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FolktalesInside Coin Flip
Folktales: The Coin That Didn't Flip
A crazy Cardinals' playoff win over the Packers, and a memorable overtime coin toss 
By Kyle Odegard, special to Oct 28, 2021
Photographs By Arizona Cardinals/AP

Aaron Rodgers pulled so many rabbits from his hat on January 16, 2016, David Blaine could have taken notes.

The Packers battled the Cardinals valiantly in the NFC Divisional playoff round, but found themselves trailing 20-13 as time ticked down.

The game seemed all but over as Green Bay faced a fourth-and-20 from its own 4-yard line with 55 seconds left, until its star quarterback chucked a pass 60 yards downfield to little-known Jeff Janis.

Even with those heroics, the Packers still found themselves 41 yards from the end zone with only five seconds remaining, staring at one last-ditch effort to tie the game.

Improbably, the Hail Mary king continued his reign by rolling out and hitting Janis again for the game-tying touchdown as time expired. Janis out-leaped cornerback Patrick Peterson to make the catch and held on after safety Rashad Johnson hit him on the way down.

"Oh my God," former Cardinals cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross said. "You practice that situation. You hope that it never comes down to that situation, but when that happened, I was like, 'Wow.' I couldn't believe it. It was the craziest. We were in position to make a play, and we didn't make it. We just didn't make it."

It was a collective gut punch felt throughout the State Farm Stadium crowd, which went silent as the Packers celebrated wildly.

"It was just, ooof," said Mark Dalton, the Cardinals' senior vice president of media relations who was on the field for the ending. "It goes from rabid to funerial, like that."

The Cardinals went 13-3 during the 2015 regular season and had the look of a potential Super Bowl champion, but the buzzer-beating touchdown led to an unsettling realization.

"This was the first time that I was in Arizona sitting on the bench where the entire secondary was quiet," former Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "Nobody said a word. We were just sitting on the bench like, 'Oh my gosh, in the playoffs, we just gave Rocket Man another chance to beat us.'"

Momentum is impossible to quantify, but don't tell that to the people there that day.

A coin flip was set to determine which team got the ball first in overtime, and there was near unanimity in the outcome if Green Bay chose correctly.

"It might be bad to say this now, but I remember looking at everybody and thinking, 'Man, we better win this coin toss," Powers said.

"I thought, if the Packers get this ball, it's going to be over," said Kent Somers, then the Cardinals' beat writer for the Arizona Republic. "They've got Aaron Rodgers on their side. They've got some magic on their side."

Referee Clete Blakeman gathered the captains at midfield and went over the standard debrief, explaining that Green Bay would call heads or tails, with the winner getting the option to receive.

The Packers' captains were Rodgers, outside linebacker Clay Matthews, fullback John Kuhn, edge rusher Julius Peppers, kicker Mason Crosby and special teamer Chris Banjo.

The Cardinals countered with quarterback Carson Palmer, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, left tackle Jared Veldheer and long snapper Mike Leach.

Somers halfway paid attention from the press box, more interested in the result than the toss.

"You're kind of watching out of the corner of your eye," Somers said. "It's not a big deal, usually."

Rodgers called tails, and when it came up heads, Palmer excitedly signaled that the Cardinals would receive. But chaos then ensued.

"I'll never forget, clear as day -- you can see the coin floats up and it floats down," Leach said. "It never flipped. Carson right away starts yelling, 'We'll take the ball. We'll take the ball.' And (the Packers) start yelling about it. There was a look of panic in Clete Blakeman's face for a second."

Technically, the coin didn't actually have to turn over for a ruling to be made, but Blakeman almost instantly called a re-do.

"It didn't flip," he said from the field. "It didn't flip. It didn't flip."

"Hold on!" Campbell said frantically. "Hold on! Come on, man!"

Leach threw his arms up and looked to the Cardinals' bench. Palmer and Veldheer turned away in disgust.

Despite the objections from the Cardinals, Blakeman tossed the coin up again, this time with the proper revolutions. The players stopped squabbling and lasered in on the coin.

And, once again, it landed on heads. Cardinals ball.

"Maybe God was just on our side," Powers said.

Dave Pasch, the Cardinals' play-by-play announcer, reacted with incredulity in real time, flabbergasted that Blakeman tossed a coin that didn't flip.

Five years later, he was asked what his reaction would have been if Green Bay won the second toss.

"I probably would have lost it," Pasch said. "I was obviously very close to losing my mind. So yeah, I think I'm scared to think of what I might have said on the air. I might not be sitting here with you guys right now. I may not be a broadcaster anymore, because who knows what I would have said. I was not real thrilled with Clete at that moment."

The Cardinals received the ball, and Rodgers never touched it in overtime. On the first play from scrimmage, Palmer twirled away from a sack and found a wide open Larry Fitzgerald for a 75-yard catch-and-run that would subsequently be dubbed the 'Hail Larry.'

"Once he got it, it was pandemonium," Leach said.

One play later, Fitzgerald took a shovel pass from Palmer for a 5-yard touchdown, clinching the 26-20 win and sending the Cardinals to the NFC Championship game.

"(The coin) did not flip, but we got the ball – and then Larry Legend does what Larry does," former Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson said.

Between the Hail Marys, the botched coin toss and Fitzgerald's heroics, the showdown instantly became one of the most memorable playoff games in NFL history.

"Going back to the first Green Bay-Arizona playoff game (in the 2009 season) – I thought that was the best playoff game I'd ever seen," Pasch said. "How do you top that? Well, the Cardinals and Packers topped it."

Before the game began, Dalton had his customary meeting with Blakeman and a media relations rep from Green Bay.

They shared which players were mic'd up and timed up their watches, before Blakeman asked for the coin, which Dalton handed over still in its plastic case.

"This particular game, they sent a separate coin and it's got 'Packers vs Cardinals' and 'Divisional Playoff' and the date, so it's really cool," Dalton said. "I do remember Clete saying, 'Oh, I didn't know it was one of those magic coins.'"

Even after the coin flip chaos, Dalton didn't think twice about the meeting, until he read a story the next morning about the oddity of it all.

"I think it was Clay Matthews who had a quote in there … and he said it might have been that plastic case that affected it," Dalton said. "I'm like, 'What is he talking about? I flipped on the TV and fast-forwarded to the coin flip. And there it was. The gold coin was still in the plastic case.

"If you hear Clete on television, he says the 'T' side will be tails, and the NFL shield will be heads, or something to that effect. What's the 'T' side? I didn't know, so I went back and found the coin, and it's got a piece of white tape with the letter 'T' for tails written in sharpie on that side of the coin."

To this day, Dalton has the coin in his possession, still encased in the plastic wrap that was supposed to come off before the toss. It never did, which caused the Cardinals several seconds of confusion and potential heartache.

But the Coin Flip gods were fair-minded on this night, allowing the do-over to be a whimsical footnote instead of a season-altering event for both the Cardinals and the Packers.

"That coin should be in Canton, Ohio," Ross said. "That coin should be in the Hall of Fame because it never flipped. It did something that nobody had ever seen."

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