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CBS' new replay system a look into the future


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001

Cameras showed referee Gerry Austin ducking under the hood to watch replays of Ravens running back Jamal Lewis' touchdown, which the Giants had just challenged.

CBS couldn't resist.

"Let's have another look," said announcer Greg Gumbel.

What Austin -- and the viewers -- saw next is likely to change forever the way viewers watch football on television. And once in awhile, it will change the outcome of the games themselves.

CBS unveiled its innovative replay system EyeVision on Sunday. The network used it more than a half-dozen times in the first three quarters, but not until Lewis' fourth-quarter run could viewers see how it someday might make a difference in the game.

Officials said Lewis scored a touchdown by breaking the plane of the goal line with the ball before losing it. The Giants challenged the play, arguing Lewis fumbled.

With Austin watching the screen, CBS showed three "traditional" replays before using EyeVision on the play. In EyeVision, 30 cameras, synchronized by robotics and controlled by one camera operator, provide an approximately 250-degree view of nearly any given play. The technology was inspired by camera work in the virtual reality movie The Matrix, though choppier and more like video game animation.

The view of Lewis' play was clear enough. As viewers watched, the cameras swung around from Lewis' right side to his left, advancing slowly as his arm reached out, then freezing at the spot the ball crossed the plane. It appeared he had possession.

Austin upheld the call: Touchdown.

At least one of the network's traditional replays was just as effective in clarifying the play, but it was a big moment for CBS' crew.

"It wasn't just a gimmick," said Ken Aagaard, senior vice president of operation and production services for CBS Sports. "We used it to enhance the telecast, which was our goal in the first place."

The next-best use of EyeVision came at the end of the halftime concert, when the cameras were used to quickly pan around the set. The cameras also demonstrated how far inbounds the Ravens' Jermaine Lewis stayed on his 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Also worth noting:

During the pregame introductions, at least two players were heard saying the f-word, beginning with Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who told his teammates (and the folks at home), "Let's (bleeping) rock!!!" prompting groans in the CBS trailer. Viewers then were subjected to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' just-shy-of-offensive gyrations. Giants free safety Shaun Williams dropped an f-bomb of his own.

That in-your-face approach hardly meshed with the game's intro. It was an uplifting piece showing kids on the playground imitating their heroes, spliced with great plays from Super Bowls of the past. At the end, one of the kids yells at the rest that it's time to go home 'cause the Super Bowl's on.

Let's hope they didn't get home in time for the f-words.

After Trent Dilfer overthrew Patrick Johnson on a play that could have pushed the Ravens' lead to 14-0, cameras zoomed in on Dilfer's chagrined expression as he unsnapped his chin strap. Was anyone else in Tampa Bay thinking, Hey, that looks familiar ... ?

When a flag was thrown after the Giants' Jessie Armstead intercepted Dilfer and ran it in for a touchdown, analyst Phil Simms correctly guessed the call was holding on the Giants. But even on replays, CBS' camera work didn't give us a clear look at what happened during this key play of the first half.

Palm Harbor resident Tom Cooney, who fulfilled a longtime dream in signing the words to America the Beautiful and The Star Spangled Banner before the game, got an introduction by Gumbel and several seconds of air time.

The Shameless Self-Promotion Award goes to whoever decided during the halftime show to feature a crowd shot that included a "fan" holding up the sign: "I (heart) MTV." The crowd surrounding the stage was hand-picked and managed by MTV.

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