The 1963 Army-Navy game holds an established place in rivalry lore: Delayed a week following the assassination of President Kennedy, Roger Staubach led the No. 2-ranked Midshipmen to a 21-7 fourth-quarter lead, and the Navy defense fended off a late Army rally to secure a 21-15 victory.
Despite that history, the game’s true place in the sports-viewing pantheon has almost nothing to do with the on-field participants and everything to do with Tony Verna, who died Sunday at age 81.
Verna, then a 29-year-old director with CBS, had developed what was a then-unheard of bit of video genius, which he used late in the game after Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh scored a touchdown during the Black Knights’ comeback attempt.
After the score, Verna cued up a tape machine and the touchdown was replayed — instantly. Legendary announcer Lindsey Nelson reportedly had to warn viewers, “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!”
Verna, who would later direct multiple Super Bowls and work on everything from the Kentucky Derby to the Live Aid concert, discussed the broadcast a few years back with the Archive of American Television, including a regret about which game became the first to feature instant replay:
Key quote: “If you watched a game without replay these days, you would be … more than unhappy.”
How unhappy? A 2010 Wall Street Journal analysis said the average three-plus-hour NFL broadcast includes only 11 minutes of live, ball-in-play action … and 17 minutes of replays.
Verna died after a battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, The Associated Press reported. He is survived by his wife, three children and three grandchildren.