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NFL - Instant Reply, Upon Further Review

By Craig Hardesty
Monday, January 21st, 2002

You can bet your last challenge that every member of the Oakland Raiders will be replaying Tom Brady's infamous "non-fumble" over and over again in their minds for the entire offseason. And it is an even safer bet that every member of the Raiders also wishes that the officials had not replayed the non-fumble at all this past Saturday night.

Even if you can stomach the shaky explanation of that pivotal play (the referee ruled that Brady's arm motion constituted an incomplete pass even though he was clearly holding the ball when Charles Woodson slapped it out of his hand), what is a lot harder to accept is the fact that the original ruling was overturned because of instant replay.

To make matters worse, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did not even challenge the call himself - the play was reviewed automatically because of a very suspect "under two minutes" rule. According to NFL instant replay law, any close call that occurs during the last two minutes of the half will automatically be reviewed.

What about the other 56 minutes of the game? Don't close calls happen during that time, as well?

Proponents of instant replay will argue that by reviewing the play, the right call was made in the end. And since we have the technology to implement instant replay, why not use it for the betterment of the game? After all, the only thing that is important is to get the calls right. It would be a shame to have a game decided because of a bad call made by the officials, right?


Those in favor of instant replay would have us believe that human error can be removed from the game of football. They would have us subscribe to the idea that it is the referees that decide the outcome of games, not the players on the field. And lastly, they would have the rest of us believe that instant replay makes football a better sport.

The truth is that human error is an inextricable element of the sport of football. Coaches send in bad plays. Coordinators make bad strategies. Quarterbacks throw errant passes. Receivers run the wrong routes. Linemen miss blocks. Running backs fumble. Defensive backs get beaten deep. Linebackers miss tackles. Cheerleaders drop their pompoms. Vendors spill beer.

And yes, officials make bad calls.

The instant replay argument would have more merit if it applied to every call during a game, but of course it does not. What about a holding call that was missed during the first quarter that would extend a drive? Isn't that an important play at the time? What about a pass interference call in the third quarter that the line judge missed? Why not use instant replay to correct those kinds of things? Aren't those plays important? The technology is there, so why not use it?

Oh no, instant replay lovers say. We should only replay some plays, not every play. By and large, NFL officials do a great job, and we wouldn't want to undermine their authority.

Exactly. NFL officials do an excellent job, most of the time. And they do not have the luxury to slow a play down into super slow motion as it is occurring right before their eyes. Referees cannot make their eyes switch to reverse angle or zoom lens when a close call is happening in real time like a television camera can.

And even when a close call is reviewed, isn't it usually the case that the play is still too close to call, even with instant replay? The momentum of the game is often compromised for the sake of a couple of millimeters of space between the ground and a player's knee or a shoelace that appears to touch a sideline on a close catch.

Instant replay has its place, and it's as part of a television broadcast. Keep instant replay off the field and out of the game of football, and let the NFL officials do their jobs. If they make a mistake on the field, so be it.

After all, they are only human.

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