If the NFL's 28 owners voted today on whether to retain instant replay as an officiating tool, replay would lose. According to an SI survey, executives from only eight teams say they are certain they would vote to keep it in its present form.
But every year about this time, the antireplay forces appear to have enough votes to kill the system at the annual owners meetings the following March. Yet replay has hung on for four years because many owners don't stick to their guns at the meetings. This time it may be different, however, now that former commissioner Pete Rozelle and former Cowboy president Tex Schramm, two strong advocates of the system, are out of the league. And some new antireplay converts have emerged. Only the Giants, Bengals, Cardinals and Buccaneers voted against replay last spring. They're all still against it. Now you can add solid no votes from the Bears, who were burned by a game-deciding reversal by the replay official in Green Bay two weeks ago, and from the Bills, whose executives admit they voted for the system last year out of respect for Rozelle. The Eagles and Vikings also seem certain to vote no. "It's the biggest piece of garbage that's ever been in the NFL," says Minnesota coach Jerry Burns.
That's eight naysayers, enough to prevent replay from getting the three-quarter majority it needs for survival. The Chiefs and Steelers also say they oppose instant replay, although their opposition doesn't seem as strong as that of the other eight. The Cowboys, too, seem lined up with the opposition now, especially after Sunday's experience at Texas Stadium, where the Cowboy-Dolphin game was interrupted a record 17 times for replay reviews. "I've made up my mind," said Cowboy owner Jerry Jones during the game, "and unless something changes, I'm against it. This just interrupts the game too much."
Right now 14 teams would probably vote for the system in some form, 11 would vote against it, and three are uncommitted.
Look for supporters of the system to propose revisions next March in an effort to save it. One suggestion is to set a two-minute time limit on reviews. The average replay delay has increased 20 seconds since last year, from 1:20 to 1:40, with many dragging on for three minutes. Replay was created to correct obviously wrong calls. If it takes two minutes to evaluate a call, then it's not obviously wrong. Some owners favor a system used by the USFL, in which each team was allowed to request two replay reviews per game; if the call stood upon reexamination, the team asking for it lost a timeout. But even those who favor such a revision say that its association with the hated USFL may doom its chances of being adopted.
In defense of the system, reversals by replay officials have increased significantly over previous years and only three or four of the reversals have been deemed incorrect when later reviewed by the league. So far this year there have been 53 reversals (.346 per game), compared with 53 (.237 per game) during all of last season.
And in a sense, the league is hostage to the sophistication of TV coverage. If instant replay dies, fans will be bombarded by replays of horrible calls before going to bed on Sunday night. Says Browns owner Art Modell, "The viewer will say, 'My god, I wish we had instant replay. Look how they blew that call.' "
The system has bugs, but consider this: About four bad calls per week have been corrected thanks to replay this year. The system should be saved, not scrapped.
For 15 years, between 1974 and '88, the once-proud Chiefs averaged six wins a season, and their fans responded. They stopped showing up. Last year there was an average of 27,000 empty seats at games in Kansas City. "We lost a generation of fans," says Bob Moore, the team's first-year director of public relations. So when owner Lamar Hunt hired former USFL executive Carl Peterson last December to retool the franchise, he gave Peterson two mandates: Build a winner, and fill the stadium.
So far Peterson is succeeding, at least in part. The Chiefs are a predictable 4-6-1, but they've drawn 16,879 more fans per game than in 1988, and they've sold out three of their first five dates in 78,097-seat Arrowhead Stadium. They are fifth in the NFL in attendance, and the four teams ahead of them—the Bills, Browns, Giants and Broncos—are all division leaders.
"There's no question I relied on my experience in the USFL," says Peterson, the Chiefs' president and general manager. "There are some spoiled franchises in the NFL. Whatever their record, they sell out. They can afford to be arrogant. But we've got to compete for the entertainment dollar. That's why, when I hired [coach] Marty Schottenheimer, I told him, 'You've got to help me sell tickets.' "
Peterson reached out to his customers. For disgruntled season-ticket holders, Peterson and Schottenheimer held five open meetings in the off-season to answer fans' questions. All told, about 5,500 attended the sessions. To lure new ticket buyers, Peterson sent five to 10 players to GM and Ford assembly plants in the K.C. area to mingle with autoworkers. The workers bought more than 400 season tickets. For churchgoing fans angered by the Chiefs' noon starting time, the club has twice arranged massive nondenominational religious services in the stadium and in the parking lots. Wide receiver Emile Harry prayed with fans after one game at Arrowhead. "We haven't had slogans, and we haven't promised anything except hard work," says Peterson. "I think that appealed to the average Midwesterner." Now all the Chiefs need to do is give the average Midwesterner a winner.
