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12/07/1963 - Instant replay at Army-Navy game


Happy birthday instant replay!

On this day in 1963, this television technique made its debut during the annual Army-Navy football game. On a fourth quarter run by Rollie Stichweh, TV viewers were able to see the Army quarterback streak for a touchdown seconds after it happened. Because slow motion was a few years away, the run was replayed in normal speed. And to make sure the TV audience grasped that they were indeed watching a replay, CBS announcer Lindsey Nelson screamed, "This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!"

"It's been a fun thing over the years," Stichweh later said. "People who watched the game on television were honestly confused. Many asked me how it was that we happened to score immediately after we did on the same exact play."

"Video replay" was devised by CBS director Tony Verna, who was dissatisfied that television viewers had to wait until halftime to see highlights from the ballgame. That replay of Stichweh was the only one of the day, as the machine Verna brought in to play back the video weighed over half a ton and malfunctioned throughout the game.

"My boy, what you have done here will have such far-reaching implications, we can't begin to imagine them today," CBS executive Tex Schramm told Verna. Since then, "instant replay" (Verna credits Pat Summerall for this terminology) has become an essential facet of sports broadcasting. For the first time, TV viewers had something at their disposal that those in attendance did not.

Today, sports fans are treated to instant replay, slow-mo, a million different camera angles, a first down marker, and other innovations as they choose to sit on the couch instead of driving to the stadium. Advancements in sports broadcasting became so prevalent that the NFL implemented a blackout policy, which states that if the home team can't produce a sell-out crowd, the game will not be televised locally.

Eventually the convenience of instant replay was such that the sports themselves decided to implement it. After all, if a TV viewer knows if the ref made a bad call, why shouldn't the refs? The NFL was the first major sports league to adapt instant replay, which they did in 1986 after the competing USFL used it. The NFL ditched it in 1991 because the technology wasn't much of an improvement; officials would spend minutes looking over challenges that were overturned less than ten percent of the time. Instant replay made a comeback in 1999 and thanks to a more sophisticated system, it has stuck with the NFL ever since. The NHL and NBA followed suit, and even Major League Baseball, who feared change more than anyone, tentatively jumped on the replay bandwagon.

Further reading:

Instant Replay born 40 years ago today [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]