Upon further review: Recalling how NFL adopted, refined instant replay
Jim Joyce joins Mike Renfro, Vinny Testaverde as poster boys for instant replay
Renfro's non-touchdown in 1979 AFC title game was catalyst, recalls Don Shula
In 1998, Testaverde's 'touchdown' helped spur NFL to refine its replay system
Though the NFL's long march to adopt and refine instant replay usage never experienced quite the tipping-point moment to match what MLB umpire Jim Joyce wrought Wednesday night in Detroit, there were a couple high-profile blown calls along the way that prompted the league to not once, but twice institute replay as an officiating tool -- first in the mid-1980s and again in the late 1990s.
If baseball follows suit and expands the use of replay in the wake of Joyce's blown call that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game, as commissioner Bud Selig promised to consider, the mustachioed umpire with the alliterative name will no doubt take his place alongside the likes of Mike Renfro and Vinny Testaverde as poster boys for the use of replay in their sports.
More than 18 years apart, Renfro, a second-year Houston Oilers receiver at the time, and Testaverde, then a 35-year-old Jets quarterback, played pivotal roles in a pair of plays that featured glaringly mistaken calls in a non-replay review era, thus helping crystallize the need for greater technological intervention in NFL officiating.
Here's a partial refresher course on how the NFL got to be the most replay-friendly sport of all:
In the 1979 AFC Championship Game, played Jan. 6, 1980, in Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, Bum Phillips' free-wheeling Oilers were taking what turned out to be their last, best shot at vanquishing the vaunted Steelers dynasty. But it was not to be. Houston lost to Pittsburgh 27-13 in a game far closer than the score indicates, with the Steelers going on to win their fourth Super Bowl ring in a six-year span.
The play from that game that endures 30 years later unfolded in the final seconds of the third quarter, when Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini found Renfro in the extreme back right corner of the end zone for an apparent game-tying six-yard touchdown pass. After a non-call and then a discussion amongst themselves -- a non-replay review, if you will -- the officials ruled the pass incomplete, indicating Renfro did not have complete control of the ball before falling out of bounds. Instead of being 17-17 with a quarter to play, the Oilers kicked a 23-yard field goal and trailed 17-13.
The problem was, TV replays showed fairly conclusively that Renfro did indeed have control of the ball with both feet down before he left the end zone, and the perception that Houston was jobbed out of potential game-turning score and maybe even the franchise's first Super Bowl berth was firmly established in the public's consciousness. That may be a stretch, but that's how these things tend to work. Especially since the heat descended squarely on side judge Don Orr, who froze after Renfro's catch and resorted to huddling with his fellow officials before making the incompletion call. (See a picture of the catch here -- scroll down to No. 1.)
Though it was hardly a case of a swift cause-and-effect process, the non-touchdown by Renfro in the AFC title game was seen as the first major blow in what became a drumbeat for replay reviews in the NFL. It took another six years for the league to finally work out the details of a replay system and install it in time for the 1986 season, but it was the injustice Renfro received during his 15 minutes of fame that got the ball rolling and made the booth review a part of the NFL landscape.
Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula was one of the longtime co-chairmen of the NFL's powerful competition committee throughout the '80s, and he was influential in the league moving to the replay system.
"I remember that Renfro play being one of the key plays we used to sell it to the (league owners),'' Shula told me Friday morning, from his vacation home in Carmel, Calif. "It was the fact that people sitting at home in their living room could see that the call was blown on the field, see that it was missed, and yet the referees couldn't get that information and use it to fix the call. We were finally able to convince the owners that that had to change.''
Shula said his co-chair on the committee, Cowboys general manager Tex Schram, was against replay for years, but the Renfro play swayed his vote into the yes category.
"I was an early proponent of replay,'' Shula said. "But Tex had tremendous influence, and he resisted it for a long time until that call. He wanted the game to be called on the field. But that play was the real catalyst for him. We had to find a way for the officials to see the same thing that people sitting at home on their couch saw. Now it's one of the most interesting things that happen during a game. Fans say I can't wait to see the replay. And it's a part of the game.''
The league used replay, at least on a limited basis, from 1986-91, before discarding it starting with the 1992 season. The anti-replay faction within the league thought the frequent delays necessary for reviews were not worth the trouble and killed the pace and flow of the game. It would be another seven years before the NFL returned to the replay age in the regular season, this time with a challenge-based system that limited the number of mid-game reviews.
Read on to discover how Vinny Testaverde, and by extension, his helmet, had plenty to do with the resurrection of replay.
How can Kansas overcome the injury to Joel Embiid?
Boomer: When it comes to NFL free agents, buyer beware