NFL weighs playoff replays Blown Testaverde call apparently spurs move

December 08, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Facing a credibility crisis and a firestorm of criticism over a series of blown officials calls, the NFL announced last night it will consider bringing back instant replay for the playoffs.

An NFL spokesman said the league will draft a proposal for a coach's challenge system and present it to the owners for an electronic vote at a yet-to-be-determined date.

The league hasn't put together the specifics of the proposal, although it will include allowing replays in the final two minutes, .. even if a team is out of allotted challenges.

The new proposal is an obvious reaction to the play Sunday when Vinny Testaverde of the New York Jets was tackled short of the goal line by the Seattle Seahawks, but still was awarded the winning touchdown.

The league conceded the call was blown by the officials.

"The replay is self-evident," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

A proposal to bring back replays fell two votes shy of approval by a 21-9 vote at the annual owners meeting last March.

Aiello said that commissioner Paul Tagliabue has talked to some of the opponents of instant replay and they are willing to change their votes for the playoffs.

"They said, 'Let's consider it an insurance policy,' " he said.

Two of the opponents -- Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson and San Diego general manager Bobby Beathard -- have publicly indicated they are willing to switch.

Cleveland's return to the league means it will take 24 yes votes to pass replay, but the Browns have indicated they'll vote yes.

"Even if we didn't have instant replay for the playoffs, I think the chances of voting it in in March were good," said Carmen Policy, the Browns' president. "But if it goes well in the playoffs, it's a slam-dunk for March."

The league's worst nightmare is that the Super Bowl would be decided on a bad call similar to that in the Jets-Seahawks game.

There's always a chance, though, that some proponents of replay may object to changing the rules during the season. Former Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm tried in 1985 to install replays for the playoffs and the proposal was defeated.

The replays were then voted in from 1986 to 1991 before being tossed out because of not being implemented well.

That system featured a replay official in a booth who would decide whether to review a call. In the coach's challenge system, the coach would be allowed a limited number of challenges and the official would look at a monitor on the field to decide whether to overturn the call.

Aiello also said that Tagliabue is deferring the $50,000 fines he meted out to two owners, Wilson and Detroit's William Clay Ford, for criticizing the officials until he talks to them.

Both owners were upset, not only at the fines, but that Tagliabue faxed the notices to them.

Wilson issued a statement saying he didn't need "pompous lectures" from the commissioner, and the Lions were upset that Tagliabue faxed them a copy of a letter he sent to Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, after the officials made two bad pass-interference calls that cost the Colts a game to the San Francisco 49ers.

Tagliabue's letter said that Irsay wasn't fined, "due in large part to the great degree of professionalism and class with which your organization has always handled itself."

The Lions were stunned that the commissioner was saluting Irsay for "class" when his father moved the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984.

A Lions source was quoted as saying it was a "bizarre, gratuitous slap" at the team for Tagliabue to fax the letter he sent to Irsay to Detroit.

William Clay Ford Jr. said his father sent a "succinct and appropriate" letter to Tagliabue. Unlike Wilson, he didn't reveal the contents.

By deferring the fines, Tagliabue was acknowledging that his attempt to muzzle the debate was backfiring.

Another owner, Dan Rooney, the president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said the problem is with the grading system conducted by Jerry Seeman, the league's director of officials.

Rooney contended the officials are gun-shy and worried about their grades, a contention that was backed by a former official, who said on the CBS pre-game show Sunday that the morale among officials is poor because Seeman is so negative in his evaluations.

The league has experimented with a coach's challenge system in the exhibition season two of the last three years. Many coaches don't like the challenge idea, but may settle for it as a vehicle to get some kind of replay.

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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