`Instant replay' and the quest for a perfect world

THOSE who feel the planet is going to hell in a jet-propelled, nuclear-tipped handbasket must be heartened by the introduction this fall of the ``instant-replay official'' in National Football League games. High above the action, at the right hand of the video monitor, sits a gentleman who passes final judgment on the transgression below. Behold, mankind has not abandoned the quest for a more perfect world. Where there is a bad call, he would cast it out. No longer will it profit a wide receiver to gain the end zone with but one foot in bounds. The good (certainly not the meek) will inherit the Super Bowl upon this brave new gridiron. Technology will see to that righteous outcome.

As with all Utopian dreams, there is a catch. The man upstairs is, well, just a man. He must decide which calls below are questionable, scrutinize them from the various replay angles, and finally agree or disagree with his striped brethren on terra firma. In one early-season game, the referee on high was not sure why an apparent touchdown was called back. After allowing an inconsequential play to intervene, he then decided to review the disputed ruling. The film clearly showed that it had indeed been a touchdown but because a subsequent play had been run, the error was incorrectable.

In another contest a controversial scoring play was promptly reexamined on celluloid and the high-altitude arbiter proclaimed, ``The pass is incomplete.'' Alas, the mortals below heard, ``The pass is complete,'' so the bogus six points stood.

Naysayers, antitechnology kooks, and their ilk will conclude from such incidents that the system is only as reliable as the people who devise and man it. Most right-thinking Americans, however, support the notion that the NFL zebras will work the bugs out before the arrival of pigskin Armageddon -- i.e., the playoffs. Even with a glitch here and a snag there, in the first 56 games of this season nine erroneous calls out of almost 9,000 were corrected. Now, that's progress.

When a nation makes this sort of effort to right one blunder in every one thousand football pileups, surely its idealism is intact. There is something essentially American in confronting injustice wherever it may be: in Central America (unless, of course, the scurrilous regime happens to be a friendly, right-wing dictatorship); in South Africa (although with considerably less vigor than in Nicaragua); and in athletics (except when the bad call favors the hometown heroes).

In fact, the inspiration for the instant-replay official could well have sprung from the political arena, where President Reagan is trying to save mankind from an indiscriminate, unfair holocaust. Far above the nuclear playing field, Mr. Reagan would position a system so righteous, so accurate, and so comprehensive that it would eliminate the need for weapons of mass destruction altogether.

If the Soviet Union tosses a ``long bomb'' by accident or otherwise, the ``star wars'' defense shield will intercept it. If Muammar Qaddafi tries an end run and fumbles a terrorist A-bomb our way, SDI will recover it. (For the latter eventuality, if not for sentimental reasons, the United States would probably hold onto a few warheads to give the Libyan a taste of his own medicine.)

Let's face it, sports fans, nuclear war is a global personal foul just waiting to be perpetrated on the human race. President Reagan will not stand for it. Let's hear it for star wars: 2 ... 4 ... 6 ... 8 ... what will we annihilate? Missiles! Missiles! Hurray!

Now, we won't scrap all our MXs and Tridents after the defense systsem is in place. Why? Like a controversial referee's call in football, nuclear fission adds too much spice to life to relegate it to the ash heap of history. Besides, everybody knows technology designed and managed by man doesn't always work the way it is supposed to. Just ask a National Football League referee.

David Holahan is a free-lance writer.

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