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MORNING BRIEFING

Introducing repetitive stress to televised football

November 12, 2008|CHRIS ERSKINE | Erskine is a Times staff writer. His column, Man of the House, appears Saturdays in the Home section.

I love football the way Robert Frost loved New Hampshire. Love its nuances, cherish its grand, green pastures. I love the way the most nimble back slips a little while handling a punt. I love the way a long snapper air-mails it over the kicker's head.

But I don't need to see any of it seven times. Instant replay has gone too far, threatening to change the very character of the game with endless repeats from too many angles.

I was married once. No replays. I watched the births of my children just once. No replays.

So I sure don't need to see a routine catch half a dozen times. Or all those cut-ins from other games. Like those 64-ounce sodas and Dolly Parton's ample front porch, instant replay is threatening to be too much of a very good thing.

Worse yet is what happens after a controversial call. How about that five-minute intermission during Sunday's Giants-Eagles game? Was Eli Manning over the line when he threw? If you're over the line, aren't you over the line? Roe v. Wade didn't get that kind of scrutiny.

I have a buddy (Paul) who thinks those long, drawn-out replay challenges have truly damaged pro football, thinks they have harmed our best game in ways that flip his personal circuit breakers.

I agree. The three minutes we wait to see if Clinton Portis stepped out of bounds is the modern game at its earnest, dutiful worst.

Sportus-interruptus.

"They need to get it right," TV analyst Kirk Herbstreit tells Brent Musberger during a recent challenge, as if witnessing a new round of Middle East accords.

Quite honestly, they don't need to get it right.

The only thing they need to do is put on a fast-paced, ceaselessly entertaining two-hour game, one that is occasionally flavored by human failure among the players and the referees. That's football. That's life. It's not fair. There are no re-dos. Let's get on with it. Hike the ball.

Granted, there is a lot of weirdness in my beloved game right now. How about that long hair flowing out the back of the helmets? I saw the University of Hawaii play recently and I thought I was watching an Herbal Essence commercial. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, hold on to that handoff.

No biggie, this hair. Athletes have always had a flair for finding the next awful haircut (think Johnny Unitas or Joe Namath). Fortunately, I learned a long time ago not to take fashion cues from convicts or quarterbacks.

And congratulatory head banging seems to be very big these days, one teammate's way of saying to another: "Love ya, dude. Here, hold still while I wail on your helmet and rattle your skull."

Seems a strange thing to inflict pain on a fellow teammate. Next thing you know, they'll be stomping on each others' toes. But I can live with that. It's a momentary quirk in a very quirky game.

And don't get me wrong, TV is the best thing that ever happened to America. Without TV, football is lawn bowling; TV is chess. Without TV, we'd sit around on winter weekends watching our wives' hair thin.

I completely appreciate what the TV camera has done for football, the true 12th player. Some of the technical guys are geniuses.

By the way, know what major historical event helped inspire instant replay? The shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, three weeks before instant replay debuted in the Army-Navy game. The oft-reviewed Oswald shooting helped pave the way to using the technology in sports. The godfather of instant replay, CBS director Tony Verna, should be in pro football's Hall of Fame.

Forty-five years later, his marvelous little idea has morphed into a carnival of replays, graphics and electronic banners smeared across our cherished New Hampshire. To me, it's like watching someone carve initials into the Lincoln Memorial.

During a recent Fox telecast, I underwent acute electronic shock, a coma-like condition triggered by flashing strobes and disco balls. And that was during the national anthem.

Instead of endless replays, how about giving us better sideline reporting -- a lost art. Slip microphones to a few of the fans or the guy pouring beer. Instead of dissecting each past play, find the story line, honor the moment.

Please. Before I wail on your helmet.

--

chris.erskine@latimes.com

T.J. Simers is on vacation.

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