The crowd of robust young men jostled for position in front of the six-foot color television screen, downing beers from 62-ounce pitchers at a relentless five-minutes-to-the-glass clip, commenting with inspired vulgarity on the action before them. "Hey, Rizzo's got the ball. Rizzo! Oh, what moves that mother has...." All in all, a typical weekend scene at the neighborhood tavern: a bunch of guys having a few beers and watching a game on the tube. Almost, but not quite, because these particular guys, members of the Santa Barbara, Calif., Grunions rugby team, were watching themselves play in a game videotaped that afternoon and shown that evening at Clyde Bennett's Instant Replay bar and grill. The big Rizzo fan was, in fact, Frank Rizzo himself, who is captain of the Grunions. Rizzo, like most Instant Replay patrons, was simply carried away by the sight of himself on TV. It was an exercise in narcissism made possible by a television crew consisting of...Clyde Bennett.
Although the 42-year-old Bennett's principal occupation is teaching physical education at the Montecito Union Elementary School, he has been operating the Instant Replay since April 22. His inspiration came from 15 years of playing and umpiring in Santa Barbara's vast city recreation program. Bennett observed that weekend jocks such as himself do pretty much the same thing after every game: they go someplace to drink beer, watch a little TV and endlessly rehash the activities of the day. He also became aware of another quirk of human nature: people get a big kick out of seeing themselves on television. The seeds of a big idea were germinating.
Digging into his savings, Bennett bought $6,000 worth of television equipment, including a camera with a zoom lens and a videotape machine. He knew he wanted to film his fellow softballers in action, but he didn't know where he could show the tapes. Should he charge admission? Should he be compensated for his expenditures or should he merely consider the whole endeavor a terribly expensive hobby? It was then that he took into account the importance of beer drinking to the postgame ritual. Bennett decided to become a publican. He searched Santa Barbara for available property and finally settled on a rundown former hippie bar at 33 West Anapamu Street. The Bennetts weren't deep in capital—"We depleted our savings to buy this place," says Bennett's wife, Oleta—so the Instant Replay became pretty much a family operation. All of the Bennetts—daughters Anne, 22, and Laura, 14, and son, Mark, 18—work there, dishing up hamburgers, pouring wine and beer and helping Bennett film his games.
The place was packed beyond its 65-seat capacity on opening night, when the feature film was a women's softball game played the previous weekend, and it remained filled throughout the summer when, on a given night, players from as many as six softball teams could see themselves in action. "Softball is our bread and butter," says Bennett, but his camera was soon focused on other events in sports-mad Santa Barbara. Now, Bennett will videotape almost anything sportive, especially if the participants are up to buying a few beers afterward.
"My basic idea is that this is advertising," says Bennett of his gimmick. "We have the understanding that if I film the players, they'll come in to watch. After all, any bar can show NFL games or baseball's Game of the Week. We show those, too, but the thing here is seeing yourself." In a remarkably short time, the Instant Replay became a Santa Barbara institution, and word of Bennett's genius soon spread beyond the city limits, particularly after the bar was featured on an NBC newscast. "I've had calls from all over the country from people wanting to copy the idea," says Bennett. "And I don't suppose there's any way I can stop them from doing it."
Indeed, there is every possibility that the tavern industry will soon be inundated with imitation Instant Replays. Even the most diehard fan might be prepared to forgo the Pittsburgh Steelers, say, for the opportunity of seeing himself throw a game-winning pass in the neighborhood touch football league. Still, it's questionable if an operation as extensive as Bennett's could succeed anywhere outside of Santa Barbara. This lovely beach community of about 74,000 active and mostly affluent souls is what every Easterner seems to think all California is like. The sun, save for some early morning fog, shines benevolently on thousands of lean, tanned and partially dressed young men and women whose dedication to semi-nudity is such that auslanders in long pants are looked upon as fetishists. Even the city's old folks—and their number is considerable—faithfully observe the rules of dishabille.
Everyone, young and old, rich and middle-class, does something physical. This includes all the usual sports, plus local favorites like two-man beach volleyball and over-the-line, a form of three-to-a-team beach softball. Nobody in Santa Barbara even seems to walk much. The citizens propel themselves along the oceanside thoroughfares on roller skates, bicycles and skateboards, and there seem to be more serious runners per capita than there are cab drivers in Manhattan. The waves are alive with surfers and the pools with swimmers.
Santa Barbara and the Instant Replay were made for each other, and Bennett's was an idea whose time had come. "We cover every sport, every age group," says Oleta. "Between Clyde and Mark, they know every jock in town." Just keeping up with what's going on has Bennett hopping, but besides his camera work, bar-keeping and schoolteaching, he's also the city's chief official for softball and basketball. On any one weekend, Bennett might umpire as many as 15 softball games. Fortunately, he's indefatigable, unflappable and doggedly good-humored.
One Friday not long ago, Bennett, wearing his yellow Instant Replay sports shirt and checkered slacks, popped into his bar-restaurant shortly after 10 in the morning. At noon, he would be showing a videotape of the dramatic semifinal game in the women's city soccer tournament. At two, he would be taping the Santa Barbara Invitational Triples Lawn Bowling Tournament, and at 6:30 he would film a practice game between players from the Grunions and U.C.- Santa Barbara. After that, it would be back to the bar for the rugby telecast. The next day, he would umpire five softball games in Ojai, 35 miles east of Santa Barbara, while Mark stayed in town to videotape the women's soccer finals between the Sockers and Nick's Chicks.
"I have fun here," Bennett said, glancing about his modest establishment.