Ahhh technology. Some of us embrace it, others fear it, and the curmudgeons among us despise it. There are buttons, whistles, bells, and horns, and these technological wonders can now capture real-life, real-time images on cinematic devices called cameras and replay them seconds later.
In sports this is used to replay a questionable sequence to determine if the correct called was made, and in the NFL use of this new-fangled piece of modern bewilderment is now actually mandated after every scoring play, even those of the mundane and routine variety. So you see, the NFL has not only embraced technology, it’s highly valued.
The problem is that the moving pictures recorded by these devices only serve their purpose if they’re seen by the proper sets of eyes. This tiny communication and distribution hurdle became a problem during last night’s Falcons/Eagles game, and a lack of thoroughness from the NBC crew had an impact on the game’s outcome.
Two minutes into the third quarter the Eagles had the ball at their own 40-yard line after a change in possession, and were trailing 14-10. Faced with pressure from his left side, Michael Vick scrambled and hurriedly forced a throw into double coverage. A diving Kelvin Hayden made what looked to be a great play on a ball bound for the turf, reeling in the interception.
Several plays later Matt Ryan threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez, and the Falcons extended their lead to 21-10 after what would later become a game-altering interception by Hayden. But earlier today we learned that it wasn’t quite that simple.
The Eagles were clearly aware that the pass Hayden intercepted was close to hitting the ground based on the replays initially shown by NBC. This kind of close, questionable catch happens every game, and whether or not it’s challenged by the opposing coaches depends on the availability of a replay that even hints at definitive evidence. Replay challenges are valuable, and so are timeouts. Risking either isn’t done on a whim or a hunch.
No replay with clear-cut evidence was shown immediately by NBC, so to his chagrin Andy Reid kept his challenge flag in his pocket. Several minutes later after the Falcons had run a play and the opportunity to challenge was therefore gone, NBC produced a replay that clearly showed the ball hitting the ground before being cradled by Hayden. The network has since apologized for their lack of haste, an expression of regret that came over 12 hours too late.
The damage has been done, and a call that could have changed a game between two Super Bowl contenders was blown. Eagles fans are understandably pissed, and so is Reid, who said NBC didn’t allow him to see the replay and through an e-mail he requested the apology. During other instances throughout the game NBC used super slo-mo and extreme close-ups, tools utilized to confirm Gonzalez’s earlier four-yard touchdown catch that required some intricate footwork at the back of the end zone.
This isn’t the first time the wicked hand of the video replay mistress has effected the outcome of a game involving a Philadelphia sports team, although a disallowed goal against the Flyers came under different circumstances. Two years ago the Flyers scored a goal that was disallowed during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the game in Pittsburgh the local affiliate (FSN Pittsburgh) had control over replays, and after the official review was concluded another angle was shown on the live broadcast that would have validated the goal. Luckily the goal that wasn’t was irrelevant on the scoreboard, but an FSN producer and Pittsburgh native who withheld the replay was still fired.
Just as there was then with the Flyers, there’s little to do now for the Eagles other than collectively shrug their shoulders and move on. This is the reality of the replay system–coaches are at the mercy of images distributed by the broadcast team, and hiccups such as this one are rare. But if a camera can zoom in on Gonzalez’s outstretched arms and show us his tip-toeing seconds after the play, Hayden’s catch should have been available promptly.
The Eagles made mistakes, and may very well have lost anyway. But now doubt lingers.