Anyone who tries to tell you that watching a football game from a press box is the same as watching from the stands — well, they're lying.
Not only is there usually a sheet of glass that keeps out both the elements and most traces of crowd noise, but also there are televisions. Watch a play live, crane your neck to the side, and you'll see clearly if a player is in bounds, if a throw is actually a catch, if a running back has burst through for a first down.
And so last Saturday, when I made a pit stop in Columbia, Mo., and sat in the stands for a football game for the first time since 2010, it was jarring. I couldn't tell what was a first down and what was third-and-8. Really. It was that bad, at least from my angle. Then came that atrocious call at the end of Giants-Redskins game the next evening, when officials wouldn't stop to measure for a first down, and I started thinking.
It's 2013, people. Yellow lines on television answer the first-down debate instantly, and yet there are still men hoofing their way down the sidelines carrying markers and chains like it's 1850.
Alan Amron, for one, has something to say about this. Amron might be best known for inventing the Press-On-Memo, a precursor to Post-it notes, but he's moved on to bigger and better things: lasers. For football. Over the past several years, Amron has founded First Down Laser Systems, a project in which lasers are incorporated into down markers — the NFL told him it did not want to do away with the sacred ritual of moving the chains — thus making the determination of a first down quick and easy.</form>
Amron first came to the NFL's attention years ago. One of his myriad jobs includes representing writers, one of whom happened to be an FBI agent who was also the late Pat Summerall's brother-in-law. (Really. I'm not making this up.) The agent introduced Amron to Summerall, who arranged meetings with the NFL in the early 2000s. Since then, Amron has worked with other football leagues and NCAA track & field, and yet his lobbying to the NFL remains nothing more than a long-enduring conversation.
“In our meeting with the NFL, they made it very clear to us (that it) took eight years to do instant replay, seven and a half years to use the overhead (camera),” Amron said. “They like to see things in other leagues first, so they suggested that we keep them abreast of what's going on.”
Surprised? Maybe not. The NFL doesn't tend to move quickly in much of anything, but it's beginning to look downright antiquated. As other sports leagues, especially the NBA, seem willing to adopt technology and move forward, football appears mired in some slow-moving system of tradition. Eight years seems to be its timeframe on evaluating these matters, but consider: Eight years ago, there weren't even iPhones. Eight years is a very long time.
So, NFL, keep the chains, sure, if you can't give that up. But you can do better.