Remembering Tony Verna, and how a simple idea opens up infinite possibilities


photo: Flickr Creative Commons

This post was written in response to John C Abell’s article ‘The Inventor of Instant Replay Just Died: In Praise of the Power of Hacks’, found here. Download pdf version here

Who ever thought of playing a video forward, then backwards for a bit, then forwards again? We don’t think anything of it now, but now imagine you are in the 1960s. Television and the ability to enjoy a football game from the comfort of your couch would have been luxury enough right? Thankfully, not to some.

We recently came across this article, a passing mention of Tony Verna’s death. You’ve probably never heard his name before, but he revolutionized the way we watch American football today by coming up with the idea of replays. Now at the time, it wasn’t quite as ‘instant’ as it is now, in fact, video editors will cringe at Abell’s painstaking account of Verna’s initial process, but it was a thought that hadn’t occurred to anyone before. In fact, we got a kick out of the mention that it was necessary at the time to warn the audiences, “‘This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, they didn’t not score again!’”

Today’s world is filled with a lot of tech innovation noise and fail-till-you-win tech startup rags to riches stories. And while the story of Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s garage lab tinkerings is inspiring, we seldom take the time to talk about stories like Verna’s. Verna was an ordinary industry technician, who in the midst of his average, daily grind, thought, ‘I want to do something different,’ and suddenly had the best idea ever. He made a really simple tweak to the norm, that turned into a really complicated work-around, that turned into a game-changing (pun intended) standard practice.

We at Tightrope can appreciate Verna both for his interest in making sports broadcasts more enjoyable, and for his ability to take a simple thought, hash out a plan on top of the daily grind, and then execute a really cool innovation. In fact, that was in large part our process for arriving at the unstoppable ZEPLAY instant replay system we have today. Replay technology has come a long way since Verna was back in the studio analyzing tones and film static, but it’s still important to remember that we do what we do to serve the industry folks out there trying their best to offer something different, something better even, for the enjoyment of the fans at home and at the game. You never know. On any ordinary day, your simple idea could turn into something amazing.