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Original Issue

The Play Stands

The NFL has corrected a terrible call, instant replay, and this fan is unflaggingly grateful

I love NFL football. IT'S A TERRIFIC game, tailored for television, and it's one of the few shows on TV without Tony Danza. It's still the reason to wake up Sunday mornings and to stay awake Monday evenings. It's one of the last pleasures in America you can enjoy without having to shave first.

And this season the NFL is even better: It has gotten rid of instant replay as an officiating tool.

I'm an NFL guy, an NFL pal, an NFL fan. (Speaking of which, Mr. I'm a Big Fan—you know, the goof on those ubiquitous CBS promos—should go the way of instant replay. The guy looks like a cross between Norm Hitzges and an overgrown hedge. Whatever game he's watching, I'm not.) I relish my sedentary weekend routine: bagels and juice, Greg and Terry, games and more games. Beanbag chairs were made for NFL Sundays.

But from 1986 to '91, the league decided that every call on every snap had to be ever-so-right. The eye in the sky created frowns on the ground. Instant replay became instant delay. Here's hoping the league doesn't bring it back next year.

With instant replay, a subtle but significant change occurred in our viewing habits: Suddenly, we thought about the officiating on virtually every play. The action itself should occupy our minds; when you don't notice the zebras, it's a better game.

Instant replay is for those leather-heads who delight in the fact that NBA game clocks display tenths of a second.*

(*If instant replay were used by the publishing industry, we'd stop right here, a replay editor would look over the preceding paragraph to check for errors in syntax and for language that's out of bounds, and, as you can see, the whole flow of my column would be upset. Is this what you want? Not to mention that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the paragraph in question anyway, except that I didn't find a way to sideswipe hockey fans.)

Instant replay also creates more chatter from mike-in-the-mouth jock analysts who live to question calls.

Besides, the on-field officials get most calls right. Yes, with instant replay, the percentage of correct calls likely increases, but at what price? Where does it stop? When officials measure for a first down—which can make the difference between winning and losing—they use a 10-yard marker whose chain links were probably bought at a hardware store 35 years ago. What if the referee doesn't stretch out the chain all the way? What if a link is missing? Heck, why not use a laser beam shooting down from the press box to indicate precisely 360.000 inches?

Let's remember: It's only a game. On the other hand, if instant replay could've been used during events that weren't only a game—like, say, in the Nixon Administration—the course of history might've been changed. And, frankly, there are several marriages I know that could've been saved (or ended) with prudent use of replay.

Incidentally, this column is not subject to further review.