NFL MEETINGS : Tagliabue's Plea Helps Save Instant Replay

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's impassioned plea to the NFL's club owners to keep instant replay officiating saved it Monday, owners said afterward.

"Most of us went into the meeting to vote it down," Ed McCaskey, board chairman of the Chicago Bears, said. "And our club voted against it as planned. But Paul's sensational pitch changed the minds of about 15 others.

"There'll be instant replay again this year thanks to Paul and (New Orleans General Manager) Jim Finks, who both said just the right things."

Considered dead 24 hours earlier when five of the seven members of the competition committee voted against it, replay officiating was authorized for another season after six hours of debate at the NFL's annual convention.

Needing 21 votes, it won, 21-7. The votes against came from Cincinnati, Buffalo, Phoenix, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and the New York Giants.

"It wouldn't have passed without the two-minute amendment," Finks said, referring to a stipulation that, this year, the replay official must reverse a call within two minutes or let it stand.

Said Tagliabue: "This countered one of the big objections--a perception that (replay officiating) takes too much time. Actually, replays added an average of only 1 minute 55 seconds to last year's games."

The league is considering plans to install a two-minute clock in each stadium to keep fans informed. It would be the fourth clock in most stadiums--added to the 60-minute clock, the 45-second clock and the one that tells the time of day.

Tagliabue said that in urging continued replay officiating, he pointed out that, nationwide, it ends controversy over four or five calls each week.

"There are enough disputes as it is," he said. "It's got to help the league to get rid of four or five admittedly wrong calls every Sunday."

That logic didn't work on the Giants. "Replay (officiating) is still a bad idea," said Wellington Mara, Giant president.

But Tagliabue ended the debate on several other clubs--those on which the coach and owner were on opposite sides.

At Seattle, for instance, President Tom Flores, a new member of the competition committee, urged a no vote. Coach Chuck Knox is for it. The Tagliabue speech swung Flores into the yes column.

"Instant replay isn't perfect, but it helps," Knox said. "Take the case of the wide receiver who might or might not be juggling the ball as he steps on the sideline--or just inside the sideline.

"It's humanly impossible for one (official) to watch the receiver's hands and feet at the same time. There are a lot of cases like that where instant replay is your only recourse."

Moreover, Knox has concluded that instant replay doesn't add to the length of the game.

"It's the penalties," he said. "Every penalty that any official calls adds a minute to the game. The thing you really have to do is upgrade your officials every season."

To Finks, that's easier to talk about than do.

"Our game is getting more difficult to officiate all the time," Finks said. "The players keep getting bigger, the rules keep changing, bodies are flying around faster than ever. We need instant replay because any help we can give the officials is a good thing."

Tagliabue said that when the NFL polled its referees and other officials this winter, 60% favored the use of instant replay. According to previous estimates, only about 25% were in favor--but there have been other indications that many are accepting it as an aid.

One problem with the new rule is that, in the view of some coaches, replay officials will be tempted to use all of their allotted two minutes every time they stop the game to look at a play.

"That could happen," said Bill Polian, general manager of the Buffalo Bills and also a new member of the competition committee. "But that's why we only put it in for a one-year trial. Keep in mind, the time limitation was the key to the vote."

The owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Norman Braman, another replay opponent who voted for it in the end, said it was the second year in a row that a commissioner has used persuasion to get a yea vote on replay officiating against the wishes of most clubs.

"We kept it last year as a favor to the outgoing commissioner, Pete Rozelle," Braman said. "Right now, we're still in the honeymoon period for his successor, Paul Tagliabue--and we gave Paul what he wanted. Next year, it won't be such an emotional decision."

Next year, it might not pass.

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