Volume 3, Number 2
It is alive.
Instant replay, that horribly failed experiment of the early nineties, has returned from the grave and is poised to make its triumphant return to NFL games, possibly as soon as next season.
The movement has been steadily growing for the past few years and has recieved an added boost in the past few weeks due to blown calls in critical regular season and playoff games. Why, ask many, should we allow such blunders to affect the outcome of a game when we have the technology to prevent it? Isn't it a shame that some of the most talented athletes on the planet should devote years of their lives to developing and honing their special skills to make an NFL roster, then work their tails off from July through December to position themselves for a shot at the Superbowl, only to have the game decided by a 60-year old part-time referee who was looking the wrong way?
Well, let me ask you this. Isn't it a shame that blah blah talented athletes blah blah years of their lives blah blah special skills blah blah July through December blah blah shot at the Superbowl blah blah, only to be decided by a 150 pound pencil-neck with a bad haircut, no thighpads, minimal english skills, and not enough sense to wear a kicking shoe?
Yes, it's a shame to see a team's season end because of a bad call, but, as lame as it sounds, it is all part of the game. Some of football's most memorable moments are the result of blown calls. Remember Dan Pastorini's TD pass to Ken Boroughs in the 1979 AFC title game that was ruled out of bounds? Or what about the goal line fumble by Rob Lytle in the 1977 AFC title game that replays clearly showed happened at the 1-yard line, but which the officials ruled a touchdown? Or the famous "Holy Roller" by Ken Stabler in 1978 against San Diego. Heck, even the "Immaculate Reception" by Franco Harris in 1972 was, by many accounts, a blown call.
The point is, for good or bad, blown calls are part of the game, they give the winner something to thank their stars over, the loser something to point to as an excuse, and both parties something to argue over. In the end, everyone gets something.
Besides, what has been missed in all of this is the simple point that instant replay is not employed in any of the other major sports for a reason. It did not work, cannot work, and will not work. The idea, though, noble, is too cumbersome, too time consuming, and too limited in scope to achieve the goal to which it aspires: To allow the participants to determine the outcome of the game, and not the officials.
The problem is this: Take a touchdown play. Say the official on the ground calls the catch good, but the replay shows he trapped it. The call is overturned, justice is served. Now, take the same play, only instead of trapping the ball, replays clearly show that an offensive lineman held the pass rusher and prevented him from reaching the quarterback. This call is not under the purview of the replay official and is not overturned and, viola, you have a blown call resulting in six points for the offense.
The fact is, most of the calls the referee makes over the course of a game are either non-reviewable or are judged by the replay official to be "inconclusive". Most of the examples cited above would fall under one of those categories. Worse, you can't expand the scope of the replay official without creating further delays in the action, which we all agree is bad.
Now, the Professor will admit that he was in favor of instant replay the first time it was employed and was overjoyed each time the instant replay official overturned a bad call. The Professor also remembers how, all too often, a ten minute game delay would produce nothing more than that most dreadful of pronouncments, "After further review, the play stands as called.", even when it was shockingly obvious to the dimmest of viewers that the play should be overturned.
That was the most disappointing thing about the whole experiment. It wasn't the plays they overturned or even the plays they could have overturned but were unable to even review, it was the plays they should have overturned, but simply didn't. The Professor can forgive a blown call from time to time. Maybe the ref was out of position, or the play happened too fast, or whatever. Mistakes happen, and yes, they do affect the outcome of the game. A quarterback fails to pick up a blitz, a cornerback bites on the fake, a coach calls the wrong defense, a official calls a reciever "out" when he should have been "in", all of these things happen over the course of a game. They even out over the course of a game or a season and, in the end, the better team usually winds up winning anyway.
And that, in the end, is all you can reasonably ask from a football game.