It didn’t take long for Jon Gruden to transition from NFL television analyst back to NFL coach. In fact, it happened so quickly that he is already taking aim at one of the innovations that revolutionized the way people watch games on television.
Gruden, now the coach of the Oakland Raiders, would love, love to get rid of instant replay. That’s right. If it were up to him, the invention that allowed minute scrutiny of every single play from every single angle — offering professional and amateur pundits alike the opportunity to opine ad infinitum — would be toast.
“I don’t like a lot of these news rules. I don’t understand ’em. I’d like to eliminate instant replay, honestly,” Gruden told reporters Tuesday during the NFL’s annual meetings in Orlando. “That would be my No. 1 thing. Let the officials call the game. That’s just my opinion. I try not to play that game of ‘wish-list,’ you know what I mean?”
Gruden said he particularly hates the extreme slow-motion video that shows every detail, leading to debates about whether a catch “survived the ground” and whether there was the slightest, tiniest bit of motion on the ball after a catch or a tackle. It’s that kind of armchair officiating, by fans and officials at the NFL office in New York, that led to the epic debates about what is and is not a catch. The NFL’s competition committee and owners attempted to clean up that cesspool of a rule Tuesday by taking the going-to-the-ground part out of the equation. The problem, according to Gruden, lies with slow-motion replays.
“I think slow-mo replay is the biggest problem with replay,” Gruden said. “When you’re looking at ‘is it a catch or isn’t it a catch’ at that speed it’s hard to tell. It really is hard to tell. So I think if you threw that slow-mo out, I think you’d get back to common sense. Let the naked eye determine some of these calls. But it always looks like pass interference when you’re going that slow; it always seems to look a little bit more dramatic in slow motion. Sometimes it’s not realistic, I don’t think.”
Now he tells us, after nine years in ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” booth. And good luck getting rid of that technology, which makes fans think they’re smarter than they are and turns Monday morning quarterbacks into Monday morning litigators.
Gruden isn’t the only big-name coach who doesn’t like instant replay. Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks admitted to reporters this week that there are “many reasons why replay has been a positive factor in our game,” but …
“I don’t like instant replay,” Carroll said (via the Associated Press). “I like the game played on the field. The scrutiny of the officials has become so intense, they don’t call the game like they used to, I feel. That didn’t mean I didn’t argue with them any more or any less.”
It wasn’t always this way, but technology accelerated change even as it eventually slowed down the game. The NFL first experimented with instant replay during a “Monday Night Football” game in 1976, when Art McNally, the director of officiating, held a stopwatch and a video camera as he watched the game.
According to the NFL, “If there was any question, we took a look at it,” McNally said. “We asked the camera technicians to give us different angles.”
He saw a missed call on a play involving O.J. Simpson that could have been corrected with replay review, and that was just about that. Two years later, the league tested replay during seven nationally televised preseason games. Until the mid-1980s, though, a replay system was deemed too costly and ineffective.
But replays, plus the attendant coaching challenges and reviews in New York, slowed the game down to a glacial pace last season, according to critics, robbing it of much of its drama. “One of the great things about the NHL,” NBC’s Al Michaels pointed out during an interminable review during the Atlanta Falcons-Los Angeles Rams playoff game, “is the last two minutes takes about two minutes.”
Nor was that his only broadside. “I can’t figure out how this can take this long,” he said. “You saw it.” Even verbose referee Ed Hochuli, now retired, struggled to explain the ruling, prolonging the agony.
It doesn’t help that two of the NFL’s former heads of officiating now instantly analyze and critique calls for Fox. That, and the added scrutiny from New York, has turned game officials overly cautious, as Carroll pointed out. An overturned call on a touchdown during a December Buffalo Bills-New England Patriots game caused Fox’s Mike Pereira, one of those former heads of officiating, to note how “irritating” it is to have people in Park Avenue breaking down calls and undermining officials who are on location around the country.
“Regarding the Buffalo no touchdown, nothing [is] more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it,” he tweeted. “It is more and more obvious that there isn’t a standard for staying with the call on the field.”
During that game, Dean Blandino, a Fox analyst who previously held the same NFL job as Pereira, stated, “We’re being overly technical. When you look at the angles that were available there’s nothing clear and obvious to overturn the call on the field. … The call on the field should’ve stood.”
Terry Pegula, the Bills owner, was understandably hot about the overturned touchdown and pointed out that this isn’t what replay was designed to do. He, too, called for change. Replay “was developed by this league to correct obvious mistakes,” Pegula said then. “And if you got to look at a play 30 times from five different angles and keep looking at it and looking at it and looking at it, you go with the call on the field.”
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