Upon Further Review: Instant Replay Must Go!

Upon Further Review: Instant Replay Must Go!

On Sunday, October 29, approximately 2:30 PM central time, Zach Miller caught a touchdown reception that should have been legendary.  He leapt high against tight coverage, snagging a perfect pass from Mitch Trubisky with one hand.  Then, as he landed hard, his left leg buckled into an angle I’ve not seen since High School geometry.  But rather than dropping the ball in agony, as anyone would be forgiven for doing (I fumbled my burger just watching the replay), he secured it to his chest as he rolled to the ground, his ruined leg flopping behind him.  It was an effort that encapsulated what we as Bears fans cherish.  It was fearless.  It was tough.  It was EPIC!

It didn’t count.

I’m normally a nervous Nellie when it comes to assuming Bears’ touchdowns (the rare occurrences that they are), but even after a myriad of lunch-losing replays, I never in my wildest dreams thought Zach did anything other than make one of the most heroic touchdown catches of all-time.  I was in a sports bar and there was no sound on the game.  It wasn’t until after the field goal–which I initially assumed was the extra point that had been pushed back because of some sort of penalty–that I realized the truth.

Poor Zach had been sold down the Riveron.


We all know someone like NFL’s Senior Vice President of Officiating and Replay Meddling, Alberto Riveron—a serious person who takes his job even more seriously.  Someone who isn’t going to be satisfied just looking for “clear and obvious visual evidence.”  No sir, an over-achiever like that isn’t content until justice prevails.  I imagine it’s a frustrating job for him most weeks.  I can picture Mr. Riveron huddled in his dark control room, frantically mashing buttons on his remote during his 30-second quest for truth (“Damn you, extra point!”).

Then, that fateful Sunday, as Zach Miller’s devastated leg was being stabilized for his emergency transport to the hospital, Riveron was FINALLY afforded ample time to conduct a proper investigation (which purportedly included eye-witness testimony and a scouring of Google Maps).  I swear I heard the “ah ha!” from the studio when his frame-by-frame search finally revealed a blurry image of the tip of the ball touching the ground.  Gotcha, Zach Miller!  I’m certain the resulting public outrage was incomprehensible to Riveron.  To him, it was a job well done.

Zach Miller

Vice President of Officiating Alberto Riveron presenting “evidence” of Zach Miller’s dropped pass. He would later present “evidence” supporting the existence of a second gunman, Bigfoot, and Nessie. See Riveron’s explanation here.

I expect Riveron would make a fine trial attorney, criminal investigator, or CPA.  (I could see him logging many hours chasing down a $3 discrepancy on a ledger sheet.)  However, he’s a lousy replay review official.  Could you imagine a reversal like that deciding the outcome of a Super Bowl?  We would be speaking about Mr. Riveron in the past tense.

Still, I don’t hold much personal animus towards Riveron.  It’s a flawed system—can we really be surprised at a flawed result? When I was a kid in the 80s, everyone knew what a catch was: Two feet in-bounds and the ground can’t cause a fumble. Today’s NFL catch rule, which has been amended and expanded for three consecutive years, is nearly 700 words with three lettered subsections, six numbered items, and two notes.  It utilizes nebulous terms like “football moves” and includes a step-by-step analysis of what constitutes “completing a catch.” There’s more clarity and brevity in the Obamacare Health Plan.

As a result, the catch we grew up with is now extinct. Don’t believe me?  Watch this:

If you’re a Bears’ fan over 40, you remember Tom Waddle’s epic playoff performance against Dallas in 1991.  The diminutive receiver was our only weapon in that game, making leaping grabs over the middle and taking devastating after devastating hit.  (His gutsy effort prompted me to buy his poster and put in my dorm room at UNLV.)   It wouldn’t have happened in today’s NFL.

First of all, Tom would have been pulled from the game after his second or third catch (a concussion-conscious discussion for another day).  Secondly, several of his catches, including his two best over the middle, would have been ruled incomplete or nullified after further review. His heroic acts—and my indelible memories of them—would have been wiped-clean. (Tom may never have gotten the opportunity to pursue his successful broadcasting career, and I may never have taken down my Bo Derek poster.)

Still, I could stomach the evolution of what is and isn’t a catch if everyone knew what it has evolved to. In the Tom Waddle video, you’ll see that the on-field catch rulings by officials are quick and decisive. Today’s officials are tentative, and often stand around looking at one another after close calls. Of course, this confusion extends to the replay booth. Last week Dean Blandino, the former NFL VP of Officiating who helped originate the replay system, said that not only was there not enough evidence to overturn the catch ruling for Zach Miller’s TD, but had it been ruled incomplete on the field he would have ruled it a TD on replay.  Perfect.

And it isn’t just the catch rule that’s causing confusion. Does anyone understand what happened with Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ touchdown against the Patriots that was nullified by replay (where he bobbled the ball crossing the goal-line but never lost control)? The NFL’s convoluted and verbose rulebook is allowing for interpretations—especially under the microscope of replay, when every minutia can be scrutinized—that are anathema to common sense.

If fiascoes like the Zach Miller and Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ should-have-been-touchdowns are occurring because of replay, then what is it good for?  Slowing the game down? Creating stress that a geek with a remote 12 states away will pass judgment like some unseen malevolent deity?  And don’t get me started on the ridiculous game-within-a-game the NFL creates by bringing in retired officials to guess as to which way the replay ax will fall (though it might be fun if they awarded prizes).

Maybe one day the NFL rule book will be stripped down and simplified, allowing officials to make assured decisions and closing the door on subjectivity. Then, replay could once again work as it was intended—as a final arbiter of disputed calls. Until then, I’d prefer officiating mistakes happen the old-fashioned way—in real time. I lived with that for the first half of my life and I could live with that again.

What happened to Zach makes me want to watch tennis.


You can contact Brett Maly by e-mailing him at bearndesert@aol.com


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Brett Maly

Brett Maly

Brett lives in Vegas, baby. Vegas. When he's not appraising and selling fine art in Las Vegas, where he appears as art expert for History Channel's PAWN STARS, Brett's indulging his other passions—his family and Chicago Bears football (not necessarily in that order)! Brett has a private Twitter account so if you want to contact him send an e-mail to bearndesert@aol.com

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Alberto RiveronTom WaddleZach Miller

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