Two of the silliest stats—team performance on artificial turf and quarterbacks' won-lost records—are taking a beating this year. Entering the season, the Broncos had lost 12 games in a row on carpet. That was supposed to demonstrate that Denver lacked team speed. What it showed was that the Broncos have had a tough time at Seattle and Kansas City, and on the road in general. This year Denver is 3-0 on turf. As for the other stat: At the start of the season, quarterbacks Mike Tomczak of the Bears, Jim McMahon of the Chargers and Doug Flutie of the Patriots—all former or present Bears—were 1-2-3, respectively, in career winning percentage, with a combined record of 69-21. This year they are a combined 10-11....
Complaints about bad officiating continue, and they seem more strident than they've been in recent years. "I like the officials and I know they're trying hard," says Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason, who thinks the replay is making the refs tentative. "But the officiating has been so bad it's comical."
Mills (51) says the Saints' Oct. 22 win over L.A. set their confidence soaring.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
As usual this fall, Tex Schramm spent Sunday in exile. He woke up about 8:30, walked four miles through his woodsy suburban Dallas neighborhood, returned home for half a grapefruit and toast, and drove with his wife, Marty, to Texas Stadium for the Cowboys' game against the Dolphins. He sat in the suite (number 280, right next to the press box) his family had occupied at the stadium during the final 18 years of his career as Cowboy president. His seat put him about 40 feet and a glass partition away from Dallas's new boss, Jerry Jones, who sat for a while in the press box. That used to be Schramm's haunt, but he doesn't go in there or in the Cowboys' locker room anymore. Jones and he had a parting of the ways last spring after Jones bought the team, and Schramm now heads the NFL's fledgling World League of American Football. All that remains for him at Texas Stadium is his luxury suite.
"It's a strange feeling, one I haven't been able to describe properly yet," he said as he watched Dallas take an early 14-3 lead. Schramm swept his hand toward the field. "You live this for 29 years. You were part of creating it. It's strange to think it's no longer. When I look out there, it's kind of like a dream, a nightmare. Sometimes I can't believe it isn't the same anymore.
"Everybody says, "Gee, great, now you can retire." Well, when you retire, you're supposed to retire and do something you want. This is what I want. My life is being in the arena. I miss this."
Miami came back to win 17-14. The defeat, sealed by Dolphin running back Sammie Smith's one-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, dropped the Cowboys to 1-10, while resurgent Miami gained a first-place tie with Buffalo in the AFC East.
Does Schramm still root for Dallas? "I'm human," he said, smiling. "I'm mixed."
IT'S GETTING GRIZZLY
The Buccaneers' 32-31 victory over the Bears capped a sweep of a season series with Chicago for the first time in Tampa Bay's 14-year history. But this may have been the game's most amazing stat: After Bears quarterback Mike Tomczak was benched a month ago, backup Jim Harbaugh played almost 15 quarters and threw two touchdown passes. Upon replacing Harbaugh in the fourth quarter Sunday, Tomczak tossed three TD passes in three minutes.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
•After the Browns played the Chiefs to a 10-10 tie, the first words to the press out of Cleveland coach Bud Carson's mouth were, "It was a tough one to lose."
•The Eagles beat the Vikings 10-9 despite the failures of kicker Steve DeLine, who replaced Luis Zendejas after Week 8. DeLine missed field goals from 45, 32 and 45 yards and isn't planning a long stay in Philadelphia. "I don't buy green bananas," he said.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Love that fifth-place schedule: The four teams that were fifth in their divisions last season wound up with a combined record of 17-46-1. But this year, helped by the soft schedules the league awards to losers, the Dolphins are 7-4, the Packers are 6-5, and the Chiefs are 4-6-1. The Cowboys are the only fifth-place finishers from '88 who are still in a division basement.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Giants at 49ers. Three years ago this week, New York was coming off a home win over an AFC West opponent (Denver) and heading west with a 10-2 record for a Monday-night matchup with San Francisco. The Giants stayed in Palo Alto and practiced at Stanford the day before the game. New York prevailed 21-17 and went on to win the Super Bowl. This week the Giants are again coming off a home win over an AFC West opponent (Seattle, 15-3) and heading west, with a 9-2 record, for a Monday-night game against the 49ers. They'll again stay in Palo Alto and practice at Stanford the day before the game. And the winner will....
Bengals at Bills. Last year, the difference between Buffalo and AFC champion Cincinnati may have been the home-field advantage. The Bengals won at home against the Bills in Week 13. Six weeks later, in the AFC title game, the Bengals again defeated the Bills in Cincinnati. Now Cincy is a so-so 6-5, and the 7-4 Bills and their 80,000 loony fans are the hosts. Besides seeking to avenge its 1988 losses, Buffalo is fighting for the home-field advantage in this season's playoffs. The Bills are 13-1 at home since the beginning of '88. "We're just better here," says center Kent Hull.
Rams at Saints. New Orleans might have gotten its wake-up call too late. Although the Saints have won five of their last six games, they're only 6-5, and one more defeat could make them the best team to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. In Week 7 they routed the Rams, who were 5-1 at the time, 40-21 in Anaheim, Calif. "Football is a game of confidence," says New Orleans linebacker Sam Mills, "and that game gave us confidence." A victory this week would be another huge boost.