Instant replay returns; Milstein gets delay; Limited nature of system convinces all but 3 teams; Redskins' fate unresolved


PHOENIX -- The NFL owners wrapped up their annual March meetings yesterday by approving a new version of instant replay and giving the Howard Milstein group another month to get its financing in order in its bid to buy the Washington Redskins.

The version of instant replay passed by a 28-3 vote might be called "Replay Lite" because it is designed not to correct most bad calls, but only the calls that can turn around a game.

Only three teams -- the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals, who have traditionally opposed any form of replay, and the New York Jets -- opposed it. Jets coach Bill Parcells didn't like the coach's-challenge part of the plan or the fact it's tied to timeouts.

Each coach will have only two challenges per game and will lose a timeout if he issues a challenge and it's not overturned.

In the last two minutes of each half and in overtime, a replay assistant will buzz the field to let the referee know there's a questionable call and the referee will then determine whether to overturn the call on the field.

The limited nature of the replay system helped to get the votes to bring it back for the first time since 1991, because it shouldn't lead to many delays.

Rich McKay, the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the co-chairman of the competition committee, who's opposed replay in the past, said:

"What changed my opinion is that the media, the fans, the players and the coaches wanted a replay system. There are a number of us who don't necessarily agree with replay. But we were able to get a system that only acts as an insurance policy against the big play. It doesn't overly affect the length of the game or the pace of the game."

Many of the coaches don't like the coach's-challenge part of it because they say it distracts them from coaching and leads to second-guessing.

But Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, the co-chairman of the competition committee, said: "Our whole life is making decisions. We are implementing this system to correct major, major big mistakes."

The Ravens have supported replay back to their days in Cleveland, and team president David Modell said it was important that the fans wanted to bring it back.

The league had a system from 1986-91 in which a replay official in the booth decided whether to overturn the calls. But it led to many delays and was finally tossed out in 1992.

A series of controversial calls last season led to a groundswell to approve this system on a one-year, trial basis.

It would have prevented the Seahawks from losing to the Jets last season when New York quarterback Vinny Testaverde was stopped inches short of the end zone, but was awarded the game-winning touchdown.

It wouldn't have affected two other notable calls -- the non-call on the Jerry Rice fumble in the Green Bay-San Francisco playoff game that kept the game-winning drive alive and the pass interference call in the end zone in the New England-Buffalo game.

The Rice call wouldn't have been overturned because the whistle had blown, and the pass-interference call would have stood because replay doesn't cover pass interference.

Modell noted, though, that this system would likely prevent the Super Bowl being decided on a bad call in the final minutes.

Meanwhile, the Redskins' future remained up in the air when Milstein, seeing he didn't have the votes, asked for a delay and the league granted it. A meeting was scheduled the week of April 5.

"The votes to pass it were not there," said commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The finance committee split, 3-3-2, and only eight negative votes were needed to kill it.

That means John Kent Cooke, the son of the late Jack Kent Cooke, will continue to run the team until the issue is resolved one way or the other.

In the newest development, there was an apparent split between Milstein and his minority investor, Daniel Snyder, a Washington businessman. Snyder told the owners he will not sue if the bid is rejected and announced at a news conference that he felt the process was very fair. Milstein has suggested he'll sue if he's rejected.

Snyder apparently is positioning himself to make another bid if the Milstein bid is rejected. Unlike Milstein, he's put up cash in his bid.

In another matter, the owners, as expected, pulled the 2003 Super Bowl out of San Francisco because the city's new stadium plan is up in the air. San Diego is likely to get the game.

The league also announced that, starting in 2003, it may push the Super Bowl into February, so it can start the season the week after Labor Day.

Pub Date: 3/18/99

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