For most sports fans the phrase “instant replay” immediately conjures images of officials hiding under a hood, huddled around a monitor or wearing head phones behind home plate, all in an attempt to see if what their eyes saw matched what really happened. It wasn’t always like that. When Tony Verna invented instant replay 51 years ago it was to fill the boring gaps between each snap in a football game. For decades, it did that job and it did it well. Then, as pictures became clearer and slo-mo became more common, TV audiences were able to see plays a second, third and fourth time. Then they saw just how awful referees can be.
Before long, Verna’s invention entered its second life as sports’ unofficial official. Verna died Sunday at 81 years old with a unique legacy. He’s the only person responsible for changing the rules of every major American sport, from the barbaric (football) to the aristocratic (tennis). So today, we remember him by reliving the eight most decisive moments in instant replay history.
8. The Music City Miracle
After seven years without replay, the NFL brought the cameras back in 1999, just in time to take a closer look at one of the wildest playoff endings in the history of the game. One underrated aspect of replay that the clip below really captures is that anticipation while the ref is under the hood and the reactions of players, coaches and fans after he announces his decision. Just look at how angry Wade Phillips is. Even Bills fans gotta love that.
7. Bert Emanuel’s catch is overturned in the 1999 NFC Championship
The return of replay in 1999 wasn’t all good. Just ask
fans who saw
obvious catch overturned because part of the ball hit the ground. The NFL would later change the rule regarding legal catches because of this play. Little consolation to the
, who ended up losing the game 11-6.
6. The Packers and Bears play “The Instant Replay Game”
Believe it or not, there was a time when Chicago reigned supreme over Green Bay. It was way back in the 80s. But on this fateful day in 1989, the Pack upset the Bears thanks to instant replay, which showed that
was not past the line of scrimmage when he threw the game winning touchdown, as the line judge thought when he threw hias flag. The Bears protested and Wikipedia says they continue to call it the “The Instant Replay Game” in their media guide.
5. Samaki Walker hits a buzzer beater in the Western Conference Finals
This list isn’t all football--even if football is the game replay has changed most. Watch below as
fires up a three at the end of the first half of a Western Conference Finals game in 2002. Notice how after the shot goes in, the play is over? No incessant replays. Not red lights on the back board. This play would make those things a reality, because even though the refs let it stand, the ball was not out of Walker’s hands in time. The NBA adopted replay for the next season.
4. The Tuck Rule
Back to football for one of the most painful replays a Raider fan could watch.
was applied on the play below after Charles Woodson forced the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands late in a 2002 divisional playoff game. Because of the tuck rule, this obvious fumble was called an incomplete pass, keeping the ball with the Pats and allowing them to win the game and eventually the Super Bowl. They would go on to form a dynasty that somehow continues to today. Meanwhile, the Raiders would play one more good season before falling off the face of the earth. Blame the tuck rule for everything.
3. Serena Williams gets hosed, but tennis gets fixed
Often it takes a major mistake for a sport to realize it needs to make a major change (more on that later) and there were many mistakes in this 2004 US Open quarterfinal match. The upside is that the horrible performance by the linesman and chair umpire resulted in the eventual implementation of Hawk-Eye technology throughout tennis. The technology uses a series of cameras to pinpoint exactly where the ball landed and allows players to appeal calls. Much better than replaying on a human sitting in an adult-sized high chair.
2. Jerry Rice fumbles the ball
For seven years in the
football didn’t have instant replay. This is the play that brought it back. With 30 seconds left in a 1998 Wild Card game, Rice made his first catch of the game and fumbled the ball as he was tackled. But the refs didn’t see it that way. They called him down by contact. The replay told a different story. So in the next off season, replay returned to football with the challenge system and the assurance that there would never be another controversial call in the NFL.
1. Jim Joyce blows Armando
After a season in Taiwan, Armando
has all but disappeared from baseball. His legacy, however, lives on. It’s a legacy borne of one improbably perfect day and one outrageously blown call. In June 2010,
was one out away from a perfect game when umpire Jim Joyce called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe at first even though the whole ballpark saw he was out. The egregious error provided the final push for baseball to work toward replay. It only took four years, but last season a full, challenge-style replay system was implemented. Jim Joyce still has a job.
Photos by AP Photo/Paul Spinelli