Let’s See That Again!

In case you missed it, here is Rollie Stichweh's TD...

Evolving technology has changed sports so much that it is now possible for viewers to see replays of a ballplayer spitting from many different angles, and in super slow motion.  The fan in the stands sees the game in a very large format, but the fan at home sees a lot more details, and sees each play several times.  (Also, the home viewer has shorter lines for the rest room.)

We have grown so accustomed to video replays that it may be hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist, but I happened to be watching the day the first replay appeared on national television.  The date was December 7, 1963, and the event was the Army-Navy football game, which had been delayed a week due to the assassination of President John Kennedy.

CBS was carrying the game, and a young director named Tony Verna was in charge that day.  Verna had been experimenting with the idea of video replay since the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and he was sure he had figured out a way to play back the action moments after it happened.  He persuaded his bosses to let him ship a 1,200 pound Ampex videotape recorder from New York to Philadelphia for this game.

Those machines used large reels of tape that was two inches wide — digital recording didn’t come along until decades later.  Verna’s plan was to keep a camera hooked up to that recorder and trained exclusively on the two quarterbacks, Roger Staubach of Navy and Rollie Stichweh of Army.  An audio engineer would insert a “beep” on the tape before each play began; then, if something exciting happened, the video replay technician could rewind to the “beep”, and then hit play within a matter of seconds.

That’s how it was supposed to work, but there were problems with the replay machine throughout the game that day.  Sometimes it took too long for the image to stabilize, so there was just visual static.  In other instances, the recording heads on the machine simply failed to record anything at all.

The engineers managed to get it working for one play:  Army QB Stichweh (rhymes with ditch day) ran into the end zone from one yard out with 6:19 remaining in the game.  As I recall, that touchdown was replayed only once, and at normal speed — there was no slo-mo back then.  Army’s two-point conversion was not replayed, nor was the subsequent on-side kick, which happened to be recovered by Rollie Stichweh.

Navy held on to win the game 21-15, and although Midshipman QB Roger Staubach didn’t figure in the historic first replay, he got the consolation prize of winning the 1963 Heisman Trophy, and eventually made the pro football Hall of Fame.  Tony Verna went on to a storied career at CBS, receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Directors Guild of America.  Rollie Stichweh served in Vietnam and lived to tell about it; from what I read, he and Staubach remain close friends.  As for instant replay — you already know what has happened to it since 1963.  I mean, can you believe the ump blew that call!?

26 responses to “Let’s See That Again!

  1. Wow … I had no idea! Thanks for sharing this story — and the amazing pic!

  2. Great post!! I would like to see that game!! I really couldn’t imagine watching a game without replay…we really do take it for granted. Even if you are at the game you get to see the replays.


  3. There wouldn’t be any getting away with that stuff now-a-days.

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  5. Great post. So glad he had that idea as it’s so necessary today.

  6. The question is: Does technology like this make games better? Sports do take some their excitement from uncertainty and sheer luck.


  7. Don’t you wish we could use instant replay to show someone when they did whenever they do something stupid in life?

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!



  8. Very interesting post; thank you!

    I think many sports remain slow to fully embrace the benefit of technology at the highest level where the tiniest differences really do matter. Football (of the soccer variety) is one of the slowest to adopt the benefits of instant replay, extrapolation of trajectory and other ways to help referees make correct decisions during games.

    Fortunately tennis and cricket now use Hawkeye-type technology to aid decision-making, and I think these sorts of innovation only add to the drama of a game, rather than detracting from it.

  9. Wow! Didn’t know it happened so long ago! I guess I shouldn’t admit that, because I was born that year, Ha, Ha! Thanks for the info. I guess we need all the replays, but now some of the excitement and spontaneity is gone from the games… oh well! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!


  10. My dad used to work for Ampex, in the 1970s, I believe. It takes me back… for years we had old Ampex tapes around the house.

    • Since your father worked for the company, you may know that the name Ampex was an acronym. The founder was Alexander M. Poniatoff, so when he founded the company in the 1940s, he derived its name from A. M. Poniatoff EXcellence.

  11. that’s pretty awesome. watching nfl games today makes me think i never would have survived back before replays. i guess that’s what you get as a child of technology!

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  13. Thanks for sharing this piece of sports history.
    Watching instant replays gives the viewer a definite advantage over the fan in the stand. However, there is nothing like being in the stands when a great play is made. The collected emotion at the game is something to experience.
    Happy holidays.

    • I agree with your point about the live experience of seeing a great play made. Last month I put up a post about being in the stands at Dodger Stadium when Kirk Gibson hit that historic home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series. I’m sure it was thrilling to see it on television, but being there in person… well, I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure.

  14. this is one great trivia

  15. Re-plays are such a huge part of sports broadcasting, aren’t they. Imagine watching NHL without it… lol… very interesting to read about the history of it. How quickly technology has evolved!

  16. The first time I saw replay I thought my senility was flaring up. (Gosh, wasn’t there a play just like that a minute ago?) Good post, T.A., and that must be a record for comments.

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  18. Tom, a project concept—– A TV documentary….. “Big games won by the loser” aka –famous wins video replay would change. If it hasn’t been done (haven’t seen it), it needs to be. You’re the right guy. I’d sure like helping. Bill

  19. Good idea. Off the top of my head, there could be a segment on the blown call at first base in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series… and I seem to remember the Colorado Buffaloes benefiting from 5 downs at the end of an important game. (You may remember the details of that one.) You’re right, though, there’s now video documentation of games — and championships — that could have gone the other way.

  20. Well………that Buff game is a little different. Did you think I might say that ? It actually is in an odd way. What the Buffs got from that miscount was an extra “spiked” time out. The refs miscount happened after 3rd down. The Buffs , also believing (or being told) they faced 3rd down, spiked the ball with 3 seconds remaining. As the world now knows Colorado scored on the 5th down.—– My point is, that if CU had been aware (or made aware) that it was actually 4th down, they’d have run a play on “the real 4th down”, and quite likely have scored anyway (they were on the 2 yard line). So, again, what the extra down gave them was a spiked time out they should not have gotten. Although you will certainly enjoy maligning my extraordinary rationalization, as usual, solid logic sides with my point of view. THE BUFFS WON FAIR AND SQUARE, sort of.

  21. Nice try, Bill, but I’m skeptical that any Missouri fans would accept that argument. For that matter, there are a lot of Georgia Tech fans who probably feel they got cheated out of the AP national championship in 1990 by that blunder of those officials at the Colorado-Missouri game. If they had been allowed to use replay, the outcome would have been different. And football officials should be allowed to count on their fingers when they get into those high numbers (past two).

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