Only in football is it possible to replay reality

MIKE LITTWIN

September 25, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

If only life were like this.

If only in life there was this great Cameraman in the Sky to make instant -- well, not exactly instant, but reasonably quick; well, not that quick actually, but less time than it takes, say, to name a certain stadium -- rulings on the day's activities.

For instance, the boss comes in to yell at you and just when you're looking for a hole in the floor big enough to crawl into, suddenly there's this whistle sounding, and some authority greater than you -- greater even than the boss -- says, "Hold up, we're taking another look at the situation." You wait. The boss waits. You drum your fingers. The boss drums your fingers. You break for commercial. And then comes the decision, which is announced for 30 million people to hear:

"After reviewing the play, we have determined the boss is a colossal jerk. His call is overruled. He's penalized 15 yards and has to walk around the office with a neon kick-me sign on his back for a week."

But life isn't like that, is it? Pro football is, however. Baseball is the sport that is supposed to be a metaphor for life, by which I guess they mean that getting through your typical day is not unlike trying to hit a Gregg Olson curveball. Football is no metaphor. It's simply getting punched in the face -- but with the added attraction of reverse-angle instant replay of your head bursting like some overripe cantaloupe falling onto the pavement. But, if you're lucky, you can get the whole play overruled, although how you get your head back together is your problem.

In any case, that's pretty much what happened Monday night on Monday Night Football, which isn't what it used to be, but then what is?

On Monday Night Football, in the most improbable game of the season, da Bears won in overtime when Cap Boso (that can't be his real name, can it?) caught a pass and took it in for a touchdown, ending a night of frustration, also stupidity, by the New York Jets.

The players ran off the field, dodging equipment boys and minicams.

The announcers thanked all the sponsors for making their sports cars and vacation homes possible.

The happy fans in Chicago made for the exits. The weary fans at home made for bed.

And then came the replay guys, who have the last say on everything. Sort of like the IRS, except with not as good a sense of humor. You'd think they'd have wanted to go home by this time, but that would suggest they had loved ones to go home to. Instead, they said the game might not be over because they needed to review the play. You can hear the groans now, can't you? Their official explanation was: "We were just doing our jobs."

Basically, by this time, they were just doing it for their own enjoyment. As they reviewed, the players were already back in the locker room. Elvis had left the building. And the Fridge was just finishing up his second course at Ribs-R-Us. And of those who were playing along at home, many had already turned off their sets.

It's a time when you long for Howard Cosell. At least I did. I know a lot of people wouldn't want to hear from Howard even if he promised to mention them in his will. But wouldn't it have been great to hear him say: "It's bad enough to have ex-jock announcers ruining our enjoyment of the game when they should be content to do beer commercials, and Frank doesn't have any more brains than Kathie Lee, but what in heaven's names are these striped-shirted bozos in the press box doing trying to take over the game?"

But they did. They called da Bears and the Jets back out from the locker rooms. You could actually see the Fridge wiping his chin. Da Bears got a touchdown, anyway, and everyone went home happy except the Jets, who blew the game in only about 46 different ways, most of them on decisions by coach Bruce "You Mean You Don't Kick Field Goals on First Down?" Coslet.

It was a great night. And the final call was either a great argument for the official use of instant replay or a great argument against, depending on your point of view.

If you're from the truth-and-justice brigade, what happened was only right. You just wish that they had instant replay when the UN boys went in to see Saddam. And you're right, the replay showed that Cap Boso's knee went down before the ball got in the end zone. That's why they have the rule, isn't it? We want games to be played according to the rules, even if takes all night.

If you're from the humans-are-only-human camp, you favor people over machines and ask if this technology is so great, why don't the Japanese, who build all these replay cameras, play football? Besides, it was time for that game to end, wasn't it? Don't we all have jobs we have to go to the next morning? Bottom line: The guy was close enough.

It's a tough decision, and it really doesn't matter which way you rule. Because the replay guy gets to review it, anyway.

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