The Two Minute Warning

Two Minute Warning: An Essay in Two Parts

Bear with me here.  Part II builds from Part and is completely different

Part I

How they used to do it, in days of yore

From its origins, many decades ago, American Football still employs the Two Minute Warning.  Off the top of my head, I’ll report the basic idea and history of the warning.  [My brain might be foggy here.  I stopped watching NFL football long before it was cool to do so: stop.  I can’t see spending 3-1/2 hours watching a game with 12 minutes of action. The world laughs at us]. [1]

Long, long ago, on American football fields flung far and wide, there were no stadium clocks showing time remaining.  This was annoying for fans, players and coaches alike.  The head referee on the field, or member of the referee staff so assigned, kept the “official” time on the field.  This was performed for decades with a rather pedestrian wind-up time piece.  Pre-WWI this was likely done with a pocket watch with a man-in-the-loop faux timer function … or not. Oy veh!

Of course, in such a set-up, no one but the referee could know the exact official time.  This is significant at the end of each half.  Not as important in the 1st half, but crucial in the 2nd half, which is the end of the game. Imagine a team driving toward a winning score with a minute, or two, or three minutes left. The game suddenly ends.  Whaaaat? They absolutely must know the precise time remaining for efficient play calling.

Enter the Two Minute warning.  The game is stopped at 2:00 minutes remaining. The referee calls time out and walks to each coach and informs them:  “Coach, 2 minutes remain.”

Perceptions of time can differ among people experiencing the same things – even for the same person in different situations. Coaches on the sidelines would typically have their own timekeeper to inform them with a good estimate of how much time remains.

Anyhow. Enter the stadium clock. I don’t know exactly when this happened, it doesn’t matter much, but let’s guess early- to mid-20th century.

Good ol’ analog stadium clock. Probably in NYC’s Polo Grounds.

The sad fact is, this didn’t totally fix the problem.  Though the game had a timer, or clock operator, they could only made their best guess as to when the clock should stop and start, based on referee whistles and motions.  In other words: a SWAG.  At the two-minute warning from the time-keeping referee, the timer would re-set the clock to 2:00.  However obvious it might be, errors of a few seconds here and a few seconds there accumulated and the stadium clock began to drift away again.  By the time the two minutes are over, the game clock is not quite the same as the stadium clock.

Same problem, not as bad.

Successful technology changes and improves things.  At some point – doesn’t really matter when but let’s guess early 1970s – radio communication allowed instant synchronizing with the official time and the stadium clock.  Stadium clocks became digital; not just two analog hands rotating on a dial. When the clock drifted from referee-official-time we hear the ref say something like “Add 3 seconds to the clock.”

Great!! Problem completely solved.  No more Two Minute Warning needed! But … under the leadership of entrepreneurial experts, like former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, the NFL grew to become a colossal money generating machine.  One of the many ways they “exploited” the consumers and fans was to keep the Two Minute Warning, despite its uselessness with regard to the game. Its duration is usually of two-minute duration (don’t confuse the duration with the time it happens) – a free timeout for the trailing or driving team, by the way.   The NFL had grown addicted to selling that TV time to advertisers.

This is the time in a game when fans are most likely most glued to a TV – at home or in a bar – especially in a tight game. It’s expensive to advertise then. During the regular season 30-second ads during the 2-minute warning cost, SWAG, up to $1 million.  During the Super Bowl many times higher. This is very expensive to the advertisers and lucrative to the NFL.  (Actually, that TV time had already been sold to the TV network that had paid for the exclusive right to broadcast the game. Who then re-sold it.  But the general idea remained.)

So here we are.  A useless 2-minute warning that’s not needed at all.  Except to make money.


Part II

As the Two Minute Warning is now useless to the actual game of football, wouldn’t it be interesting to transfer a how-much-remains information spot over to some other arena of life, where it might actually be useful?

Warning.  Part II contains both oblique and somewhat humorous references to death.  If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988.  If under medical or psychiatric care call the provider immediately.

A football-based philosophic question comes up from time to time.  As the football Two Minute Warning was used to tell us how much time remained… what if we had an End-of-Life Two Minute Warning?

An angelic soothing voice hits the brain: “We thought you should know how much time remains. You are nearing the end of your earthly presence. At the end of this sentence, you have two minutes.”  Poof, gone.

