NFL's fiasco in San Diego may bring back replay use


It's a good bet that some form of instant replay will return to the NFL, which saw one of its worst nightmares -- a couple of poor calls from officials -- played out on national television during Sunday's AFC playoff game.

Simply put, the No-Fun League can't afford to have its officials look as bad as they did in the fiasco in San Diego, with the whole world watching through the eyes of its accomplice, television.

To recap, in the third quarter of the San Diego-Miami game, Chargers running back Natrone Means scored on a 24-yard run, but replays showed that he clearly stepped out at the 2-yard line.

A fourth-quarter 37-yard scoring strike from San Diego's Stan Humphries to Shawn Jefferson was not allowed, even though replays bore out that Jefferson got both feet down in the end zone after making the catch.

Any off-season push for a return to using replays, which were booted two seasons ago, will have more strength this time because Miami's Don Shula, co-chair of the NFL's Competition Committee, was involved in this game. Shula has been a proponent of replays, and will likely exert a good chunk of his considerable powers to try to bring them back.

"The officials can't do anything about it, but it's there," Shula said. "We knew when they ruled against instant replay, it wasn't going to disappear. The networks were going to use it, the stadiums were going to use it."

Under the old replay system, an official in a booth flagged plays that needed review, and sometimes lengthy delays ensued. The system was admittedly unwieldy, especially for television, which likes its games fast and furious.

Perhaps the USFL method, where coaches could call for replays at the peril of losing yardage or timeouts, could be used, but that would require the haughty NFL to admit that it doesn't do everything correctly. Better that than to have the competence of its officials and the integrity of the sport held up for ridicule in a prominent televised setting.

Firestone chats

One would have thought that ESPN could have found a better place for the Roy Firestone retrospective it ran last Saturday at 1 a.m. After all, Firestone's "Up Close" interview show and its predecessor, "SportsLook" -- which aired for four years on USA before coming to ESPN in 1984 -- helped give the all-sports network an air of legitimacy in its fledgling days.

Firestone, a former Orioles batboy when the team trained in Miami, has left the daily "Up Close" show for other projects, including monthly prime-time specials, and snippets of the more than 4,000 interviews he conducted in 14 years that aired during last week's special indicate that Firestone is probably getting out of the daily grind at the right time.

Firestone is a gifted interviewer and has proven adept at eliciting choice and intriguing information from his subjects, but he had gotten a bit too chummy with his guests in recent years, and there were far too many "Up Close" sessions with entertainers sharing their favorite ballpark moments.

Still, the regular presence of the witty Firestone, who will turn the show over to Chris Myers starting Jan. 23, will be missed.

Keep your TV guide handy

Did you know that ESPN had two college basketball games Sunday afternoon, with the Auburn men playing host to Mississippi, and the then sixth-ranked Vanderbilt women visiting No. 10 Alabama?

Not if you watched ESPN over the past week or so, where nary a promo or mention of either game was heard, while the "Big Monday" contests and the ACC/Big East Wednesday doubleheader were touted all over the place. True, Sunday's games did run head-to-head against the NFL playoffs, but there are some folk who might actually prefer to watch basketball if they only know where to find it.

Women's basketball coaches are celebrating ESPN's acquisition of the tournament, starting next season, as a positive development, thinking the network will give the game more attention. Moves like this, however, make one wonder if that hope isn't seriously misplaced.

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