There's all this film. Video tape of games. Instant replays. Slow motion. NFL films. Coaching films. News camera film. There's all this film to argue about whether the receiver had all 10 toes in bounds when he hugged the football to his bosom.
"In the old days, when we were trying to eliminate controversy about a call, we'd say, 'Judgment call,'" Pete Rozelle said today. "But now it's hard for me to stonewall."
With a smile, the commissioner of the National Football League added, "I prefer, frankly, to stonewall."
The film of controversial plays has been turned into one of Rozelle's strongest helpers in selling the National Football League. The boss of Chrysler Corp., for instance, makes a TV commercial begging folks to come take a test ride. He'll pay them $400 if they then buy one of his bankruptmobiles. He just wants someone to pay attention. And that's what Rozelle, with his reels of film, has accomplished: Everyone is paying attention.
People in Houston have put 400,000 signatures of a petition to be sent to Rozelle's office in complaint over the officiating decision that denied the Oilers a touchdown in their playoff game with the Steelers.
Amazing. "I didn't know 400,000 people in Houston could write their names," a New Yorker said. The truly amazing part, though, is that 400,000 people were so wrought up by a call that made no difference in the outcome of the game. By any objective standard, that missing touchdown would have not made the Oilers the winner in a game the Steelers dominated, winning by two touchdowns, 27-13.
For two hours the other day, the commissioner of the NFL put on a sound-and-light show for the media here for the Super Bowl. He was selling his league. And everyone was paying attention.Probably 200 sports journalists watched and listened as Rozelle and the NFL supervisor of officials, Art McNally, showed film of eight controversial calls made late this season.
Rozelle admitted his officials made a couple mistakes -- taking the ball away from Pittsburgh on an onside kick (against Houston), giving Miami possession on a Pittsburgh punt that was ruled to have touched a Steeler -- but the primary selling point of Rozelle's day at the movies was that even with instant replay and NFL films and coaching films, you can't really tell sometimes.
They showed the Mike Renfro catch several times from several angles, even stopping the film frame by frame and bringing Renfro's hands into closeup. The 400,000 Houstonians should have seen this film. Maybe it was a touchdown. You could make a case for it. You could also say that Renfro's hands were off the ball as he slid out of bounds.
'From 100 percent wrong (in some people's minds) down to one frame (of film)," McNally said. "It was as tough a decision as I've ever seen."
Film is not conslusive.
"Make the wide receivers wear purple paint on the bottom of their shoes, so we can tell where their feet are," said the New Yorker. "Put 'em on a lie detector. 'Did you have possession?' Threaten their families. Then we'll find out what's up."
With the present technology it isn't possible, even if it were philosophically attractive, to take the game away from human beings, to leave officiating decisions up to cameras. Any one who has ever seen a football play recorded from two different angles ought to know that the position of the camera determines the quality of the knowledge gained from its picture.
But still the questions and controversies come, and the NFL has turned them into a selling tool that allows impassioned fans to keep alive their ingrained belief that only the so-and-so Zebras could beat our boys. Of those 400,000 complainers in Houston, it is not likely that more than five or six would look at the available film and say the zebras had a point. What the NFL does, by showing these films to the assembled media in the middle of Super Bowl week is give those complainers more food for complaint while at the same time demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt the considerable skill of its officials.
Rozelle has it both ways then. The fans in Houston are aflame with interest in the NFL; and the NFL shows itself off, quite properly, as an open, cooperative, talented outfit. Rozelle could sell a Chrysler to Mother Teresa.
Consider the Edward Bennett Williams flap. The Washington attorney, for 10 weeks now the owner of baseball's Baltimore Orioles, still is listed as the boss of the Redskins. Such dual bossdom is a violation of NFL policy. Rozelle and Williams have talked about the problem, with Williams becoming irate two months ago when Rozelle spoke to a newspaperman in a way that suggested Williams was about to agree to step down from his Redskin job.
Why, two months later, hasn't the thing been settled?
"We've both been busy," Rozelle said today, "and we haven't had that much time to talk . . . I hope that all will be satisfactorily resolved, but we have to talk more."
Is he confident it will be resolved?
"I hope that all will be satisfactorily resolved, but we have to talk more," the commissioner said, hoping his questioner realized he now would be getting the exact same answer to any question he might ask involving Williams. g
At a press conference here today, Rozelle also agreed with Redskin Coach Jack Pardee that point differential is not a good way to break ties in deciding which teams go to the playoffs.
First Rozelle pointed out the irony of Pardee's complaint.
"I wish Jack had brought that up two years ago when his Bears got into the playoffs through the point-differential tie-breaker system," Rozelle said with a quick smile. "Then maybe we would have changed it before this season.
"I share some of Jack's views. I can see his concern about it. Hopefully the competition committee can find some other solution to move down the point-differential in the system.
"If we can find a way to satisfactorily change the system, I'd like to see it done."
The guy could sell a Chrysler to Jack Pardee.