Tony Verna, inventor of instant replay, dies at 81

AP

You’ve probably never heard of Tony Verna. But he’s one of the most influential men in the history of football.

Verna, who died on Sunday at the age of 81, was a young producer for CBS Sports when he got a brilliant idea for the network’s television coverage of the 1963 Army-Navy Game: He would show a key play a second time, quickly enough that viewers at home would see it again without having to miss the next play.

It wasn’t easy. Verna told the Pacific Standard in 2013 that prior to that 1963 Army-Navy Game, networks needed about 15 minutes to cue up a film and show a play for a second time. To do it in 15 seconds required an innovative approach that featured some fits and starts and setbacks including vacuum tubes burning out and a replay having to be scrapped because the film they used had previously been used to record an I Love Lucy episode and Lucille Ball’s face could still be seen superimposed over the football field.

But finally, when Army scored a touchdown, Verna had the footage he needed and the equipment functioned properly, and so CBS showed the score before the extra point, with announcer Lindsey Nelson explaining to viewers that they were seeing the first instant replay in the history of television: “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!”

Verna’s innovation surely played a large part in the rise of football as America’s most popular sport over the last half century. Instant replay is so perfectly suited for football that it’s now almost impossible to imagine watching a game on TV without seeing most plays a second time. And, of course, instant replay has changed the game itself, as referees use it to correct missed calls. Verna said it never even occurred to him that replay would make officiating better. He just wanted to make the experience of watching football on TV better. And he did.

“What should it say on my tombstone?” Verna said in 2013. “‘Son of Italian immigrants. Invented Instant Replay.’”

Quite a legacy to leave.

24 responses to “Tony Verna, inventor of instant replay, dies at 81

  1. “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!”

    (I still have to say a similar line to my grandmother every time they show an instant replay.)

  2. Hopefully watching how the NFL has mishandled instant replay so often didn’t negatively impact his quality of life in his last few years.

  3. It never occurred to me that someone, at some point in time, had to invent the concept of instant replay. I sort of took it for granted.

  4. God Bless ! Sounds like he lived a full life and kind of ironic that the inventor of instant replay just keep moving forward in life !

  5. Wow….great story.

    The other breakthrough I remember was the “Isolated Camera,” which I guess was borne out of Instant Replay. Watching a receiver run his route, catch the ball and score…..that was thrilling.

    The Lindsay Nelson reference was great, too.

    My favorite was Ray Scott, who was the first to realize how the picture could tell the story. The less the better:

    “Starr to pass…..complete to McGeee….touchdown!”

  6. Yep, imagine football without it. On average, an NFL game has about 8 minutes of action, so imagine if they couldn’t show a reverse inside out instant replay of a 2 yard run, or 10 different angles of an incomplete pass. A good idea taken to extremes IMHO.

  7. For what it’s worth – I was at that game. I’ll never forget Navy wearing those all “gold” uniforms with “Navy” on top of their shoulder pads. My family has had graduates from the “boat school” since the class of 1867. Dad was class of ’47, my grandfather was ’22 and there’s another I’m forgetting. I didn’t get to go (immaturity and mediocre grades will do that to you) – but I did become a naval officer. My aunt still has the yearbook from the guy who graduated in 1867. It was called “Shakings” (as opposed to “The Log” which has been the title of the yearbook since I don’t know when).

  8. RIP Mr. Verna. Too bad your “invention” can’t go with you. A good idea that was unfortunately turned into a drag on the game. Let ’em play. It all evens out and it appears that the % of calls that are correct after replay is not worth the trouble. Replay is the reason why the rules are way too wordy and complicated. Rules only a lawyer could like…keep it simple stupid (KISS)

  9. To clarify…Replay = Great. Applying it to the rules and taking the spontaneous action out of the game= bad. It would be nice to cheer a play in the moment instead of waiting till after the commercial to see if it will actually count.

  10. Tony verna, sandy grossman, Bob Stenner, 3 longtime pioneers in sportscasting have either passes away or retired within the last year. RIP

  11. This man’s passing is kind of like the guys who developed the nuclear bomb. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but…………….

  12. tedbundysson says:
    Jan 20, 2015 10:28 AM
    To clarify…Replay = Great. Applying it to the rules and taking the spontaneous action out of the game= bad. It would be nice to cheer a play in the moment instead of waiting till after the commercial to see if it will actually count.

    ————————————————
    amen to that , brother !

  13. “‘Son of Italian immigrants. Invented Instant Replay.”

    Very nice life, Mr. Verna.

    It should also be noted that Verna didn’t just rest on his laurels after Instant Replay, he also directed the broadcasts of several Super Bowls, The Olympics and the 80s worldwide Live Aid extravaganza.

    R.I.P.

  14. It’s not his fault the nerds used HD and super slowmo to dry rape the game and leave it hiddeously altered.

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