NFL hits reverse on instant replay Review scrapped for '92, but league to experiment

March 19, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

PHOENIX THC MXB — PHOENIX -- After six years of further review and much debate, the NFL owners reversed instant replay yesterday.

With four owners joining the ranks of the traditional seven opponents, instant replay fell four votes short of approval for the 1992 season. The replay has been used to take a second look at officials' calls.

Supporters needed 21 votes to approve instant replay for a seventh straight season.

The four votes that doomed instant replay were cast by Norman Braman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles; Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys; Dick Steinberg, general manager of the New York Jets; and Sam Wyche, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

They joined the Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, Phoenix Cardinals, New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs in opposing the measure.

The victory for the opponents, though, did nothing to quell the debate, because the league still plans to experiment with replay this season and try to come up with an improved system next year.

"I'm sure it'll be voted on next year," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.

The current system apparently didn't work well enough to survive. There were too many mistakes made, and it slowed the game too often.

Braman said, "Basically, it was a great theory that didn't work in practice."

The instant-replay officials reversed 90 calls this year, but the NFL decided nine of them shouldn't have been reversed. Also, 12 calls that should have been reversed weren't.

The result is that of 102 plays that were reversed or should have been, the officials made mistakes on 21 of them -- a failure rate of about 20 percent.

Supporters, though, argued that 81 calls were correctly reversed, and the NFL now faces having a game decided on a bad call that can't be reversed.

Jim Finks, general manager of the New Orleans Saints, who DTC heads the league's competition committee, said when he was asked if the decision was an embarrassment to the league, "I perceive it as stupidity on our league, not an embarrassment. I think it's poor judgment on our part."

Don Shula, coach of the Miami Dolphins and a member of the committee, said, "It is a step backward."

But Wyche disagreed: "This is a step forward, not a step backward. This is just another, 'Let's look at it the way we did it for years and years and see if it's now the way we prefer it.' "

Coach Joe Gibbs of the Redskins, a longtime replay supporter, was disappointed by the vote, but said the league never got instant replay to work right.

"That's because the original principles were never abided. We never got it the way it should be. It should have been quick. It shouldn't have taken too much time," he said.

Gibbs also said reversals were supposed to be made only in "definite and obvious situations."

He said: "If you get definite and obvious, you're not going to get 20 percent wrong. We never got it polished."

The demise of instant replay often has been predicted, but it survived because supporters successfully lobbied for 21 votes. It passed by 21-7 margins the past two years.

This time, Tagliabue either couldn't or wouldn't save it.

Although Braman said Tagliabue made an "impassioned plea" for instant replay, Tagliabue didn't seem as upset as Finks at its demise.

Disagreeing with Finks, he said: "I don't think it was stupidity. I thinkyou can analyze this very carefully and come out with a balanced view in terms of the pluses and the prices."

He then brushed off the vote, saying, "Did the world come to an end today in Phoenix? A long way from it. There are a lot more things that are more important in the world, including the NFL, than this. It was a very important football issue, but I think the arguments pro and con were very balanced."

While Tagliabue's balanced approach didn't win many votes, another thing that hurt instant replay was the Cincinnati connection.

The Bengals always have been against instant replay, and two former Bengals coaches, Wyche and Bruce Coslet of the New York Jets, have moved to teams that voted yes in the past and switched to no.

In the six years of instant replay, it decided only one game, and the replay official blew the call.

After the officials on the field nullified Don Majkowski's game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of a 1989 game between theGreen Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears because they said he had crossed the line of scrimmage, the replay official reversed the decision and gave the Packers the touchdown and the victory.

The league later decided the call shouldn't have been reversed. It was such incorrect calls that eventually doomed instant replay -- at least for 1992.

NOTES: The owners scheduled a special meeting in Dallas on March 30 in an attempt to come up with 21 votes to approve a rebate for the TV networks in 1993 and a two-year extension through 1995. There'll be much lobbying on the issue in the next two weeks. . . . The NFL will experiment in the exhibition season with radio helmets for the offensive tackles so they can hear the signals in noisy stadiums and with the 1-inch kicking tee to make it more difficult for kickers to get the ball in the end zone. Now, the tee is 3 inches. Neither measure, though, is likely to be adopted in 1992. . . . The owners wrapped up the meetings by rejecting a proposal a proposal to move the kickoffs from the 35 back to the 30. . . . They also didn't come up with any measures to increase scoring. Finks said the main reason for the drop in scoring is that the defensive athletes are getting better and more specialized.

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