When you win a football game, you celebrate.

When you lose, you hang your head in shame and swear to improve.

What happens when you tie?

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons got a chance to find out Sunday; the two teams played to a 34-point stalemate at Heinz Field. The historic occasion marked the first NFL tie since November 23, 1997, when the Washington Redskins and New York Giants collaborated in a 7-7 indecision. In a strange alignment of the football planets, that tie came just one week after the Ravens and Eagles called a truce at 10 points apiece. Before that, the NFL had not seen a tie since 1989.

But why? What’s wrong with a tie? Why do we as Americans hate them so much?

Europeans like ties. They happen all the time in soccer. People are allowed to tie in Olympic events. Even Canadians, who seem to have an affinity for American sports, like ties enough to allow them regularly in hockey arenas.

But not us. No way. Think about the three big American sports.

Baseball: no ties.

Basketball: no ties.

Football: very few ties.

Isn’t there emotion between victory and defeat? Why must we insist on winner and loser, joy and agony, triumph and shame? Isn’t it possible to admit that two teams are evenly matched?

Now I’m not proposing that we get rid of overtime in the NFL. Far from it. If a team has made a furious comeback to tie things at the end of regulation, it should get a chance to win. What I am proposing, however, is that the NFL’s sudden death overtime period, much maligned in recent weeks, be changed to a quasi-normal period of play. If two teams end regulation gridlocked, give them each a couple of time outs and 10 full minutes with which to work things out. That way both teams will have to play defense (barring an absurdly long drive) and the OT coin toss will decide little more than momentum.

Sure, they’ll be more ties. But so what? Everyone likes a tight playoff race. Ties would make all those post season variables, well, more variable! And though there might not be as much emotion in the outcome, ties can be exciting ball games. Just look at the Falcons and Steelers. The two teams combined to score eight touchdowns during regulation. Michael Vick led his team from 17 points down to force the overtime stanza. And on the last play of OT, Tommy Maddox threw a 50-yard Hail Mary that Plaxico Burress caught one yard short of the goal line. So don’t tell me ties can’t be every bit as thrilling as a regular decision, even if there isn’t a winner.

And the NFL isn’t the only football league that needs to embrace their inner tie. NCAA football, once the last great American defender of the right to tie, now features an overtime system that features so much artificial scoring it would make an arena football fan cringe. There was a day when the undefeated team that won the national championship didn’t have to win all of its games, when college football records were partitioned by two hyphens instead of one. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way it should be. The BCS system may be annoying, but the NCAA’s overtime system is even worse. But I’m getting off track.

Though I admit no one will ever root for a tie, ties should be an acceptable outcome for football games. Baseball and basketball can keep their 12 inning games and quadruple overtime periods. But we shouldn’t have to wait another five years to see a football score that goes into the books knotted up. Overtime is fine, but give both teams an equal opportunity. If they manage to finish equals again, so be it.

Ties aren’t a bad thing. They never hurt any one. Sometimes two teams are just evenly matched. So to the NFL and NCAA I say: Do whatever it takes to change the overtime system. Win, lose, or tie.

Random Thoughts: Week 10

San Francisco 17, Kansas City 13: 49ers-Chiefs: The shootout that wasn’t.

Seattle 27, Arizona 6: While trying to decide which one of his heads he wants to sever, Holmgren cuts the Cards down to size.

Baltimore 38, Cincinnati 27: Hey Ed Reed! It’s Leon Lett on the phone. He wants his embarrassing moment back.

New Orleans 34, Carolina 24: When McAllister gets his Deuce, Saints roll.

Green Bay 40, Detroit 14: Harrington expends more energy celebrating a TD than he does in earning the right.

NY Giants 27, Minnesota 20: Giants Classifieds: Wanted. Someone who can catch a snap, place it for kicking.

Indianapolis 35, Philadelphia 13: Despite injuries, Colts manage to Mungro a running game.

St. Louis 28, San Diego 24: Marc Bulger: Warner’s second coming?

Tennessee 17, Houston 10: Old Oilers still better than the new.

Jacksonville 26, Washington 7: Pseudo-Swamp not so Spurrier friendly.

New England 33, Chicago 30: It’s a shame the Bears will have to christen the new Soldier Field coming off this pitiful season.

Monday Night Preview: Oakland at Denver

There’s no better division than the AFC West when it comes to MNF shootouts. This one should be even more of a doozy since the season is on the line for the Raiders. And they’ll find a way to win. Oakland 27, Denver 17.