Twenty one NFL teams voted in favor of bringing back instant replay Wednesday, but the game will continue to stand as called, the proposal falling two votes shy of passage--the seventh consecutive year it has been voted down.
"Replay might have died today," said Ron Wolf, general manager of the Green Bay Packers. "I would hate to think that, but the way it was presented today with the modifications added, I don't think we're ever going to see it."
Sifting through four proposals in an attempt to modify the system employed from 1986 through 1991, the NFL's competition committee suggested a plan that would have allowed coaches to challenge two calls a game--each unsuccessful challenge resulting in a lost timeout.
"I think it would have been tougher than people realized to use this system," said Tony Dungy, Tampa Bay Buccaneer coach. "You would have gotten into so many different factors: Who would actually be officiating the game? The coaches, the producers, the officials on the field?
"The system was too cumbersome. I'd probably have had to hire a new assistant just to watch the monitor and let me know when I had a sure reversal."
Some coaches thought they might be blamed for a losing game if caught wasting a timeout earlier on an unsuccessful challenge. Others such as the Buffalo Bills' Wade Phillips said the game is tough enough to coach without adding the responsibility of knowing the 15 different conditions that might be considered for replay and then calling for a challenge. Others suggested that officials would refrain from making close calls, leaving it to the coaches to ask for a challenge.
Phillips argued for a hockey-like plan in which only end zone plays would be subject for review, but the measure was shelved because it was suggested late in the process and required more homework.
"I think most everyone agree with the goal [of having instant replay]," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said, "but the disagreement comes in how to get there."
The demand for instant replay from a majority of the NFL teams has been an annual exercise in futility, however, with seven teams--for the most part directed by old-guard owners--no matter what the proposal consistently voting against replay for philosophical reasons. The New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay rejected the bid, along with the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, who have been in favor of instant replay at times in the past.
The New York Jets, who have been against instant replay, voted in favor this time after being knocked out of the playoffs last season on a controversial call.
There was some sentiment earlier here after a straw vote that instant replay might finally win the day after the NFL competition committee amended its proposal to offer a one-year trial for the challenge system, but the change gained only one vote--the Pittsburgh Steelers'.
A year ago instant replay failed, 20-10. In 1992, it went down, 17-11.
"I don't like replay," said Rich McKay, Tampa Bay general manager. "I like the game the way it is, and it's doing as well as it ever has. Instant replay is a major change, not just a minor tweak, and I don't want to disrupt the game."
Green Bay Coach Mike Holmgren, who spent hours as chairman of the competition committee cobbling together a new instant-replay proposal, was disheartened.
"It's like a game," he said. "You win some, you lose some and when you lose you get the wind knocked out of your sails. I still think we need a system to eliminate all the bad calls we can. But there are some teams that believe in all good faith and for their own good reasons that they don't want it."
Two new rules, however, will be introduced next season with defensive players being penalized five yards for flinching in an effort to pull the offensive team offside. The practice, which has been routinely employed on punts and field-goal attempts, will result in a five-yard penalty.
At the same time the NFL has outlawed lingering, a strategy used by offensive teams in recent years in which they have kept 12 men in the offensive huddle while surveying the defensive alignment before removing a player from the field. More than 11 men on the field on offense now will immediately result in a five-yard penalty.
Tagliabue also responded to two matters that might affect Los Angeles. The NFL has advised San Francisco that the Super Bowl planned for 2003 in its proposed new stadium could be in jeopardy if substantial progress on the stadium deal is not made by the end of this year.
The 49ers' ownership is up in the air with Eddie and Denise DeBartolo--brother and sister--fighting to determine who holds control. Denise has expressed no interest in the stadium-mall project that had been directed by Eddie, who is expected to come under indictment in Louisiana next month for problems related to obtaining a casino license.
New Orleans and San Diego are the finalists for the 2002 Super Bowl, but if San Francisco loses 2003, there was some speculation here that it could go to the Rose Bowl as part of package involving a new stadium and team in Los Angeles.
The NFL has not said yet when it might expand again after adding Cleveland as its 31st team, but Tagliabue said he intends to have meetings this week that will result in such a determination.
"I think the cities that are interested in expansion would need a specific date in order to get done what they need to get done," he said.
NFL officials privately are talking about 2002 unless the league's new schedule involving 31 teams causes a major controversy and accelerates the expansion process to 2001.