Producer/Director Tony Verna, Inventor of Instant Replay, Dies
Television director and producer Tony Verna, the man commonly credited for inventing instant replay for live sports more than 50 years ago, died Sunday at the age of 81 at his Palm Desert, CA home. Verna was battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia, daughter Tracy Soiseth told the AP.
“Tony was one of the great directors of [his] era, along with the late Sandy Grossman, Bob Dailey and Frank Chirkinian,” says CBS Sports’ current lead director Bob Fishman, who worked as assistant director under Verna on Super Bowl X. “Tony was a master at his craft and to be able to learn from him at such an early age was more than anyone could hope for.”
CBS Sports used instant replay for the first time in the Dec. 7, 1963 Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, after Verna developed a method to cue the tape to pinpoint the play he wanted to immediately air again. He said he was looking for a way to fill those boring gaps between plays during a football telecast.
The concept was so new that when Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh scored a touchdown, announcer Lindsey Nelson had to warn viewers: “This is not live! Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!”
Instant replay quickly became a staple of sports broadcasting, and Verna’s innovation gave fans a new way to look at the games.
“[Tony] certainly advanced how sports was covered,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, Operations, Engineering, and Production Services at CBS Sports, who worked with Verna on the Goodwill Games in the 1990s. “He wanted to be in control of everything. He loved new technologies and kept pushing the envelope. For [the Goodwill Games] he pushed us on integrating timing and results in a real time mode; things that we take for granted now. He had a flamboyant personality and unique style.”
Verna would go on to produce or direct five Super Bowls, the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby and even “Live Aid.” His lasting legacy, though, is pulling back the curtain on sports and revealing what really goes on.
“Observing the unwavering respect from his camera crew and his calmness in the face of anxious moments are things that I remember most about working with him,” says Fishman. “[His] talent lives in so many of us who watch those monitors and try to make the good decisions that [he] taught us. His trust in me was so appreciated and he gave me the confidence to achieve my goal to become a network sports director.”
Verna is survived by his wife of 45 years, Carol, daughters Tracy Soiseth and Jenny Axelrod, son Eric Verna and three grandchildren.