Tony Verna, the former sports television producer and director who one December afternoon in 1963 pulled off a then unseen stunt during a live broadcast of the annual Army-Navy football game that was immediately to be dubbed ‘instant replay’, has died in California at the age of 81, his family confirmed.
So unfamiliar was the replay trickery performed by Mr Verna, then a technician with CBS, that the game’s announcer had to explain to perplexed viewers what was going on when they found themselves suddenly watching a touchdown by Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh for second time. “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!” barked the commentator, Lindsey Nelson.
Mr Verna, who died on Sunday at his Palm Desert home after fighting leukemia, years later complained to the Los Angeles Times that while his invention had essentially changed forever the way sports is consumed on television around the world he never received any credit from CBS, monetary or otherwise.
But he knew what he’d done was big. “If you change the way something’s been done in life, and you change how it's done forever, I think that's the most important thing,” he told the newspaper in 2008. “I changed the way things were normally done. That's very hard to do in life.”
“What bothered me is that [the network] never gave me the recognition,” he went on. “Money’s one thing, but they never said, ‘You did it’. This wasn't a mushroom that came out of the ground. There wasn't a button you could hit. Someone had to come up with it.”
If Mr Verrna hadn’t thought of it someone else surely would have done eventually. Essentially, he cued up some videotape, captured the moment in question and then inserted into the live broadcast feed. His idea at the time, he said, was partly to use the replays during long gaps in American football and make it less boring for people watching at home.
According to his own version of that day, he first had to persuade the network to allow him to haul what was then an unwieldy recording machine, almost the size of a car, from New York to Philadelphia, where the game was being played. More difficult was finding some virgin 3M videotape. Instead he resorted to an old tape which meant recording over an old episode of ‘I Love Lucy’. He wasn’t sure if images of Lucille Ball might leak like a ghost into the football footage. But they didn’t.
Mr Verna, who is survived by his wife of 45 years, Carol; daughters Tracy Soiseth and Jenny Axelrod; son Eric Verna; and three grandchildren, went on to pursue an illustrious broadcast career even without instant replay laurels. He produced five Super Bowls, the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby and was co-director and co-producer of Bob Geldof’s “Live Aid.”
Entertainment Weekly has listed instant replay's debut among its 100 greatest television moments. In 2004, Sports Illustrated declared it one of sports’ “20 great tipping points“ of the previous 50 years. Of its impact, the magazine said: “The revolutionary premise was that sports could be improved not by changing the games but by changing the way they were packaged.”Reuse content