In a move combining high technology and common sense, the National Football League has adopted the use of instant replay for the 1986 season.
No longer will the fan sipping a beer in his living room and watching a game on TV be justified in exclaiming, "Those dumb officials--they blew the call!"
By a vote of 23-4-1, the NFL Tuesday approved the use of TV replays under conditions when there is indisputable evidence that an official's call was in error.
It was quite a day for high tech buffs, since the league also voted to experiment with radio-equipped helmets in exhibition games as a means of combating crowd noise.
But some less sophisticated forms of equipment took it on the chin.
In a move aimed squarely at the Chicago Bears' Jim McMahon and any who would imitate him, the NFL outlawed headbands and wristbands with personal or commercial messages. A violation can bring a one-game suspension.
The league also dealt a setback to proponents of a one-inch tee on kickoffs. It was argued that a lower tee--a two-inch model is now allowed--would mean lower kicks and longer returns, but the one-inch tee was rejected.
By far the most significant action, however, was the OK given to the limited use of instant replays, something which has been studied and debated for a decade. The league will try it for a year and see how it likes it, then will have to vote again next year if it wants to extend the policy beyond the '86 season.
The NFL experimented with the use of instant replay in last summer's exhibition games and decided that the technology was workable.
As outlined by Tex Schramm, chairman of the league's competition committee, the plan calls for an extra official to occupy a booth in the press box at each NFL game, including regular-season and playoff games.
The replay official will have access to two TV monitors and a videocassette recorder.
One of the monitors will carry the network feed seen at home. The second monitor will be attached to the VCR and will be able to immediately replay any questionable action.
Coaches and players will not be allowed to request a replay.
"We don't want to delay the game," Schramm said. "We expect the replay official to make his decision in 20 seconds, which won't affect the pace of the game.
"And we expect there will be an average of only one call reversed per game. No call will be changed unless the replay shows everything clearly. If there is any question, the call stands."
The replay system will concentrate on plays involving possession, such as fumbles, receptions, interceptions, muffs or an ineligible player touching a forward pass. It will also focus on plays governed by the sidelines, goal lines, end lines and line of scrimmage.
The instant replay excludes many areas, including clipping, encroachment and offsides, grabbing the facemask, false start, defensive and offensive pass interference, illegal use of hands and illegal motion, among others.
Also excluded are plays involving roughing the passer, unsportsmanlike conduct and use of the helmet as a weapon.
All replay reviews will be initiated by the replay official unless officials on the field have convened a crew conference and request a replay.
The four votes against the use of replays were based on the belief that the human element would be removed from the game, Schramm said.
"The objections were philosophical," he said. "But we all want to cure the mistakes of officiating."
A few NFL officials also oppose the use of replays, but they are a minority, according to Art McNally, the league's supervisor of officials.
"We polled individual crews and detected no groundswell of opinion or men up in arms against (use of replays)," he said.
Some opponents of the use of instant replay have cited its cost, but that's no longer a key issue. "This will be expensive," Schramm said, "but it will be less than $1 million for the entire season."