The History of Instant Replay in the NFL – Benefit or Detriment??

Most people will agree that all tools at your disposal should be used to provide a positive outcome. Yet when do we cross the line in overusing said tool to compound issues it was supposed to address?? One of the interesting aspects of instant replay as an officiating tool has really boiled down to determining what is or isn’t a catch.

Does the NFL need all of this to figure out instant replay??

Oh sure you’ll see a replay concerning a kick returner stepping out of bounds, or if a runner’s knee/elbow touches the ground before a fumble, or even to check the ball spot before bringing out the chains for a 1st down. Its the catch that has been scrutinized to the point where we have to ask the question: When it comes to judging a catch in the NFL has instant replay outlasted it’s usefulness??

To understand the depth of the question we have to return to the growth from its genesis.

Back in the 1970s the NFL really sped up from the 3 yard and a cloud of dust days of the 1960’s as the game evolved into a speed game. With the advent of astroturf and the full fruition of the American Football League’s drafting speed at every position became commonplace. Televising the game became more sophisticated as additional and more creative camera angles brought the viewer a more immersed experience. The game had sped up but middle aged referees had not and there were spots on the football field they couldn’t get to where a well placed camera could capture the moment.

However those camera angles and instant replay could not be used to aid an official. Fans everywhere were becoming Monday Morning quarterbacks discussing blown calls the day after with their favorite teams. The talk of replay being used as an officiating tool really began during the 15 minute delay after The Immaculate Reception and the official ruling of a touchdown in the 1972 playoffs. Even the networks began to chime in showing replay after replay where the big eye in the sky told a different tale than what officials called on the field. Yet it took two huge blown calls in playoff competition that brought the issue to the rule makers.

The first occurred at the goal line in the 2nd quarter of the 1977 AFC Championship Game. The defending Super Bowl champion Raiders were down 7-3 and in need of a defensive play as Denver sat poised at the Raider 2 yard line…and then:

Denver seized the momentum on the very next play as you saw taking a 14-3 lead. They went on to dethrone the Raiders 20-17 and move on to Super Bowl XII. The buzz after the game centered on the cruel twist of fate dealt the Raiders on the blown call when Tatum hit Lytle. Grumbling from the Raider organization was met with sentiment by NBC broadcaster Dick Enberg repeating clearly the refs blew the call.

The talk hadn’t died down two years later when another play altered the course of NFL history. We had a new rivalry make it to the national level between the perennial champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Oilers. Pittsburgh beat them in the 1978 AFC Championship 34-5. It was not even close. However in the ’79 AFC Championship Game they were embroiled in a dogfight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…

The argument to institute replay as an officiating tool went into overdrive as this play cast a pall over most of the time leading up to Super Bowl XIV and beyond. Yet it took 6 years before the NFL would vote replay in as an officiating tool. So going into the 1986 season how long was it before it had an affect. Try just 3 plays!! The defending champion Chicago Bears were hosting the Cleveland Browns in the opener when the 1st instant replay touchdown happened:

So Browns Safety Al Gross was the 1st NFL player to score a touchdown based on a decision by instant replay. In this instance it worked. When replay is concerning the spot of the ball, or whether a player was in-bounds before sliding out of bounds recovering a fumble, or whether a receiver had 2 feet in, replay is a critical tool for officiating crews to get it right. Yet when it comes to the catch itself replay has now become the problem.

Fast forward to the catch/non catch of Dez Bryant in the 2014 playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. In the waning moments down 26-21 and facing a 4th down, Romo lofted a pass toward Dez Bryant when apparently he caught the ball and it would be 1st and goal. Once the Packers challenged the play the controversy began.

What we received was a poor carrying out of the rule as it was written. This rule was adjusted after the 1999 NFC Championship Game when Bert Emanuel caught an apparent pass late in the game and the tip of the ball touched the ground. This was a diving play and the ball hitting the ground in the middle of the catch. We didn’t see that on the play with Bryant.

During Bryant’s catch, had he been in the middle of the field caught the ball and been hit after two steps, it would be a catch and fumble meaning he had possession. So now he catches the ball, rotates his body, cradles the football with one hand, takes several steps and dives for the goal line and the explanation was he hadn’t made a football move. This was and should have been ruled a catch once he took the two steps with no bobble of the football. Not the diving catch that the rule was written for.

This event altered the course of NFL history and forever doomed the legacy of Tony Romo and a team that could have made the Super Bowl. Yet we have to move on…

We have to quit with the Zapruder Film reenactment every time we need to review a catch with instant replay. The Chancellor of Football says we need to interpret the rules as players, coaches, and refs always have and get away from the Bob Costas wannabe lawyer types who muck this up every time a reception is discussed.

