I can remember the first time that I saw instant replay, in action, during an NFL game.
It was November 5, 1989 and officials had originally determined that Packers quarterback Don Majkowski had crossed the line of scrimmage before throwing a touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe in the waning moments of a game against Chicago.
The play was reviewed with instant replay, the initial ruling was overturned, and Green Bay had beaten the Bears.
Good call. Good game. Good system.
Boy, was I wrong.
It has become clear to me that the entire practice of instant replay needs to be mothballed.
What should be seemingly easy to utilize and master has become nothing more than, in most cases, a way to lengthen the time it takes for an official to make a mistake. And the whole process seems to lead to more missed calls than the old method of “call them as you see them.”
First of all, one could make the case that instant replays show that NFL officials are most often right in their first call.
Depending on which website you choose to believe, instant replay leads to calls being overturned between 21 and 50 percent of the time. Using that as a judging criteria, NFL officials are at least as accurate as weather forecasters, stock market gurus, and people who decide to get married.
Making the right call when you are officiating a game featuring very big, very fast, very athletic players is tough and there are going to be mistakes made. And before the advent of instant replay, we lived with that fact.
Oh yeah, we whined about it, but we grudgingly accepted the call, sooner or later, and moved on.
One thing we never had to deal with was a huge video board that almost always shows that instant replay just doesn’t work. And anyone who saw the last play of this year’s Green Bay vs. Seattle game knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The thousands in the stands that night, and the millions watching on Monday Night Football, knew instantly that Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings had intercepted the hail mary pass. Apparently, though, one official was watching another game and incorrectly signaled “touchdown” after a brief scrum over the ball.
I, like the rest of the throng watching that night, knew that the play would be overturned after review, especially since another official had ruled it was indeed an interception.
Yet after a lengthy review, the referee announced that the touchdown would count.
Like so many others viewing this debacle, I couldn’t believe it took that long to be that wrong. The only good thing to come out of that gaffe was the end of the lockout of the “real” refs.
There are several problems with instant replay.
Probably the most significant is the camera never seems to capture the exact angle needed to really determine if the call was accurate or not. To be quite honest, the replay is usually as difficult to read at slow speed as the original play was at full speed … difficult enough the Perry Mason would have trouble using the film as evidence to prove his client’s innocence if he were forced to use that system.
There have been, it seems to me, an inordinate number of instant replay calls that were botched this season, and I don’t think the overall effect of the system has been positive for the game.
Let’s just chalk it up as a nice try and go back to the use of an official’s snap judgement call. Granted, they weren’t always right, but neither is instant replay. And think of the time it would save everyone involved.
However, that extra time spent might be the only good thing about instant replay. It does give you more chances to make a sandwich while they make a decision.