WASHINGTON — I'm a football nut, but I'm mad at the game -- or at least angry at 11 of the 28 National Football League owners. I've tried for days to get over their votes to sack the instant television replay as a way of ensuring that close, often game- deciding decisions are correct.
My first reaction is that the owners can't abolish instant replay -- unless they can bribe the TV networks and the operators of those big stadium screens not to show viewers what really happened on a crucial play. The owners won't know fan anger until TV shots show a clear, egregious mistake by an official that helps the wrong team to win because there is no official recourse to use of slow-motion television evidence.
My second reaction is to scoff at the excuse given by the minority of 11 owners who voted to put instant replay out of bounds. They said the replays took so long that they ''disrupted the flow of the game,'' or they halted the momentum of a team that really had a drive going.
Even the least sophisticated fan knows that the major disrupter of ''the flow of the game'' is TV commercials. The owners will take all of these delays they can get, because the commercials make them richer.
Buffalo Bills fans at the Super Bowl were content to wait however long it took to establish that the Washington Redskins' Art Monk did not really score a touchdown. That's how it ought to be.
My greatest unhappiness flows from the apparent fact that the owners voting to scrap the instant replay have weakened the integrity of the game of professional football.
It is clear that in the premier games where the winners go to the playoffs or the Super Bowl, even one bad decision can determine which team prevails. One need not impugn the integrity of NFL officials to observe that they come with varying amounts of skill, prejudices, financial security and honesty. But neither fans -- nor gamblers in Las Vegas -- had to worry much about ''the human factor'' when everyone, including the officials, knew that some beady-eyed cameras and replay officials were watching all the key plays and rulings.
Football has been remarkably free of scandals relating to playing-field activities that could influence the outcome of the game. Coaches may have cursed ''the worst officiating I've ever seen,'' but they knew that the big boo-boos of the guys in the striped shirts were wiped out by the instant-replay system.
NFL team owners tend to be rich, ''self-made'' men with egos as big as the Rose Bowl. It's unlikely that the 11 foes of instant replay will say, ''I think I made a serious mistake. Let's go for another vote, real quick.'' They probably won't, but for the sake of the game, they sure as hell should.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.