But I Digress… Tony Verna’s Invention Changed Sports Forever

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This week I learned about Tony Verna’s contribution to sports broadcasting and how it ultimately changed the rules as several sports are currently played. Tony passed away Sunday, January 18, 2015 at the age of 81, but his legacy lives on.

Before there was a Super Bowl, the “must watch” Army-Navy football game, at that time happening on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, attracted a large audience. Tony Verna, a 29-year-old director was in charge of television production for the game rescheduled to December 7, 1963 because of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Among his career successes, Tony found himself in charge of five Super Bowls, the 1984 Summer Olympics and the Live Aid benefit concert, however, his 1963 contribution to his craft would be used by others in televised events and eventually by officials at sporting events around the world.

Verna knew if his idea didn’t work, he might find himself out of a job. He didn’t even tell his crew what might be happening until they were driving to the game. He had a truck with a large machine, the size of two refrigerators, brought to the game. It would turn out that due to a technical glitch, his invention would only be used once in that inaugural game, but it would change forever how sporting events are broadcast.

The young director would have his chance when the quarterback for Army, Rollie Stichweh, carried the ball for a one-yard touchdown run. Fans saw it live on TV. Moments later, fans that missed the short run got to see it replayed. The TV game announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Army has not scored again.” In those few seconds, Verna had introduced the first Instant Replay to live television.

With early video tape recorders, the replay process was a difficult technical achievement. Finding and cueing a specific moment took several minutes before Verna’s system of coding the tape with audio tones that could be heard during the rewind process. Though the system ended up being used only once at the 1963 Army-Navy game, it would go on to be adopted by game officials and ultimately replays would have the power to change on-field rulings in several sports.

Click here to view a short video with Tony Verna describing the inaugural use of the instant replay.

John Steiner

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