Tony Verna, the man who changed sports

Sep 2, 2002  •  Post A Comment

For almost anyone who loves sports on television, Tony Verna is a hero.
Mr. Verna, a former producer/director for CBS Sports, made history on Dec. 7, 1963. On that day he lugged a huge videotape machine from CBS’s New York studios to a production truck outside Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, from where CBS was about to telecast the Army-Navy football game. Back in those days, the Army-Navy game was one of the top college football contests of the year.
Navy’s quarterback in 1963 was future Hall of Famer Roger Staubach.
“The missing drama of [football] was bothering me,” Mr. Verna told USA Today over a decade ago, as he recalled that historic December day. “It took a long time for the players to get back to the huddle, and I felt the energy of the game was being lost.”
On the way to the game, Mr. Verna told veteran announcer Lindsay Nelson that they might try something unique during the contest.
Frustratingly for Mr. Verna, Mr. Staubach wasn’t doing anything too remarkable during the game. Finally, Mr. Verna focused on Army’s quarterback, Rollie Stichweh.
Mr. Stichweh scored a touchdown on a short run.
Mr. Verna cued up his clumsy videotape machine and told announcer Nelson that CBS was about to show the short touchdown run again.
Worried that viewers would be totally confused, as the run was shown again Mr. Nelson shouted into his microphone, “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again.”
Thus was born instant replay.
It was the only time during the game that it was used. And Mr. Verna didn’t apply the technique again for six months, until the NFL Playoff Bowl.
Soon, of course, instant replays became ubiquitous in sports coverage, much to the chagrin of Mr. Verna. “It’s ironic,” he told the Chicago Tribune years later. “The reason I started instant replays was to keep the momentum going. Now the replays are slowing the whole thing down.”