What Makes It a Rubber Match, Anyway?

The final and decisive game of any series is referred to in sports as a “rubber match,” a word that dates back to the 16th century English game of lawn bowling. The goal of lawn bowling, which is somewhat similar to bocce ball, is to roll wooden balls across a level field in the direction of a smaller, white ball so that they stop as close to that smaller ball as possible without striking it.

The majority of specialists who have studied the phrase “rubber match” concur that it gets its name from either two lawn bowling balls rubbing together, which is a game-ending error, or from the potential for the losing team to be “rub out,” or erased, in the final game.

Origin of Rubber Match

The phrase “rubber match” has no connection to genuine rubber, despite the fact that its precise origin is still unknown. As previously stated, it was first applied during lawn bowling matches in the sixteenth century.

Two game balls rubbing against one another could be used as a tiebreaker to decide who wins the match. The phrase “rubber match” has lingered in our sports vernacular ever since.

Others contend that the word derives from the verb “rub out,” which generally denotes total destruction, erasure, or elimination. While we can’t truly say which term—”rubber match”—was used in which game initially, we can take a closer look at lawn bowling and bocce ball to observe how the term was—and is still—used in both activities.

Green Bowling

Teams spin hard plastic balls over a bowling green, which is often grass, in the sport of “lawn bowling,” trying to land them as near as possible to a smaller ball known as a “jack.” Although it might seem like a simple game, some games have been known to take four hours.

Each participant in a singles or doubles match receives four balls to roll. In contrast, each player receives three balls in a triples match. The winner is decided by measuring the distance between each ball and the jack after each player has done rolling their balls.

The winner receives points, sometimes known as “shots,” for having their ball the closest to the jack. The game restarts at the other end of the green once all points have been determined for a given throw.

Ballo Bocce

So, are bocce ball and lawn bowling the same game? While there are some significant variations between the sports, they are undoubtedly similar. To begin with, there are eight big balls used in the game of bocce and one smaller ball that is usually called the “pallino,” though some players also call it a “jack” or “boccino.”

In contrast to lawn bowling, each team is given four balls, each of which has a distinctive pattern or colour. Up to four players can be on a team, and the amount of people on a team affects how many balls they can toss. For instance, a two-player team will each throw two balls. In contrast, the player tosses all four balls in a singles match.

The teams flip a coin to begin the game. Depending on who wins, they can either opt to throw first or get to choose their ball colours.

The pallino is then rolled by the players, and to be considered a valid throw, it must cross the centre line of a typical bocce court. The opposing team rolls the ball next if the pallino misses the centre line or leaves the court’s perimeter.

Rolling their ball as close to the pallino as possible, the player who rolled the pallino gets to go first. The opposite team then has a turn. The balls closest to the pallino after all of the balls have been hurled score a point for their teams. It’s interesting to note that in bocce there is no “rubber match” because the game ends when a team scores 16 points.

A Rubber Game is what?

A “rubber game,” or “tiebreaker,” is the final contest of a series if both teams have an identical number of victories and defeats. Around 1599, the expression made its debut in lawn bowling, and by 1744, it had extended to card games. It is now utilised in a variety of sports events.

However, there have been various applications for a “rubber game.” For instance, “rubber bridge” is the original version of the card game bridge where participants play the same deal to allow for comparable scoring. Additionally, in card games, the best-of-three games used to select the winning team are referred to as the “rubber of whist.”

What in Baseball Is a Rubber Match?

Baseball refers to the best of three, five, or even seven games in a series as a “rubber match.” Teams who are deadlocked for a postseason position in Major League Baseball (MLB) require a tiebreaker game during the regular season. Only 16 tiebreaker games have ever been played in the MLB, so it’s not a common occurrence.

That’s good news, as things might become even more difficult to determine divisional and “wild card” winners if two or more teams are forced to compete in a series of tiebreakers. The longest professional baseball game ever was played in 1981 between two minor league clubs, the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings.

The game was played over two days and lasted eight hours and twenty-five minutes, including 33 innings. The “rubber match” segment lasted 18 minutes as well.

What in Basketball Is a Rubber Match?

Rubber matches are unusual in basketball, just like in baseball. However, the phrase’s meaning—a tiebreaker—remains unchanged. When a conventional game ends in a draw, the players play additional five-minute overtime games until a winner is determined.

The longest National Basketball Association (NBA) game ever was played in 1951 between the Indianapolis Olympians and Rochester Royals. Before the Olympians were able to win the game, the sides engaged in a total of six sets of five-minute overtimes.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.


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