At around 7 a.m. on Friday in the conference room of an Indianapolis hotel, an NFL representative will flip a specially minted coin with a Carolina Panthers logo on one side and a Miami Dolphins logo on the other.
The winner of that coin flip will pick No.8 in April’s NFL draft. The loser will pick No.9. No matter what happens, both teams will have a chance to get a very good player.
“I think anytime you’re in a coin flip or any kind of competitive situation, you’d rather come up first than second,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. “But if you lose the coin flip, I don’t think there’s a lot of disappointment or panic or anything like that.”
The Panthers and Dolphins must do this because they both finished with the same 6-10 record and their strength of schedule also turned out to be exactly equal. But there’s no guarantee that the No. 8 pick will turn out better than the No. 9.
Two quick examples: In 2000, Plaxico Burress was picked No. 8. Brian Urlacher was No. 9. Both have had fine NFL careers. But Urlacher’s has been better, even if you discount the fact Urlacher never shot himself and served jail time on a gun charge, as Burress did.
In 1996, the Panthers picked running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka No.8 and Oakland picked tight end Rickey Dudley at No.9. Dudley ultimately lasted three more years in the league and scored 19 more TDs than the injury-plagued Biakabutuka.
Now it is true that winning the flip will give the Panthers a bit more leverage at No.8 if they ultimately trade the pick away. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King writes: “The difference in one spot on the draft trade value chart – the chart most teams use to divine value when making draft-day trades – between picks that high is 50 points. That’s roughly the equivalent of a mid- to low-fourth-round pick on the chart.”
This got me thinking about coin flips through the years. The Panthers won a big one with Jacksonville back in 1994 to obtain the No. 1 pick in the 1995 NFL draft (which they later traded away, choosing Kerry Collins at No. 5 overall).
There have been many more important coin flips through the years, in and out of sports. Here are five of my favorites.
5. Hakeem the Dream: In 1984, the NBA conducted a coin flip between Houston and Portland to decide which team got the No. 1 overall pick. Houston won and picked Hakeem Olajuwon. Portland lost and picked Sam Bowie. But Chicago, who wasn’t involved in the flip at all, really won by picking Michael Jordan at No.3.
4. That’s not quite what I meant: Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck once correctly called an overtime coin flip in a playoff game, then brashly declared, “We want the ball and we’re going to score!”
Hasselbeck then threw an interception that Green Bay returned for a touchdown.
3. Heads-Tails: On Thanksgiving Day in 1998, Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis called “heads-tails” while the coin was in the air to decide whether the Steelers or Detroit would get the ball in overtime.
The coin landed on “tails,” referee Phil Luckett declared Bettis had called “heads” and a controversy ensued. Detroit won the game.
That flip led to the NFL rewriting its coin-flip rule – you now have to call the flip before the coin is tossed.
2. Tale of two cities: In 1851, two men founded a large city in Oregon together. One was from Maine and wanted to name it “Portland.” The other was from Massachusetts and wanted to name it “Boston.” A coin flip decided “Portland” as the winner.
1. The Wright stuff: In December 1903, the Wright brothers were oh-so-close to flying. Their aircraft had room for only the pilot, so Orville and Wilbur conducted a coin flip.
Wilbur won. But his attempt on Dec. 14, 1903, stalled out, lasted barely over three seconds and wasn’t successful. Orville, the coin-flip loser, ended up going for 12 seconds and 120 feet in Kitty Hawk, N.C., three days later to begin the aviation era with the historic “first flight.”
Whether the Panthers win or lose the coin flip Friday, it won’t matter much. Because as Wilbur Wright could have told you, fate can be as fickle as a flying machine.