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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 25, 2010

NFL: Saints' Payton miffed at way OT rule passed

The Times-Picayune

ORLANDO, Fla. New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton had a sweet and sour Tuesday, and he was still talking about it Wednesday morning.

As for the sweet, Payton went over to Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer's home golf course, which is hosting the PGA Tour this weekend. And as Payton said over and over, "I just had lunch with Arnold Palmer."

Payton is never going to grow tired of that sentence, is he?

"It was awesome, " he said, grinning. "Just awesome."

However, at the same time the reigning Super Bowl champion coach and the King of Golf were dining in style, Payton got a text message that still had him steamed at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, when he participated in the NFC coaches breakfast during the NFL owners' meeting.

The message told him the owners had approved, by a surprising and overwhelming 28-4 margin, modifications for overtime in the postseason. It was a rule change Payton sharply opposed and one he thought the Saints were going to vote against.

Even more troubling to him, and to most of his colleagues who had the same 'nay' stance, was the way in which the vote went down. Normally, the league introduces proposed rule changes on Monday, then takes a day chewing over the motion and votes on it on Wednesday. Payton likened the unorthodox timing of the vote to "a coup."

"I just had lunch with Arnold Palmer, so we were coming back to the building," he began. "I think the system we have in place, the required number of votes, all that is healthy. I think it just caught a lot of people off-guard when it was being done, which tells me there may not have been all that much confidence that, had it been done in the normal itinerary, it would have passed. So it's pretty interesting, if you ask me."

That proved a theme Payton revisited several times in more than an hour of chatting with reporters at the Ritz-Carlton. He does not like the new rule -- "I hate it," he said simply -- but he was even more miffed at the method of its approval.

"It was surprising because I think I was under the impression the overtime rule was going to be voted on (Wednesday), so it was kind of one of those back-door deals, "he said, joking that with nothing left to do he would blow off the final meeting day and actually play golf.

"I guess nothing surprises me anymore," he said. "I guess (it's) disappointing. The debate and the argument over a new rule is healthy, and often times one will pass and one won't pass. But the way it was slipped in shows me there was some concern it wouldn't have gone in the normal way."

Under the new rule, if the team that wins the coin flip scores on a field goal, the game does not end in sudden death. Instead, the other team will get a kickoff and a possession. A touchdown wins at any time. If both teams kick field goals, the format returns to standard sudden death.

The complicated nature of the rule annoys Payton, who said he is already weary of explaining it to people. And the split nature of the rule -- one format in the postseason and another in the regular season -- underscores the change is basically a gimmick, in his opinion.

The matter had special resonance for the Saints because of the way they won the NFC championship in January, winning the overtime coin toss against the Vikings and then making a 40-yard field goal. Asked if he would have done things differently had the new rule been in effect, Payton said it's too early to assess the strategic impact of the change, but that he doubted it.

"We're kicking a field goal," he said. "I'm not far enough along with the idea of how it changes playoff strategy regarding the first possession. But probably from that down and distance, we're going to kick the field goal and play defense."

There is also something tragic about how the new rule might alter the end of the game, siphoning off some of the drama that stamped plays such as Hartley's kick.

"Now the finality and the great cheer is when the fourth-down pass falls incomplete for the other team," he said. "It just doesn't seem as nice."