Art McNally, supervisor of National Football League officials, bugged a game at Dallas Nov. 15 with instant-replay cameras, it was learned yesterday.
Under cover of Howard Cosell's tongue, McNally's agents slipped four cameras into the stadium for a Monday night surveillance, with O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills as a diversion.
"I don't want to take sides," McNally said, "because it is possible when the club owners have their meeting later this month that they will discuss whether instant replays could be used in the future to supplement officiating. My role is merely to report the results of studies."
He said nothing was made public so that the test could be judged without controversy.
The cameras were positioned to cover the four corners of the field. There were recorders in a broadcast booth picking up the feed from the cameras.
"We did not have slow-motion capability receivers," McNally said, "and the cameras did not adequately blanket the field. Quite obviously, we would need 12 and possibly 16 or 18 cameras."We held stop watches on plays we might want to see again, say, on a sideline catch. I remember there was interference with a fair team got hit on the head with the ball.
"We were trying to look again at some of those plays while the other plays continued to go one. We found out that it took from 27 seconds up to two minutes to search for such a play, while, as I said, other plays went on.
"That gave us an idea of how long it would take with two cameras (at either end of the field). What if we had to look at the pictures taken by three cameras, or maybe six, seven or eight?
"We had four cameras at the extreme corners, in line with the sidelines, pointing at the corners and down the sidelines.
"You would also need two on the end line on the end zones pointing in toward each other . . . two on the goal lines pointing in toward each other . . . one behind the goal posts, dead center, looking down field.
"There should be a moving camera on either side of the field looking across the line of scrimmage. There should be a moving camera pointing up and down each sideline because the stationary cameras at the four extreme corners would not be sufficient.
"The person in the monitoring both would have to be a miracle man. You would have to stop the game and perhaps let the coaches ask to see a certain number of plays; let the officials see them, let the man in the booth judge the replays.
"You would have to stop the game because there might be a chance of changing the original official's decision."
Was there anything encouraging in the experiment?
"Well, there may be times when none of the six officials could see a play satisfactorily. Then they could see the replays.
"What the experiment, did was verify questions we had before, like, what about the tremendous amount of time it would take?
"What would happen if defensive pass interference were called? Maybe the coach of the offending team might ask to see the blocking at every position on the team with the ball, in hopes of seeing an infraction to offset the interference call.
"The obvious drawbacks are the tremendous amount of equipment required and the break in the continuity of the game. How would the fans feel about waiting around for a considerable longer game?
"People say that only a few plays would be involved, but how much is few?
"Instant replays have been proposed by coaches, the television and by fans. The league has taken the position it always will look at suggestions.
"Maybe electronic devices of the future will make it plausible. We did not have equipment to freeze one frame at a time and run it back, like coaches can with their film projectors. But the film has to be processed.
"Television recorders do have the capability, but it more time-consuming than the regular TV camera and the picture is not clear enough. TV does have that fast capability, but the cost is astronomical.
"Most of the time, TV has six to eight cameras at a normal game, maybe 18 or more for a playoff or the Super Bowl.
"If there is a use for instant replay to help officiating in the future, who would be responsible to make the final decision - the official on the field or the person in the booth?"
If it were the person in the booth (presumably someone like a representative of McNally who now watches games from the press box), would he be by himself or have assistance in searching back for the plays from all those cameras?
"There would be tremendous pressure on him, although he would have great knowledge of the rules and football. What does he do if the picture still is not clear?"
The Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers still do not agree, after looking at films many times, on what happened on the renowned "immaculate reception" by France Harris which defeated the Raiders in a championship game, when Oakland charged that two Steelers touched the pass without a Raider defender touching it in between, as required for it to be legal.
McNally's major concern is there doesn't seem to be a way not to interrupt the normal flow of a game with instant-replay showings.
McNally takes solace from 1975 statistics that showed there were 27,000 plays run off and, according to the league, that only six important plays were called wrong.