  • What is a catch? A forward pass thrown from one offensive player to another and the recipient possesses the ball.
  • A reception and possession of the ball takes place once the receiver secures it and takes two steps, goes out of bounds, or immediately tackled or touched down once their knee, elbow, or ass hits the ground.
  • Possession of the ball is securely controlling the ball with one hand or two.

That is it!! That is a catch and the rest should be left to the judgment of an official. Back during John Madden’s early years in the broadcast booth, NFL Director of Officiating Art McNally explained a Jerome Barkum touchdown by stating “One knee equals two feet.” Which translates to the play was over once the receiver was ruled down and in this instance he only had one knee in while sliding out of the endzone with a reception.

The NFL needs to get away from this stupid notion someone somewhere brought up about reviewing the receiver having possession after the play has already been called down or out of bounds. Possession the instant a play is whistled dead is over! Who cares if he bobbles it 11 feet out of bounds sliding into a table of gatorade?? Once we remove this excess from replay it will remain an effective tool. You don’t need a panel of 72″ screens and a committee to determine a catch!!

Dedicated to my late brother Michael Vincent Rojas if he were here we would still be arguing Bert Emanuel’s catch/no catch from the 1999 NFC Championship Game.

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Cliff Branch Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Madden once told NFL Films “Cliff Branch was so skinny when he walked his back pockets would fight.” Yet no one put fear in NFL secondaries when it came to getting beat deep during the 1970’s. When someone says close your eyes and picture the Oakland Raiders of the ’70’s, one of the first visuals you’d have would be Stabler launching a bomb in Cliff’s direction.

BranchBWDrafted out of Colorado in 1972, Branch was a football and track star in college. Oakland had been without a true deep threat since Warren Wells departure a few years earlier. His baptism by fire would come as he learned the game from Hall of Famer WR Fred Biletnikoff and going up against Hall of Fame CBs Willie Brown and Skip “Dr Death” Thomas in practice.

Going against those 2 big physical corners, Branch grew up in a hurry. When he was unleashed on an unsuspecting NFL as a 1st time starter in 1974, Branch blazed for 60 rec 1,092 yards and 13 TDs. Pedestrian by today’s standards until you realize he was 4th in receptions and led the league in yards and touchdowns.

It was the 1st of 4 straight Pro Bowl and All Pro seasons. He was the #1 weapon on a team that finished in no less than the AFC Championship in each of those campaigns. His best season capped off the Raider’s Super Bowl XI championship when he caught 46 passes for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns. Why was it his best? He led the league in TDs and was 2nd in yards losing to Roger Carr by 1 yard on arguably the most powerful NFL champion of the 1970’s.

One aspect of Branch’s game that makes him an all timer is how he played in big games. When everyone marveled at Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as he was breaking all time NFL post season records, whose records did you think he was breaking? When Rice caught 3 TDs in Super Bowl XXIV, he was breaking the Super Bowl record for touchdowns in a game when Branch set it with 2 against the Eagles in XV. When Branch retired after the 1985 season, he was the NFL’s All Time postseason reception (73) and yardage (1,223) leader before Rice broke them some 9 years later. He had broken the previous records set by fellow Raider WR Biletnikoff, who was now his coach.

However records and numbers only tell a part of the story. How much space did defenses give him in respect to his speed that opened up opportunities for Biletnikoff and Hall of Fame TE Dave Casper?? Do you realize he was the only skill player on all 3 Raider Super Bowl champions?? Against the Eagles in Super Bowl XV it was his 2 scores that broke the game open 21-3…winning it 27-10.

In Super Bowl XVIII when the Raiders held a precarious 7-0 lead over Washington it was Branch who blew that game open too. The Raiders first score was a blocked punt. In the 2nd quarter, a 35 year old Branch beat Anthony Washington and Darryl Green on a 50 yard bomb to put the silver and black in scoring position. A few plays later Branch scored from 14 yards out to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead. This took John Riggins out of the game and forced the Redskins to pass into the teeth of a secondary led by Vann McElroy, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes, and Mike Davis. A 38-9 triumph won him his 3rd championship ring.

For his 14 year career he caught 501 passes for 8,685 yds and 67 touchdowns. His fellow receivers Biletnikoff and Casper have each made “The Hall.” This August his original quarterback, Ken Stabler will be enshrined posthumously. His original coach John Madden and the late Al Davis have both been enshrined. Once Tom Flores and Cliff Branch are voted in, it will close this chapter on Oakland /L.A. Raiders football.

For enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Cliff Branch.

