Flashback 1986: The NFL Adopts Instant Replay

Thirty-one years ago this month, the NFL voted to adopt limited use of instant replay as an officiating aid. That first season saw an average of 1.6 reviews per game for a total of 374 plays, only 10 percent of which ended with a reversal of the ruling on the field.

The move was just one chapter in a history of starts and stops stemming from controversy around the use of technology to aid officiating, which was seen as interfering with the purity of the game.

This system was dropped in 1992 when owners of 17 NFL teams voted against renewing the system because it delayed games and failed to get enough calls correct. Those in favor of retaining the system, which had been used for six seasons, saw it as a major step backwards.

The debate over instant replay continued and a new system was approved for testing in 1996. In 1999, NFL owners voted 28-3 to reinstate instant replay using the new and improved system.

The NFL’s earliest experiments with instant replay date back to 1976, which led to tests being conducted on a wider scale in 1978, starting with the Hall of Fame game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins.

The technology was expensive and the results of using it lackluster—ref calls remained inconclusive—so it was shelved. Testing resumed during eight preseason games in 1985 and the NFL voted to adopt limited use of instant replay during the 1986 season.

The complete history of instant replay in the NFL here.