evening game, it did not appear that this would be likely. The Raiders took an early lead and appeared to be cruising for a victory before a late San Diego rally tied the game at 29-29 going into overtime. The Raiders won the toss, and while a touchdown would have ended the game right there, they only managed to get a field goal, and so San Diego ended up down three but with the ball and one chance to score to prolong the game. They too were unable to score a touchdown and ended up scoring a field goal to tie the game. With half of overtime gone and the possibility of a tie looming, the Raiders took their time marching down the field before ending with a field goal that gave them the victory and the #5 seed and allowed the Steelers to get into the playoffs as well with a road game in Kansas City looming. We all know how that turned out a few weeks ago (not well), but at least an even and competitive game ended up with the desired result.
As it happens, as an aside, the other results of the day favored the team that I cheer on second-most, that of the area where I grew up, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unlike the Steelers, they were guaranteed a playoff spot after having won their division, but also stood in position to better themselves if the results went the right way. They did. Winning their own game put them at 13-4 record for the year, losing the tiebreaker against Green Bay, but for them to gain a chance at an extra home game with the #2 seed, other results needed to fall their way. They did. The San Francisco 49ers needed a win to guarantee a playoff spot against the Rams when the Saints won against the Falcons, while the Rams clinched their division because of the Phoenix Cardinals losing to the already-eliminated Seattle Seahawks, and the 49ers managed to win, also in overtime, after scoring a field goal and getting a game-clinching interception on the following drive to end the game with a narrow victory of their own, thus giving them the #6 seed in the playoffs and a road trip to Dallas while the Bucs got the #2 seed and a home game looming this coming week against the Eagles. When teams play to win, good results can happen.