Every time an NFL official blows a call, people begin to get nostalgic for the instant-replay system that the league used from 1986 to '91. In recent weeks the Giants, Steelers and Saints have all been burned by boners. But don't get too misty-eyed about instant replay; the numbers prove that it was hardly worth the trouble. Here are the league's own statistics on the six-year experiment. Not a very compelling case for instant replay: one correct reversal every 641 plays, or once every four games. And approximately 10% of the reversals were incorrect. In other words, the officials on the field were almost always right.
Only once during the six years the system was in place did the outcome of a game turn on a replay call in the final minute, and that reversal proved to be wrong. With 32 seconds left in a 1989 game between Chicago and Green Bay, the Bears led 13-7. On fourth down from the Chicago 14, Packer quarterback Don Majkowski threw a touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe, but the officials ruled that Majkowski was beyond the line of scrimmage when he released the ball. Replay official Bill Parkinson overruled the call, and the Packers won 14-13. But a week later the league reviewed a tape of the game and concluded that Parkinson had not been on firm enough ground to reverse the call.
Even if replay calls are usually correct—and few would argue otherwise—are they worth the cost? Forgetting the philosophical debate about whether the game should be officiated by people or machines, is fixing three or four plays per weekend worth the delays that on occasion stretched to four minutes per call? Says Buffalo special teams ace Steve Tasker, "There was so much red tape and so many delays. Let's just forget it and go on with the game. We don't miss it."
Executives around the league seem to agree; there appears to be no chance that the replay system will return. Says Kansas City president Carl Peterson, "The officials are not perfect. Then again, the guy in the booth wasn't perfect either."
As for criticism of the officials, Bengal president Mike Brown is unmoved. "The officiating in this league is very, very good," he says. "Some of our guys who complain about it ought to try to do it sometime."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]