The controversy over an NFL touchdown pass that wasn't has again highlighted our relationship with our technology.
SAN FRANCISCO -- There was a lesson among those falling bodies in the
end zone in Seattle on Monday night (Sept. 24), on the Hail Mary touchdown pass
But before we get to the lesson, let's roll the tape: Two NFL teams, the Green Bay Packers and
the Seattle Seahawks battled down to the last play of the game. In
desperation, the Seattle quarterback heaved a long pass--a "Hail
Mary"-- into the end zone toward a single Seahawks receiver covered
closely by at least five Packers defenders.
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The receiver, Golden Tate (Golden? Really?) shoved one defender in
the back (which is a illegal) just before leaping to catch the ball
(video below) and then wrestled for the ball with another defender,
M.D. Jennings. One referee signaled a touchdown; another one
appeared to signal that the ball was intercepted by Jennings.
Packers fans were howling for a pass-interference call, which would
have given their team the win.
The officials then looked to the replay booth, where all the
technology sits, to settle the call on the field. Replay officials
confirmed--to the chagrin of virtually sentient being in America,
Seahawks fans included--that there was no pass interference, that Tate had achieved "simultaneous possession" of the ball and that
had Seattle scored the winning touchdown.
All hell (and we mean all hell) broke loose on
the field, on Twitter and on the NFL phone bank, where reportedly
70,000 phone messages were left immediately after the call. Bookies
claim a half a billion dollars changed hands on that one play.
All this despite replay technology that clearly showed the pass interference. The situation is all the more controversial because the
league is using replacement referees this season because of a
dispute with the referees' union.
Replay technology was first introduced in the mid-1950s and has been
used in the NFL and other sports for decades. The technology
has moved from film, to analog disk storage and to today's HD
cameras and high-capacity digital storage and instant playback.
The speed of NFL games is frequently beyond human comprehension, so fast that the human eye can't always comprehend
infractions. The replay cameras don't blink. When the technology doesn't settle the issue, the referees' ruling on the field stands.
As technology evolves, however, it won't matter. The reason is that no matter
how granular or high speed or sensitive the technology, it still takes a
competent human being to use it and interpret the data properly.
This comes as little solace to Packers' fans, but it's worth
remembering in an age when we deploy astonishing
technology to improve our world but often dismiss what it tells us.