Clarence the angel announces to George Bailey — not that his life is ending — but that he is there to save it. It’s a Wonderful Life.

Two minutes would, of course, be rather useless.  Even if you’ve used the two minute “free” time out and saved you unused time outs during the last half of life. Since it’s fantasy we should design a more ideal timing of the warning.

Circling back to only two minutes (don’t ya love how talking heads say “circle back” so often?  Rather replaced “frankly” and “at the end of the day.”  But I digress.)

What would you do?

Although imaginary, … what if?  What if a reasonably healthy person got the message?  You have two minutes.

Now, what would you do?  It’s kind of a Rorschach test, no?  Not a realistic question at all, so there’s no right answer.


Well, first I’m gonna apply “Football two minutes.”  It’s all fantasy anyhow.  The two-minute time out lasts two minutes itself.

I think I can get up to 6 minutes more if I take time outs.  With dead ball time outs, a bit more.  So, maybe up to 10 minutes.

In one last flash of luck, I’m home in the kitchen, and my wife is home too. There’s a nice bottle of tequila in the cabinet.

“Hey honey! Come in here quick!  Urgent news! Really, really Urgent.”

She enters.  What, what!?  I take a shot of tequila and chase it with a can of cheap American lager.

I’d make sure my wife had access to my file of passwords.  Big kiss. Sit on the couch.  Go through our lists.  Find the Wills.”

“I guess I’ll see ya on the flip side.”  Hug.

Look, no BA test

Send a quick prayer to mom, “Sorry for the late notice, but I might be dropping in to see you in a little bit; but maybe not, I don’t know how the process works from here. There’s no bus schedule.”

Then I hope the buzz kicks in (that’s why I did the shooter/chaser first) and hold on for the roller coaster ride, on the couch with Audrey, both trying to remain calm.  [Now if there’s a “Golden Gate” or “Pearly Gate?” If so, then I wonder: does Peter, or whoever, give a Blood Alcohol test?  Probably not, I’m just a ghost, right?] Then the ride starts.  Mom or dad, or someone already passed on who is emotionally close, shows up to serve as my escort.  Round and round it goes. Where it stops, we don’t really know.

Or better.  Let’s choose a bit longer period.  Two weeks, or two months.  Time to get your “poop in a group.” Finish that list, check off those items.  Stage a send-off party.  Indulge yourself.  Get right with your Creator, whatever you conceive them* to be.  Go through memorabilia. Select a mortuary. Then, as satisfied as you could possibly be, it’s off you go.  * [“Them,” since: who am I to presume a gender?]

May you all have a long, healthy, active life.  You’ll never get that warning.  Spend at least a few minutes every day like they might be your last.  Share your love, be generous, be patient, be kind. [2] Be at peace with the world, your creator, and yourself.


Joe Girard © 2023

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Author’s notes (footnotes follow):

[1] I hope some of my clever and sports-oriented readers noticed that I used a bear (Chicago Bear) picture next to the paragraph that bears the word “bear.”

[2] Based on Paul, Corinthians, 13.

3 thoughts on “The Two Minute Warning”

  1. Bob Petrie

    If it weren’t for the Packers and the playoffs and Super Bowl. I’d probably not follow or watch pro football much. As for life’s 2 minute warning, well, let’s say we could make a lot of brief amends in those 2 minutes, a lot of “I’m sorrys” to those you may or may not have offended over the years. Or else enjoy that one last beer. Or in my case, iced tea with a double lemon.

  2. Chris Cronk

    “‘You know,’ said Arthur, ‘it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.’ ‘Why, what did she tell you?’ ‘I don’t know, I didn’t listen.’” — Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  3. Steve Rolfe

    Two-minute warning, indeed! We are old enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel, however bright or dim it might be. Let’s hope the end is still a long way away.
    Your presumptuousness about gender is indeed appropriate, but perhaps a step still to close. Shouldn’t — couldn’t — a creator be beyond human form or concept. Are we anthropomorphizing something beyond human? Oh well, I’ll let others philosophize about that.
    Lastly, following in the footsteps of the NFL, the stewards of America’s most important sport, how to we monetize such a warning? We’re Americans. There must be some money in this.
    I’ve just answered my own question. The money is in the Will.

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