Legendary Days: Ken Stabler’s Last Great Comeback

A few short weeks ago we lost Ken Stabler and it was felt by football fans everywhere. In my article describing why he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I cited the great moments he had as one of the reasons. He had so many famous 4th quarter finishes they had nicknames: The Holy Roller, The Sea of Hands, and The Ghost To The Post to name a few. However the one most people forgot about was his last great comeback.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

John Madden, Fred Biletnikoff were gone and many holdovers from the 70’s were being phased out in 1979. Tom Flores was now the coach and Oakland was about to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. Only the second time this had happened in 12 years. They traveled to New Orleans where both teams at 7-6, clung to fading playoff hopes.

The Saints had a shot at finishing with their 1st ever winning season. They had Pro Bowlers in QB Archie Manning, RB Chuck Muncie, TE Henry Childs, and WR Wes Chandler. Now on a Monday Night they were going to show the nation and the rest of the NFL they were to be taken seriously. They came out firing and took a 28-14 halftime lead on Oakland. The Raiders looked like an aging team as the Superdome was raucous from the 1st half heroics, then it got even louder early in the 3rd quarter:

…and just like that Stabler brought the Raiders back from 35-14 to the greatest comeback win in Monday Night history 42-35.  The Snake had gone 26 of 45 for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were thrown in the 4th quarter alone.  On a Monday night in December 1979, Stabler turned back the clock with an unbelievable performance.

RIP Kenny Stabler

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Ken Stabler Belongs In The Hall of Fame

When it comes to who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, most inductees are in for the stellar performance over their careers entirety. Others are in based upon producing some of the greatest moments in football history. A third definition in the eyes of the The Chancellor is “Can we talk about the era in which a player performed without his name coming up?”  Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders fits the bill in all 3 of these categories.

KennyStablerHere in Taylor Blitz Times we have chronicled the long time bias against former Raiders when it comes to enshrinement. Head Coach John Madden’s field general has yet to be elected to Canton. Stabler was a throwback QB who called his own plays and routinely led the Raiders into the playoffs during the 1970’s. Along with Fan Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw, these four ruled the 1970’s and arguably Stabler had the most legendary moments.

On December 23,1972 in the AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh, Stabler, whom Madden had been grooming since 1968, was the wild card needed to change the tide of a game down 6-0. Desperate for some offense, John Madden inserted a young, mobile Kenny “The Snake” Stabler in for an anemic Daryle Lamonica which produced immediate results.

On a last second desperation drive, the Raiders came scrambling downfield with a young quarterback in his first significant action in an NFL playoff game. At the Steelers 30 with less than 1:30 to go, Stabler avoided the Steel Curtain, took off and scored on a 30 yard TD run to give the Raiders their first lead of the game 7-6. “The Snake” had done it!! A hero was born!! There was bedlam on the Oakland sideline and with 1:13 to go began to make reservations for they would host the AFC Championship Game against the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

However this was overshadowed by The Immaculate Reception that happened 4 plays later. Then later that day Roger Staubach had his 1st famous comeback in a 30-28 win in San Francisco. Yet Oakland knew they had their quarterback of the future and he could perform in pressure situations. Like a young George Blanda, who had a magical run during 1970, the Raiders could depend upon Stabler’s heroics for years to come.

Over the next 5 seasons as the starter, Stabler guided the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game. An NFL record. He was a daring quarterback who was a true river boat gambler. This led to some interceptions but even more daring touchdowns. He was old school yet enjoyed wine, women, and song out in the nightlife. He still came in and put in his work and teammates respected him and would follow him anywhere.

In 1973 Stabler completed an unheard of 62.7% of his passes, for 1,997 yards 14 TDs and 10 interceptions. The Raiders won the AFC West and got revenge on the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 33-14 win in the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins, on their way to back to back championships, beat them in the ’73 AFC Championship 27-10. Take a wild guess who was there to get revenge in the 1974 AFC Divisional Playoff?

Stabler ended the Dolphin dynasty with the touchdown to Clarence Davis in what became known as The Sea of Hands. One of the most famous games in NFL history.

Although the Raiders lost the AFC Championship the next two years to the rival Steelers, they came back in’76 with a vengeance. They recorded a 13-1 record and sought revenge on those Steelers yet needed another “Snake” come from behind miacle win in the AFC divisional round to get there.

The Raiders would go on to win the AFC Championship 24-7 over Pittsburgh, then Super Bowl XI over Minnesota 32-14. He had guided the Raiders to that elusive championship in an era when it seemed they would be destined to always be the bridesmaid. He had several great performances left but becoming a champion was the ultimate. In defending that championship in 1977, Stabler guided Oakland to their 5th straight AFC Title game in Denver. They fell short 20-17 in getting to Super Bowl XII. How much did that have to do with the fatigue from the 6 quarter epic, Ghost To the Post 37-31 victory over the Baltimore Colts 1 week before??

