AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
From Day 1, I've supported the NFL's decision in 1986 to adopt instant replay. I believed that a staid league was entering the modern age by using technology the whole world could understand—the rerunning of a play on a TV monitor—and that someday the outcome of a significant game would be hugely and correctly influenced because there was an eye in the sky.
Others, of course, didn't see it that way. "You're just adding another layer of error," Bengal general manager Paul Brown told me. "You're taking the human element out of the game," said Giants general manager George Young.
Nonsense, I replied to both. But now I know they were right. While I can't say specifically what changed my mind, I do know that the league must dump instant replay. As I watch games this season, I realize the only effect that instant replay is having on the sport is negative. In its fifth season, the replay delays good games unnecessarily, and the bugs still aren't out of it. The game ain't broke, and instant replay ain't fixing it.
This is probably a futile plea, because when SI polled executives of all 28 teams last week, six said they will vote against instant replay when it comes up for renewal again at the NFL meetings next March, and another two said they are leaning in that direction. True, only eight nay votes are needed to shelve the replay, and at times over the last four years it has looked as if eight owners were ready to turn their thumbs down. But every year instant replay has had the prodding support of the commissioner—first Pete Rozelle and now Paul Tagliabue—and twice (in 1987 and '90) it has survived by a 21-7 vote. If any owners are listening, here's why instant replay must die:
It's not worth the trouble. Through Sunday's games, the NFL had run 159,348 regular-season plays in 1,023 games since the adoption of instant replay, and a replay official had overruled an on-field official 257 times. So, one in every 620 plays has been changed—one play for every four games. Few reversals have left imprints on games.
It's not foolproof. The main argument for implementing instant replay was that it would prevent the wrong team from winning a game. Well, only once since '86 have two teams stood on the field in the final minute, awaiting a replay official's call that would decide the outcome of the game. Chicago was at Green Bay in November 1989, and Don Majkowski of the Packers had thrown a TD pass that on-field officials nullified because they said he had stepped over the line of scrimmage. However, the replay official ruled the TD should be allowed, because he believed the ball wasn't over the line of scrimmage when Majkowski released it. A few days later, league officials privately admitted to the Bears that the on-field officials' call should have stood, because there was not indisputable evidence that a reversal was in order.
It doesn't improve officiating. Art McNally, the league's director of officials, says he's convinced the replay isn't making his men on the field indecisive. That's hard to buy when it seems that two or three times a game, after a play has ended, seven officials run to the spot of the ball, staring at one another without anyone making a call. I don't remember that happening very often before instant replay.
It destroys the momentum of a game. Last year Dallas was giving the playoff-contending Dolphins an excellent game, leading 14-10 after the first half at Texas Stadium. But the flow of the game was stopped 17 times for replay reviews, with only one reversal. Miami won 17-14.
Instant replay was a good idea, a noble idea. The nobler idea now? Kill it.
THE BIG CHILL
Dan Reeves, 46, is a tough guy, and he's a tough guy to work for. Now, in what has been his worst season in 10 years as coach of the Broncos, he's hanging tough. "I honestly believe tough times don't last, but tough people do," he said last Friday. "Let me tell you this: I'm one tough son of a gun. And I'm going to last."
After three Super Bowl appearances in the last four years, Denver—3-7 after Sunday's 16-13 loss to Chicago—has almost no chance of making the playoffs this season. What's more, quarterback John Elway told The Denver Post last week that his relationship with Reeves had deteriorated to the point where they hardly talk to each other. Reeves and Elway then met privately to work out better communication between the coach and his players, and they agreed that the quarterbacks would help with game-plan preparations on Tuesdays, their day off.
In the midst of the Reeves-Elway spat, Denver police announced that tackle Gerald Perry was being investigated for an alleged sexual assault on the fiancèe of teammate Orson Mobley, and backup cornerback Elliott Smith was arrested on a DUI violation. (Both missed Sunday's game, with Perry having been given a leave of absence by the team and Smith having entered an alcohol-rehab program.) Bronco players have been arrested 13 times in the past 2½ years on various charges, with Perry accounting for four of those. Reeves said the week probably was his "alltime low" in coaching.
Make that a year of alltime lows for Reeves. In January, Denver lost 55-10 to the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Reeves needed coronary surgery in the preseason to clear blocked arteries. He cried in front of his players after a humiliating 34-17 home loss to the Steelers a month ago.
"This is not a game you want to lose at, believe me," says Reeves. "It's a tough enough business when everyone is working together and you're winning. When everyone isn't, it's miserable. But you know what this will do? I believe it'll make me tougher. And I believe it'll make us bounce back."
THE END ZONE
Buffalo radio station WGR-AM has cornered the market on shows hosted by members of the Bills organization. General manager Bill Polian has one, as do coach Marv Levy and quarterback Jim Kelly. And since Nov. 5, Adam Lingner has had one. Adam Lingner? He's the team's long snapper, as anonymous a job as there is in football. Lingner, who has started one game in eight NFL seasons, was such a hit as a guest last month on another WGR sports show that the station gave him his own slot on Monday nights.
One of the sponsors? Snapple beverages, of course.
Incredibly Overpaid Relief Pitchers
FRANK REICH, Bills
MARK DAVIS, Royals
On the Way Up and on the Way Out
DAVE MEGGETT, Giants
KEITH HERNANDEZ, Indians
ANDRE RISON, Falcons
NICK ESASKY, Braves
Pssst, Ottis! Who Is This Guy?
OTTIS ANDERSON, Giants
DAVE ANDERSON, Giants
Guess which One's Going to the Hall of Fame?
MIKE WEBSTER, Chiefs
MITCH WEBSTER, Indians
Worth Their Weight in Gold
WILLIAM PERRY, Bears
RICK REUSCHEL, Giants
Here's One for You Baseball Players
ERIC DICKERSON, Colts
ROB DIBBLE, Reds