Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Verna the revolutionary

Tony Verna died the other day at the age of 81. His passing barely caused a stir in the sports community.

It should have been more than a stir. A lot more.

Whenever you watch sports on television these days, think of Tony Verna.

Whenever you see what appears to be an officiating mistake and it gets reversed, think of Tony Verna.

And whenever you see all the wrongs of the sports world being righted, think of Tony Verna.

On Dec. 7, 1963, Verna gave birth to the most revolutionary tool in the sports galaxy – instant replay.

It was during an Army-Navy game on that date more than 50 years ago that Verna, then a young director for CBS Television who had experimented with showing the same play again and again and failed, pushed a button and changed forever the way we watch sports.

He did not know at the time how revolutionary his new baby was because it was slow to catch on. It was looked on in the beginning as novel, but not much else.

However, once those in the television industry realized how important this breakthrough was and improved on it, the rest is, well, history. Televising sports would never be the same.

Verna’s baby has grown into a monster to the point where it has become the focal point as an officiating tool for just about every sport on the professional and collegiate level.

For example, how many times have you seen a close play in a baseball game that was called incorrectly and reversed by replay? Not just instant replay, either. But slow-motion replay, super slow-motion replay, freeze-frame replay and zoom replay.

In football, we have come to expect, not rely, expect replay to govern borderline plays the human eye cannot judge in normal time. Sometimes, the eye deceives. Instant replay does not deceive. It defines.

Verna’s baby has grown so much exponentially, it has reached the point where it more and more has become an accepted part of the officiating community. Not only does it correct mistakes, it also shows in many cases how good officials are in their respective sports.

If anything, it makes them better because they know they are more closely scrutinized than ever. Replay exposes their deficiencies.

All fans want from officials is the correct call. Verna’s contribution to the sports community provides them that opportunity. It has become a game changer.

Little did Verna know at the time how much of an impact his invention would have on the sports community. In fact, it took many years before that community finally relented and accepted its worth.

And when it did, it was like an avalanche as the doors of progress swung open and replay was embraced almost wholly. There is still progress to be made as other forms of replay are being experimented with by various sports.

The beneficiary, of course, is the fan. In the never-ending effort to get it right, instant replay plays a vital and pivotal role. And for that we have to thank Tony Verna.

So the next time you see a close play at a base or whether a receiver had both feet in bounds when he made the catch or whether the shot clock expired before the shot was taken, think of Tony Verna, the father of replay.

Without his revolutionary invention, we still would be watching sports differently.

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