Stabler’s Raider career was filled with great highlights and one important Super Bowl championship. In 1976 he had one of the greatest season a QB could have. He went 194 of 291 for 2,737 yards 27 TDs and 17 ints and an astonishing completion rate of 67.7% and a 103.4 passer rating. Remember this is a guy who extolled the Raiders philosophy of pressure football while throwing the ball deep.

However Stabler’s career wasn’t a series of statistics. He was one of the NFL’s most visible and recognizable personalities. He did make four Pro Bowls, was voted NFL MVP in 1974, was All Pro twice, and led the league in touchdown passes on 2 occasions. Furthermore,”The Snake” also was voted to the 1970’s NFL All Decade Team and finished with 194 TDs and 222 interceptions. A trade to the Houston Oilers after the 1979 season ended his stint  in Oakland. However he did go out with a bang:

Before his retirement in 1984, he did play for the late Bum Phillips twice in Houston and with the New Orleans Saints. Yet it was the magic he deftly showed out in Oakland that should have him in Canton. You can’t even pick out the best quarterback/receiver combo from the 1970s. Was it Stabler to Cliff Branch who should be in the Hall of Fame?? Would it be Stabler to TE Dave Casper who is in “the hall”?? No…it has to be the obvious in Stabler to Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff…right?? If all of his receivers are in and being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame what does that make of the quarterback who helped get them there??

Unfortunately with his passing on Wednesday, we will have to lobby for Stabler to be enshrined posthumously.

For the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Kenny “The Snake” Stabler

RIP Ken Stabler (February 2, 1952 – July 8, 2015)

SUPER BOWL XI CHAMPION 1976 OAKLAND RAIDERS

Al Davis said he wanted a ring so nice that he wanted a Raider to be able to meet the Queen of England and not feel he had to take it off. Mission accomplished!! One of the unique features to every Raider championship ring is that Al Davis uses the AFL “A” and not the AFC “Block A” on the side. This was the bauble for winning Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977 over the Minnesota Vikings 32-14.

superbowlxi3They finally clutched the prize, Madden, Stabler, Biletnikoff, Tatum, Hendricks, Matuszak, Sistrunk, Villapiano, Atkinson and Raider Nation.  What is strange is how the Raiders could have totally written sports history.  They played in 5 other conference championships before winning the Super Bowl in 1976.

That’s without talking about the “job” they got in the Immaculate Reception in the 1972 AFC Divisional playoff that would have put them in a SIXTH. I cornered Franco Harris in 1991 and tried to get him to exact the ball hit Fuqua and not Tatum and he wouldn’t do it!! sigh…yet I digress  After playing in Super Bowl II, the Raiders could have been in Super Bowls 3,4,5, 8-10, & 12. So this was the culmination of pushing to be the best over all those years.

imagesrYet stop and think about how history could have been written had they won those games.

  1. We wouldn’t have had Joe Namath’s guarantee in Super Bowl III
  2. The Raiders would have played the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, who was the original AFL team to be in Minnesota, until the NFL undercut the AFL by giving the owners of that territory an NFL franchise. This is ironically how the AFL got to Oakland in the first place.
  3. They would have stopped Johnny U. and the Colts from making the “Blunder Bowl” or Super Bowl V and could have been going for a threepeat. Had they won in 69 and 70 it would have made them the last AFL Champion as well as the first AFC Champion.
  4. They would have stopped the Dolphins from being a dynasty by keeping them from winning back to back Super Bowls. By the way, remember the undefeated 1972 Dolphins and their record 18 game winning streak?  Who did they lose to? The Raiders in early 1973 in a game played at Berkeley because the A’s were in the World Series. Footnote this with it was the Raiders who in the ’74 Divisional playoff, the “Sea of Hands” play stopped the Dolphins from going to 3 Super Bowls in a row…so this isn’t far-fetched folks.
  5. They would have stopped the Steelers dynasty from taking off (Super Bowls IX & X) and would have been crowned team of the 70’s by this time easily. Don’t start Steeler fans because these were some battles with the Raiders.
  6. They would have stopped the Broncos miracle ’77 season keeping them out of Super Bowl XII.

As for the team that always threw deep, I find it ironic that the Super Bowl XI MVP was a supposedly slow, couldn’t get deep, that left the NFL as the leading playoff touchdown in receptions and yards before he left in 1977 and that is Fred Biletnikoff.  My man was busy cookin’ the best that the NFL had to offer at CB.

