By JOE KAY, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — One word from Giants special teams captain Zak DeOssie will begin the Super Bowl.
With more than 100 million people watching in the United States alone, the long snapper from New York, other Giants captains and their counterparts from New England will see referee John Parry display both sides of a special commemorative coin for the opening toss.
Then, DeOssie will choose his side.
"I've called 'tails' every single time this year, and that's what it's going to be this weekend," DeOssie said in an interview Thursday.
Chances are, he'll be right.
The National Conference has won the last 14 Super Bowl coin flips, though that hasn't turned out so well in the end. The American Conference has won nine of those 14 title games.
Want to pick the Super Bowl winner? Might as well just flip a coin. The team that's won the opening toss is only 22-23 in the title game, evidence that it has very little impact on whatever happens next.
It's still a special moment, one that gamblers lay money on and businesses build promotions around. One chain is offering its rewards program customers a free pizza if the coin comes up heads.
It's also significant in another way: A rare game decision left entirely up to the players.
"I'm out of that one," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Thursday. "We have our captains and they decide who's going to make that call. We do keep track of who wins and who loses, thank you very much."
DeOssie, whose father Steve also played in the NFL, got the honor on a whim.
He and the other two Giants captains — quarterback Eli Manning and defensive end Justin Tuck — were walking toward midfield before the season opener in Washington when the subject came up for the first time.
"Eli turned to Tuck and said, 'You want to call it?'" DeOssie said. "And Tuck said, 'Nah, I don't feel like it. I don't need to call it. Zak, you want to call it?' I said yeah, sure."
It was his job the rest of the way.
In the NFL, the visiting team gets to call the coin flip. DeOssie went 4-4 during the regular season, and the Giants chose to receive the kickoff rather than defer all four times. It came up heads during a second-round playoff win at Green Bay, but DeOssie got the coin to land his way twice during a win at San Francisco in the NFC title game, including overtime.
Coughlin wouldn't say what he'll pick if it comes up tails on Sunday. He has chosen to receive the kickoff most times.
Like everything else in the NFL, coin flips are tracked for trends.
During the 2011 regular season, teams that won the flip and chose to take the ball went 71-79, according to STATS LLC. Teams that deferred to the second half were 64-42. Weather and home-field advantage play into those results.
The first Super Bowl coin flip landed on the grass at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 15, 1967. Green Bay captains Bob Skoronski and Willie Davis met Kansas City's captains at midfield, won the toss and the game.
Two years later, the Jets' Joe Namath guaranteed a victory. The Jets won the coin toss and fulfilled the guarantee, too.
There have been a couple notable changes in the pregame flip since those early title games.
During a Thanksgiving game in Detroit in 1998, Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis called tails for the overtime coin flip. The referee thought he heard heads and decided the Steelers lost the flip. They then lost the game 19-16 on a field goal, prompting a rule change.
Now, the captain calls it before the coin leaves the referee's hand.
The league changed its coin flip rule again for the 2008 season, allowing the winner to defer its choice to the second half.
Recent history between the Giants and Patriots suggests the flip will be a midair starting point for something spectacular.
Four years ago, New England was one win away from completing a perfect season when Eli Manning drove the Giants to a winning touchdown. David Tyree made an incredible third-down catch, trapping the ball against his helmet for a 32-yard gain. Manning threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left for a 17-14 win.
There was more Manning magic when the teams played again on Nov. 6 in Foxborough. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds to go for a 24-20 win.
No wonder Patriots quarterback Tom Brady cares less about who gets the ball first than who has it last.
"It wouldn't surprise me if this game came down to the last 2 minutes," Brady said. "I hope we have the ball. I hope Eli doesn't have the ball."
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