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Jaire Alexander suspended one game by Packers for not knowing coin flip rules

The self-appointed captain nearly had the Packers kicking off both halves

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Jaire Alexander wasn’t even supposed to be at midfield on Christmas Eve in Charlotte, N.C., and now he will be home for the next Packers game for a mistake made during the coin toss.

For each game, the Packers designate three captains on a rotating basis and Alexander was not on the pregame list handed to the officiating crew. Alexander, a Charlotte native, invited himself to the pregame coin toss ceremony and called the coin toss.

Incidentally, the officiating crew is not required to match the pregame list to the captains that come to the coin toss. The only requirement — which we confirmed with a retired NFL referee — is to ensure that no more than six team members are present, whether they are active or inactive players or honorary captains. Alexander was the fourth representative from the Packers sideline, and presented himself as the toss caller, so all was kosher.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur approached referee Alex Kemp in pregame to indicate that he wanted to defer their choice to the second half if they won the coin toss. But Alexander unknowingly started to countermand that when the Packers won the toss. Alexander told Kemp that the Packers wanted to be on defense, which outside of a Pro Bowl is not an option. A captain may only select that they want to (1) receive or kick or (2) which goal to defend, with the other team getting to choose the remaining option. The coin toss winner also may decide to take their first choice in the second half by stating “defer.”

Kemp clarified with Alexander that the team wanted to defer, but Alexander was completely unaware of the coin toss options, even after the game. In a postgame interview, Alexander told reporters of the exchange: “I said, ‘I want our defense to be out there,’ and they all looked at me like I was crazy. I mean it’s pretty simple what I said, I want the defense to be out there. They like, ‘You mean defer?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I guess.'”

Kemp took the pregame instruction from LaFleur and Alexander’s “I guess” as an affirmative to defer, which was then supported by his teammates so that the game could proceed. A cocksure Alexander told reporters, “it’s pretty obvious what I’m asking for.”

It is not obvious, and the Packers were fortunate that Alexander didn’t say that they would kick off, because that would be the first-half option for the Packers and the Panthers would then select receive in the second half. Simply indicating a goal preference could also throw this off. By declaring the nonoption to “defense,” it is an ambiguous response. While the first choice of the captain is irrevocable, a referee can exercise discretion to accept a clear response. Such an instance where discretion could have applied was the 1962 AFL Championship game.

In that game, Dallas Texans captain Abner Haynes told referee Red Bourne “we’ll kick to the clock” in overtime — a directive from his coach, Hank Stram, to select field position over receiving. Bourne accepted that instruction until he realized that the Houston Oilers needed to exercise an option. Instead of asking Haynes for an unambiguous selection, Bourne just shortened it to “we’ll kick” and allowed the Oilers to take advantage of the wind. The Texans won the title game in the second overtime. (The Texans moved to Kansas City in the offseason and are the current Chiefs; the Oilers became the Tennessee Titans in the 1990s.)

More recently, a coin toss situation cropped up with the Patriots, and even though everything happened correctly, it caused confusion for the participants. Entering overtime in a 2015 game against the Jets, coach Bill Belichick told referee Clete Blakeman that his option would be to kick if the Patriots won the toss. Patriots captain Michael Slater was unaware of the ramifications of that decision. To streamline the option process, Blakeman took Belichick’s declaration and prompted, “you want to kick?” which Slater replied, “We want to kick off.” Slater was confused when Blakeman asked the Jets which goal they wanted to defend, but selecting the kick option (which Belichick insisted wasn’t an error) doesn’t take away the Jets’ options.

In 2019, Dak Prescott made an error similar to Alexander’s when the Cowboys captain told referee Walt Anderson, “We want to play defense. We want to kick it. Kicking it that way.” Again, defense isn’t an option, but it was followed by a selection to kick, then a selection of both options. Anderson took the first valid selection — kick — which was followed by Prescott requesting to defer. At the time, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron took an unprecedented action — which we pointed out was “dangerous” — to revise via replay the option selected to defer so that the Cowboys would not kick off both halves.

Back to Sunday’s coin toss situation, the Packers suspended Jaire Alexander one game for not only his self-appointment to captain but also being totally unaware of the captain’s specific duties that nearly cost the team the ability to kick off both halves. LaFleur has said that the suspension for conduct detrimental to the team included other issues with Alexander in addition to the coin toss situation.

Image from Alexander’s Instagram feed.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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