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Instant Replay Inventor Changed The Way We Watch Sports


If you have watched any football on television recently then you have watched a lot of instant replay.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, take a look at it, turnovers - a big key. Yeah, the knee's down. The left knee is down and then he comes out. That's a great look at it right there.

SIEGEL: Instant replay was invented more than 50 years ago and it forever changed the way we watch sports. The creator of the instant replay was a young CBS Sports producer named Tony Verna. And Mr. Verna died this past Sunday at age 81. He had leukemia. Reporter Anna Clark spoke with Tony Verna in 2013 while she was writing a profile of him, and she joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ANNA CLARK: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

SIEGEL: And let's go back to the moment of invention - December 1963, the Army-Navy game, big college football rivalry. What does Tony Verna do?

CLARK: He was sneaky (laughter). He had been wanting to try out this new sort of production trick for a while, and he did not want to go through the usual routes for television innovation at the time. He didn't want to, like, file a bunch of memos, have it go through CBS's research and development, you know, department. He just wanted to do it, but to do so was tricky. He had to basically sneak out more than a ton's worth of equipment from New York, truck it down to Marchant Stadium in Philadelphia for the game and broadcast this, you know, much-hyped, emotional, live football game while trying to, at the same time, trying to manipulate the tape to do an instant replay. And what he ended up doing - he didn't manage to get it until the fourth quarter, and he only managed to do it once, but it did change the game.

SIEGEL: Now, there are some great details about that first instant replay in 1963. One is there's no video record of the broadcast - of the telecast - I gather, so we can't actually see it. But the CBS announcer actually had to tell viewers ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again. It's totally confusing to see something replayed right away.

CLARK: Completely confusing. I mean, if you're watching at home you saw Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh cross over the end zone, score a touchdown. You saw them celebrating and then seconds later you saw him do the exact same thing again. The broadcaster was trying to explain to audiences that it was not a second touchdown, but a lot of them were confused and calling their local CBS stations trying to figure out what was going on. And it got all the more confusing when Army went for a two-point conversion and the quarterback again, for a third time, you know, crossed over.

SIEGEL: There was a wonderful detail that he shared with you, which was that CBS Sports used used videotapes. And so when he was trying to do this earlier in the Army-Navy game he would come up to his spot and instead of seeing the play it would still have "I Love Lucy" on it because that's what they had...

CLARK: (Laughter) That's right.

SIEGEL: That's what they had last recorded on the videotape.

CLARK: He kept trying to zero in, especially on Staubach, who was the star of the game.

SIEGEL: This is Roger Staubach, the Navy quarterback.

CLARK: Exactly, and he couldn't manage to do it because the equipment slipped in and out of recording. And any time you would get a clip it - suddenly Lucille Ball's mug would just sort of pop through it (laughter) or some kind of soap commercial or something like that, and so it wasn't suitable for airing. And that's why - that's part of why he wasn't able to do it until the fourth quarter before he found something that, like, recorded straight through.

SIEGEL: Now, that was the first instance of instant replay, but it was - the phrase instant replay wasn't born yet. That happened a few weeks later, I guess.

CLARK: That's right. It was called immediate video replay at the time. And it wasn't until Tony Verna took this television trick to the the Cotton Bowl, where Navy was playing Texas, that broadcaster Pat Summerall, who was making his television debut at the time, dubbed it instant replay.

SIEGEL: Tony Verna worked for CBS. Did he realize any money for his innovation instant replay?

CLARK: He did not. Although, he fantasized a lot about what he would get out of royalties (laughter) if you could patent a concept like this, but no he didn't. CBS and other networks were using instant replay as much as they possibly could very shortly after its debut, but it did not result in any profits for any particular person.

SIEGEL: Anna Clark, thanks for talking with us.

CLARK: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: We're talking about the late Tony Verna, a CBS Sports producer, man who brought instant replay to televised football. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.