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Safety first: O’Donnell throws into own end zone

October 6, 1997

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) _ Bill Parcells stood on the sideline in animated discussion with a game official. It looked as if he were explaining the rules.

He was, sort of.

With the New York Jets on the their 34-yard line and facing fourth-and-1 with 16 seconds left Sunday, Parcells called a timeout. The Jets led 16-10 and Parcells knew exactly what he wanted to do.

He simply had to alert the officials that he was going to have Neil O’Donnell throw the ball out of the back of the end zone for an intentional safety.

``I was telling him what I am going to do, and reminded him of what the rule was, so there was no judgmental error,″ Parcells said. ``They knew what the rule was.

``Neil wanted me explain to him what I wanted him to do. I told him to run back there and take some time, then turn around and throw it over the goalpost.″

O’Donnell, not quite used to throwing the ball into the stands on purpose, obeyed his coach well. He took the snap, retreated a few steps, then fired a bullet through his end zone, giving the Colts two points.

But it also wasted some time and allowed the Jets to use a free kick rather than a punt under pressure when they had to give the ball back to the Colts. Indianapolis couldn’t do anything with its two plays from the Colts 22, and New York won its third straight, 16-12.

``I called that play because I thought it was safer than having Neil scramble around,″ Parcells said.

``This is a play I learned today,″ said O’Donnell, who admitted the last time he took a safety at the end of a game was when he was at Maryland in 1989. ``I never heard of that type situation before. I thought I knew all the rules.″

There were many stunned people in the Hoosier Dome when O’Donnell pegged the ball into the end-zone stands. The Colts questioned why it was not a grounding call, which would have given them the ball at the Jets 29. But for a quarterback to be called for grounding, he must throw a forward pass. O’Donnell’s toss missed being that by about 40 yards.

It was not the first time Parcells _ or the Jets under another coach _ had done something like this.

``In 1993, at New England we were playing Cincinnati on a sunny but very windy day,″ Parcells recalled. ``We were winning 7-0 and had about 40 seconds to go. We’re going into a strong wind and punting out of the end zone.

``I felt we might not get the ball to the 35 and they would have some shots to get it into the end zone, so we snapped it over the punter’s head on purpose for the safety. We won the game 7-2.″

Three weeks earlier that season, also against the Bengals, the Jets had eight seconds remaining with the ball at their 32 and leading 17-10. Coach Bruce Coslet ordered punter Louie Aguiar to take the snap in punt formation, run around as he retreated to the end zone, then toss the ball out of the back of the end zone as time expired.

Aguiar did so perfectly. But officials ruled (incorrectly) that New York must make a free kick. The Bengals fielded the ball, tried several laterals, but were tackled and the game ended.

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