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January 22, 2013

Replays pause sports’ revelry

AFTER A WEEKEND of viewing various sports on TV, let me go on record as saying I deplore the use of video replay to verify or overturn plays on the field of action.

AFTER A WEEKEND of viewing various sports on TV, let me go on record as saying I deplore the use of video replay to verify or overturn plays on the field of action.

Video replay has siphoned the last vestiges of spontaneity from the game, whether in tennis or football or basketball. Gone are the days when a home run, game-winning touchdown or buzzer-beating basket were celebrated as they played out. Now we must wait for a fantastic play to be verified after — pause, please — a look at the replays.

I understand that advanced technology makes it possible to get nearly every call correct. But I was OK with the day when an official’s call stood, right or wrong, the day when officials were human and recognized for being human.

These days, we might as well have robots calling the games because no matter what is called on the field, it must be confirmed or overturned after being viewed on TV monitors high above the field from every angle imaginable.

This past weekend sealed it for me. The classic ending to Butler’s home court victory over Gonzaga in a battle of nationally ranked college basketball teams, served as the best example of what has happened to our games because of video replay.

It looked as if Gonzaga had secured the win when it attempted to throw the ball inbounds with a one-point lead and 3.5 seconds remaining. But an errant Gonzaga pass, interception and drive to the basket by Butler’s Roosevelt Jones electrified the crowd.

As Jones’ off-balance shot dropped through the net, Butler students could not contain themselves and stormed the court in celebration. But wait! The celebration was put on hold for a couple of minutes as the three game officials gathered around TV monitors at midcourt. The officials needed to confirm that the final shot occurred before time expired.

As it turned out, the shot was released 1/60th of a second before the clock hit zero. Yes, game officials declared, that was a winning basket! Yes, they confirmed, it was OK for Butler students to resume celebrating! Yes, they confirmed, the ending indeed was exciting!

Game endings have become a lot like NASCAR time trials. Fans watch as drivers push their cars — one at a time — around the track, each car appearing to travel very fast. Then fans hold their applause until the track’s public address announcer confirms the speed of each lap. Yes, that was really fast!

Under today’s replay rules, Jim Valvano never would have gained fame for dashing around the court in search of someone to hug immediately following his N.C. State team’s 1983 national basketball championship victory over Houston. Today, Valvano would have walked to the scorer’s table to await the official ruling on Lorenzo Charles’ last-second dunk.

Who will ever forget Carlton Fisk waving to signal that his 12th-inning home run in Game Six of the 1975 World Series was a fair ball? All the drama would be sucked out of that same moment today because umpires would retreat to a room beneath the stadium to confirm that the ball was indeed fair.

How about Green Bay’s last-second Ice Bowl victory over Dallas in the 1967 NFL championship game? Quarterback Bart Starr bulled his way into the end zone for the Green Bay win. That play today would be reviewed to make certain Starr’s knee did not touch the ground before the ball crossed the goal line.

Everything is reviewed in today’s games, even in tennis. Novak Djokovic’s five-hour marathon fourth-round victory Sunday over Stanislas Wawrinka in the Australian Open was high drama, slowed and tainted only by the occasional player appeal to video tracking technology that verifies or overturns line calls.

Then there was the spectacularly beautiful throw and catch from quarterback Matt Ryan to receiver Julio Jones that gave the Atlanta Falcons a 17-0 lead over the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC championship game.

Unfortunately, both teams, fans in the stadium and those watching on TV had to wait for confirmation that Jones got both feet down inbounds, which he did. Only then could everyone celebrate the 20-yard masterpiece.

Of course, there is no going back in the business of video replay, which means we probably never again will experience and appreciate spontaneous celebrations of outstanding plays, particularly at the end of games.

Advanced technology has changed our initial reactions to big plays in sports from, “Wow, did you see that!” to “Hey, that might have been a spectacular play.” Such is progress, I guess.

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