John Elway and Joe Montana were masters of the two-minute drill.
And if the Congressional supercommittee is to be successful in trimming $1.2 trillion in spending by its November 23 deadline, then it had better institute a no-huddle offense and conduct a legislative rendition of "The Drive."
"The clock is ticking," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a member of the supercommittee.
"Congress and government generally don't do anything until the last minute," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). "The last minute is fast approaching."
"We know that the deadline's there. There's still time to meet the deadline," said supercommittee member Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI).
"It's getting late. And I haven't given up hope," said supercommittee co-chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).
It's possible the time constraints hanging over the supercommittee are more like the seconds dripping away on a basketball shot clock than time expiring in a football game. The NBA used to struggle with low-scoring, moribund games until the introduction of a 24-second shot clock in the mid-1950s. The clock proved revolutionary, compelling teams to shoot rather than hold the ball. This infused the league with offense, which in turn, reeled in fans.
To supercommittee member Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), the November 23 "clock" could force action. It essentially requires the supercommittee to do something. Becerra says the supercommittee needs to work the offense and spread out the defenders. But it can't burn too much time.
"If we don't move fairly soon, we won't get that one, good chance to get a shot at the basket to beat the buzzer," Becerra said. "This could be a magical week."
It's unclear if Becerra hoped someone would cue up "One Shining Moment" from CBS's March Madness coverage.
"In one shining moment, it's all on the line...
"One shining moment, there frozen in time..."
So here's what the supercommittee faces:
Its members must craft a package that cuts $1.2 trillion. If it fails to craft a proposal that hits that mark by November 23, then $1.2 trillion is automatically cut via a "sequestration," the actuarial equivalent of building a moat around those funds. About half of all "sequestered" money would come from defense.
But not all of that money could be subject to sequestration.
It's possible the supercommittee could create a proposal that simply cuts several hundred billion dollars. The difference between that figure and $1.2 trillion then qualifies for the sequester.
Of course, just because the supercommittee forges a complete or a partial agreement doesn't mean it's a done deal. That's because both houses of Congress must then approve PRECISELY what the supercommittee concocts by December 23. Failure by either the House or Senate to do exactly that means the supercommittee's plan is null and void and the Congress must immediately wall off $1.2 trillion via sequestration.
So members of the supercommittee continue to huddle. And the foot traffic around the office suite of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) intensified Tuesday, starting with a 40-minute pow-wow the Ohio Republican had with Harry Reid. Later, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called on Boehner for a half-hour. And at the end of the day, Boehner caucused with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and all six Republican members of the supercommittee.
"The issues at this point have to go to a higher level," said one House senior aide familiar with the supercommittee discussions.
But Reid downplayed the meaning of his conversation with Boehner.
"I don't think there is anything to kick up to the leadership level. There is nothing to take a look at this stage, at least as far as I know," Reid said.
To reporters roaming the Capitol hallways, Hoyer was a somewhat unexpected guest at Boehner's office suite Tuesday. In fact, it was initially unclear if Hoyer and Boehner even discussed the supercommittee impasse.
"Did you talk about the supercommittee?" a reporter asked Hoyer as he exited the Speaker's office.
"What do you think?" responded Hoyer with a smile.
Hoyer later said he had previously met with Boehner about the travails of the supercommittee. But like Reid, the Maryland Democrat indicated top Congressional leaders weren't swooping in to sideline the supercommittee and salvage the stalled process.
"I didn't ask him for anything and he didn't ask me for anything," said Hoyer of his meeting with Boehner.
And therein lies the rub. Unlike in health care reform, unlike the debt ceiling, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) or even a bill to avert a government shutdown, the Congressional leadership is not truly in charge of this process. That's what makes the supercommittee and its mandate so unique. Almost every other big-ticket issue is driven by Congressional leaders. So when things start to careen off the tracks, Congressional leaders jump in and save the day. They tweak bills, cajole rank-and-file members and strike a bargain through promises.
Not here. The supercommittee is on its own with a shot clock ticking in the background. Maybe it swishes a 20-foot jumper as time expires. Maybe it clanks a brick off the rim. Maybe it mishandles the ball or steps out of bounds. Regardless, the ball is in the hands of the supercommittee. And the law that hiked the debt ceiling in August and created the supercommittee designed the process this way so that either the supercommittee would hit its shot before the horn or it would lose. It's that plain and simple. The supercommittee seems to face one "One Shining Moment." Carpe diem. They're either national champions or also-rans.
"One shining moment, you reached for the sky,
"One shining moment, you knew...
"One shining moment, you were willing to try..."
And that's why despite the shroud of pessimism, lawmakers try to remain upbeat.
"The chasm can be bridged over the next several days," said Hoyer.
"I'm hopeful that they will arrive at a deal and that a sequester will not be applicable," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on Monday.
"We're trying to find that sweet spot," said Xavier Becerra. "The elements of a deal are here."
Still, Congress is again engaged in brinksmanship with the clock ticking down. The same was true in April when it narrowly averted a government shutdown with minutes to spare. And many lawmakers remain fatigued from August's close call when Congress nearly failed to increase the debt limit, risking a credit default.
But Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) notes it's only November 16. And the moment of truth doesn't hit until November 23.
"Chances are, it's not going to be up until the 23rd," said Simpson. "After all, that's what deadlines are for."
And when the shot clock expires.