NEW ORLEANS — At last year's Super Bowl here, television executives were so worried about fans taking a break during their million-dollar-a-minute commercials that the network proposed a minute of dead air time during the game to allow a nation to relieve itself.
The National Football League was so crazy about the idea of dead time that it implemented the instant replay rule this season.
I really don't know how to thank the league's bigwigs. I haven't had this much free dead time during a football game since the L.A. Express used up their American Express and folded.
If you don't know what the NFL's replay rule is all about, tune in today's Rams-Saints game in the Superdome. It's bound to come up, sooner or later.
There will be a controversial call. Let's just guess and say it's over an Eric Dickerson fumble.
The field judge will rule that Dickerson coughed up the ball before his knee hit the ground. Ram Coach John Robinson will disagree.
The two men, civilly, will try to to work things out.
Ref: He fumbled!
Robinson: He did not!
Ref: Did so!
Robinson: Did not!
Ref: Did so!
Ref: I know you are but what am I?
With Robinson winning the argument on the field, all eyes will turn to the press box, where an aging man with an astigmatism is watching the game on a screen the size of a matchbook.
The NFL has given this man the supreme right of the land to overturn a call he sees differently on his state-of-the-art kinescope video replay box.
The replay official, usually a retired referee, can change the call by notifying the field official.
Sometimes, though, there's a communication breakdown. You kids all know the problem when you don't hook the string to the Dixie Cup just right. Well, the NFL guys go through the same thing, the only difference being the price of Dixie Cups.
It may take a few minutes before a memo can be wired to the field advising an official of the call upstairs.
And while the incessant delays have met with overwhelming and universal disapproval, I frankly welcome the time off.
A few weeks ago, several minutes of a Raiders game against Houston was spent debating whether quarterback Marc Wilson had fumbled before his knee had struck the ground.
The field official ruled Wilson was down. The replay official wanted to see it again.
During the discussion, I took the wife and kids to the circus, arriving home just in time to learn that the replay had indeed shown that Wilson had fumbled. There was no doubt. Justice, finally, had prevailed.
But the replay official obviously had switched his set to "Gilligan's Island" because he somehow let the play stand.
Our family, though, became closer because of it.
A few weeks before, a touchdown by Raider wide receiver Dokie Williams was allowed even though he clearly had only one foot in bounds.
The replay official had made the right call, and messaged that the play was "incomplete." But the referee on the field didn't hear the "in" part and let the touchdown stand. During that discussion, I cleaned out the rain gutters and didn't miss a minute of action.
During the course of the season, I've had the time to jot some things down on paper and plan to release my first book, "Things To Do During An NFL Instant Replay Delay."
Here's a sampling:
1). Get to know your estranged son or daughter. Resolve a lifetime of parent/child resentment in the quiet time between first and second down. Talk things over. Seek counseling. Then get ready for a whale of a second half.
2). Get a jump on the new tax laws. You know, death and taxes will never be the same after the first of the year, so what better time to leaf through the thousands of pages of reforms. See if you can find a loophole before halftime.
3). Refinance your home. Interest rates haven't been this low in 10 years. In the time it takes the replay official to make a decision, you could have made the biggest one of your lifetime, saving thousands of dollars in the process. Chances are, escrow will clear before your favorite official can say "the play stands."
Of course, there's more. I only hope the NFL doesn't do something stupid and change the replay rule before the book goes paperback.