It was understood when the game was on the line they went to the diminutive route runner from Florida St. Fred Biletnikoff had only 4 catches in Super Bowl XI, yet those catches set up 3 Super Bowl scores, and was the focus of why the Raiders blew out the Vikings in Super Bowl XI.

super-bowl-logo-1976He was a tremendous performer and the predecessor of Lester Hayes’ use of stickum in 1980.   He was the all time post season reception leader and yardage when he retired. Who broke his record? Cliff Branch…the man he showed the ropes on being an NFL receiver.  Jerry Rice eventually broke these records but you have to appreciate how things became the way they are.

Now Raider fans, you guys have to let go of the Immaculate Reception as I had to after several beers with Franco.  You did get jobbed and that ’75 AFC Championship Game icy field in Pittsburgh was fair when you guys played head games with the Chiefs and others about leaving the water on all night, hence the wet field. It’s just gamesmanship.

Well the idea the refs were out to get you guys disappeared in the ’76 divisional playoffs with the Sugar Bear Hamilton roughing the passer call on Stabler.  That call was among the worst ever!! Remember that call?? In the AFC Divisional playoff in 1976 you were losing to the Patriots 21-17 and were about to have to face a 4th and 17 with 1:38  left. Just seconds away from being upset when the flag came in…

So Stabler scored the winning touchdown with :10 seconds left and you were off to the AFC Championship. Big beneficiary of a very bad call. Hamilton hit Stabler under the arm…

OK then you guys got robbed in Denver on Lytle’s fumble in the 1977 AFC Championship game….ok maybe there is somethin’ to it.  The tuck rule with Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2001…damn you guys are on to something!! Just keep in mind you have had your share of calls also.

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SUPER BOWL II RUNNER UP 1967 OAKLAND RAIDERS

Ahhh…January 14, 1968 the second AFL/ NFL World Championship game…Super Bowl II: Packers 33-14 over Oakland. The game was best remembered as Vince Lombardi’s final game as legendary Packers coach. Yet the culmination of Al Davis work, since returning from a stint as AFL commissioner, also took the field that day down in the Orange Bowl.

sb2l

Al Davis fist Raider ring

The 1967 Raiders had the best record in all of pro football with a 13-1 record. After throttling the Houston Oilers 40-7 in the AFL Championship, they were poised to avenge the AFL’s first SuperBowl loss. Behind the “Mad Bomber” Daryle Lamonica, this era of Oakland Raider football was among the best in Raider history. When you look at the years 1967, ’68,’69, and 1970 the Raiders made it to the AFL Championship or AFC Championship every year.

The block AFL

The block AFL “A” along with the 1967 AFL Championship score 40-7 over Houston.

Warren Wells and Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff were the receivers during these years. Wells was the quintessential deep threat where as Biletnikoff was the intermediate target piling up yardage over the middle. Biletnikoff at one point held the postseason record for receptions, yardage, and touchdowns who later was named Super Bowl XI MVP. Hewritt Dixon and Clem Daniels (AFL All Time leading rusher) were the running backs for this team.

The defense was led by Ben Davidson at DE, Carleton Oats, Tom Keating on the defensive line formed a serious pass rush. Dan Conner and Gus Otto were steady linebackers yet the secondary was a serious strength of this team and where they borrowed the techniques started in Buffalo of tight cornerbacks playing “bump and run” coverage. Hall of Famer Willie Brown and Kent McCloughan were strong on coverage. This coverage along with the rush was what propelled this team to a 13-1 record. Their 1st chance to win the AFL championship in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum went like this:

Silver & Black...#1 in the AFL West

Silver & Black…#1 in the AFL West

They played in some of the most famous games in football history, from The Heidi Bowl to George Blanda’s miracle season of 1970 where he garnered MVP votes for 5 nail biting finishes. It was this era that propelled the Raiders into becoming the winningest organization in sports…then the Stabler, Branch, Biletnikoff (still going), Tatum, Atkinson, Villapiano, Hendricks era took it from there.

super-bowl-logo-1967Not bad for a franchise that was supposed to be in Minnesota huh? Minnesota?? Yeah Minnesota. I have told the story before where one of the final AFL teams was going to be in Viking country. However the NFL brass told the owners of the Minnesota territory to wait until the last second to defect to the NFL for one of their franchises. When that happened, the AFL moved the chess piece further west and drafted the Oakland territory. So its fitting that the masterpiece that was the first Raider Super Bowl win was in the 11th edition against Minnesota…. How’s that for irony?? LOL