Instant replay was introduced to the wide world of television sports on Pearl Harbor Day in 1963 — for the Army-Navy football game, of all things.
That’s right. Until then we got to see things once, so you paid attention and you didn’t blink and whatever happened is what happened, and if the officials blew a call, well, the human element has long been a part of sports. Players screw up all the time. So do coaches and so do referees. Of course, sports officiating, as one pundit observed, is the only profession in the world where you are expected to start perfect and get better every day.
It wasn’t long after that first instant replay that the technology geniuses were able to not only replay the action, but to slow it down. Remember Slo-Mo? The next step, of course, was adding multiple cameras that could replay and slow down the action at multiple speeds from multiple angles, and before you could say Jasper Sanks, we had created a monster. Officials had to make split-second decisions in the heat of the moment and we fans could sit at home and second- — and third- and fourth- and fifth-guess — the calls from the comfort of our own living rooms.
But not at the stadiums. Remember when they first installed those big screens at the ball parks and in arenas everywhere? Now even high school stadiums have them. But they wouldn’t show controversial calls on the big boards because, I suppose, game management feared retribution against errant officials. In an Atlanta Braves game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (Am I the only one that misses that place?) the umpiring crew walked off the field in protest after a replay on the Megatron seemed to show them up. They wouldn’t return until the Braves management promised not to do that again.
Those days are long gone, however. (Can anyone say “bogus infield fly rule?) and now we get to see it all — over and over and over.
Then in 1986, professional sports lifted the lid off Pandora’s Box and officials began to use instant replay on television monitors to review plays that were extremely close or controversial. That experiment didn’t really go well. It turned out that the replay officials in the booth were missing more calls than the zebras on the field, and the plan was abandoned in 1992.
Aha! But not so fast, my friend. The review was reinstituted — if a coach challenged the call on the field — in 1999, just in time for the new millennium. College football followed suit in 2004. Baseball, long the keeper of tradition, except for that ridiculous designated hitter thing, held out until 2008 — and then it was only on questionable home run calls.
But now, all the major sports have all sorts of opportunities to review and rebut decisions, and it has gotten completely out of hand. Any New Orleans Saints fan will tell you that no system is fool proof. Other fans, like me, will complain that it just slows down the game too much and too often kills the momentum. In the SEC, for example, every play of every college football game is supposedly reviewed. That’s just ridiculous. And decisions are only supposed to be overturned if there is inconclusive evidence. If that were the case, reviews would take about 30 seconds instead of five or six minutes as they sometimes do. And there are still plays that could be reviewed that aren’t — like somebody being called offside after they blocked a kick in the National Championship game when they clearly were not.
College basketball is the worst offender. The very worst. An otherwise magnificent March Madness was made almost unwatchable at some points because of officials stooped under hoods on the sidelines staring into television monitors. I got so sick of hearing about catch and release — or was it hook and grab? — or whatever they called it when two players inadvertently locked elbows. Blow the whistle. Make the call. Play the game.
And last Saturday the very ultimate in absurdness was reached when it took the stewards at Churchill Downs 22 minutes to decide that the winning horse might have veered off a straight line and impeded a couple of other horses. If it takes dozens of cameras and 22 minutes to decide a foul occurred, a foul didn’t occur. I’m sorry. Not a big enough foul to take down one horse’s name and put up another as the winner of the Kentucky Derby. It was the first time that had been done in the 145-year history of the race.
It was just bogus, as is so much of the wasted time and use of technology that has taken over the sporting world. Just because we have it doesn’t mean we should use it.
A handful of people changed the outcome of a sporting event Saturday and billions of dollars changed hands. The fact that I was turned away from the window at Churchill Downs with just my betting stub, with $20 on the number 7 horse to win, instead of the $100 I was due, has nothing to do with my ire.
Well, that’s not all of it anyway.
And if we are going to go crazy over all these reviews, Jasper Sanks never fumbled against Georgia Tech. If we can take Maximum Security off the board, surely we reverse the outcome of that 1999 game.