TV’s Instant Replay Innovator Tony Verna Dead at 81


By Tom Hoffarth, Los Angeles Daily News


Tony Verna created the first sports TV instant replay in the 1963 Army-Navy game. (The Associated Press)


After further review, Tony Verna really was a man made for sports television.

If there initially were any doubts, the proof was in how he simply used his initials to sign the emails that so frequently made their way to our inbox: “TV.”

The obituaries about his passing Sunday at the age of 81 rightly called him “the inventor of instant replay.” It was a claim and distinction he held tightly to through the decades. At each anniversary milestone, he enjoyed recounting the high-risk/high-reward scheme he concocted as an aggressive, driven 29-year-old producer at CBS covering the high-profile 1963 Army-Navy college football game.

In his hometown of Philadelphia, Verna got the network to OK unbolting a 1,200-pound tape machine — the Ampex VTR-1000 — and lugging it from their New York control room to a portable production truck outside the stadium. CBS wasn’t about to make a big deal about it, since there was no guarantee Verna could pull it off, and the Dec. 7 game had a solemn tone just a couple weeks after President Kennedy’s assassination.

But Verna had been laying the groundwork for several years. One of the things he couldn’t get over was the fact that while doing the 1960 Philadelphia-New York NFL game — famous for Chuck Bednarik knocking Frank Gifford unconscious — Verna had to wait 10 minutes before he could get a re-rack of the video tape and replay the hit again.

“I had to stay on the gloating (expletive) Bednarik” until then, Verna lamented.

So rewind to Army-Navy: By halftime, Verna almost gave up on the experiment because he couldn’t get the tape machine manipulated correctly. After more adjustments on the fly, he thought it was ready in the fourth quarter when Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh faked a handoff and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.

Verna gave play-by-play man Lindsey Nelson the cue, and he talked viewers through what was happening as to not confuse them with the live telecast. This wasn’t slo-mo yet with a different angle, but regular speed, just seconds after it happened.

As Nelson drove with Verna away from the stadium afterward, the broadcaster told him: “You’ve added a bit of magic to the game.”

If only CBS had patented the technology, let alone saved that game tape, which was recorded over an old “I Love Lucy” episode. Verna never received any royalties, and he was often overlooked for his pioneering technique. He didn’t get to try it again until June 1964 – by which time Roone Arledge and ABC had started their own experiments.



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