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NFL Reinstates Instant Replay

Your old next-door neighbor - the one who always borrowed the lawnmower and never returned it - is living next door after a seven-year absence.

"I've changed," he tells you.

You nod. You smile. But a little voice inside your head tells you to hide the lawnmower.

Instant replay is back in the National Football League after a seven-year absence. It's new and improved, say the proponents ... and there were enough of them gathered at the posh Arizona Biltmore Hotel to make the return of instant replay a 28-3 landslide winner.

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Cincinnati, Arizona and New York Jets cast the dissenting votes.

Under the new system, the coach of each team receives two "challenges" -- an old USFL rule -- per game, as long as the start of the play in question occurs before the two-minute warning of each half.

The price of a challenge is a timeout. If the challenge is upheld, the timeout is immediately restored.

The referee will have only 90 seconds from the time he begins viewing the monitor to either reject or uphold the challenge. The monitor will be either hand-held or stationary and located on the sideline.

The exception is the start of the two-minute warning of both halves, when the challenge system is taken out of the hands of the coaches, even those who still have a challenge coming. The system is turned over to the discretion of a "replay assistant" (formerly known as the "replay official," as employed under the old system which was abandoned after the '91 season).

Sounds good, doesn't it? Caution: Don't think the NFL has just made a pact with the devil to eliminate any more bad calls.

"This isn't a system to catch everything. It's a system to correct the huge, huge game-changing calls," said Mike Holmgren, Seattle Seahawks GM and coach who co-chairs the influential competition committee, which voted 7-1 (Cincinnati's Mike Brown opposed) in favor of this '99 model of instant replay.

"I couldn't vote against an insurance policy that affects only the big plays and doesn't affect the pace of the game," said Rich McKay, GM of the Tampa Bay Bucs and the other competition committee co-chairman.

Sounds really good, doesn't it? Well, the NFL has just voted in a system that has yet to determine the precise technology or the identities of the replay assistants to be used.

"We'll get the best technology available," was all Holmgren could say.

"We'll present it at the May meeting (May 25-26 in Atlanta)," McKay added

In other words, let's sweat the details after replay has been brought back.

This system still doesn't solve the problem of the inadvertent whistle, or the controversial calls, i.e., pass interference, that fall outside the boundaries of NFL instant replay.

This system still doesn't right a wrong when a coach doesn't have challenge coming, or a timeout to spend, or just isn't compelled to do anything about what everyone at home sees as an obviously blown call.

"On a 10-yard square-out on the sideline, which is ruled out of bounds and my coaches say was in, I probably won't challenge that," Holmgren said. "But a play in the end zone or a play that would put me in position to score a touchdown or kick a field goal, yes, I'm going to consider that."

"But you have only two challenges per game."

If the technology is worth using, use it all the time. If not, trash it.

"I wasn't in favor of instant replay at all," said Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy, whose GM is on the competition committee and whose owner, Malcolm Glazier, voted for it. "I guess (the membership) felt this was a compromise, that it won't slow the game down too much while it still let coaches coach during the last two minutes of both halves."

"Personally," Dungy added, "I don't think it will be a big deal. I think a minimal number of calls will be challenged and reviewed ... and minimum of those will be changed."

Caution: don't expect too much from instant replay coming back.

Oh sure, the Dick Tracy wristwatches to be worn by the referee of each crew will make for good conversation for fans seated around their televisions. And those 90-second delays will allow for addition trips to the refrigerator.

But the first time that the replay official upstairs deems it unnecessary to have a play reviewed in the final two minutes of either half, we can all follow the TV zoom lens upstairs, and ask ourselves: "Who is that bozo?"

Jerry Seeman, chief of NFL officials, says that the replay assistant candidates include "recently retired NFL and college officials ... people who were involved in it and can (deal) with it."

In other words, seniors.

Caution: Don't get your hopes up.

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