| Matt Schudel |
WASHINGTON (WP-BLOOM) – Before Tony Verna invented instant replay, no one said, “Let’s go to the videotape.
Verna was directing the Army-Navy football game for CBS Sports in 1963 when he ran the first instant replay on television, changing the way sports were viewed by fans and, over time, refereed by officials. His invention, for which he received no patent or payment, is considered one of the most momentous in sports and entertainment history.
The innovative TV director and producer died Sunday at his home in Palm Desert, California, at age 81. The cause was acute leukemia, said a daughter, Tracy Verna Soiseth.
Verna, who began working in television at 19, had helped direct the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and was one of the top sports producers at CBS when he came up with the idea for instant replay.
He quietly arranged for a videotape machine, then the size of a refrigerator, to be trucked from New York to Philadelphia, where the annual football game between Army and Navy would be played. Delayed one week because of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, the game took place on Dec 7, 1963, at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium before 100,000 spectators. Army had a 7-2 record; Navy, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach, was 8-1.
A solemn ceremony commemorated the slain president, who had been a Navy veteran and had attended the two previous games between the service academies.
After the opening kickoff, Verna had one camera focused on the quarterback at all times. Several times during the game, he wanted to show a replay, but technical glitches got in the way.
Among other things, the roll of videotape in the machine contained an old episode of “I Love Lucy”. When Verna hoped to see a play on the gridiron, a fleeting image of Lucille Ball sometimes flickered across his monitor. Finally, with Navy leading 21-7 in the fourth quarter, everything came together. Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh faked to his halfback, then ran for a one-yard touchdown.
Seconds later, Verna knew that the moment had been captured on videotape. When the replay of the touchdown was shown, no one had seen anything like it before.
“This is not live!” announcer Lindsey Nelson shouted to viewers. “Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again.”
A two-point conversion made the score 21-15. Army recovered an onside kick and then drove to the Navy 2-yard-line before time ran out.