Next week will mark the 30th anniversary of “The Drive.” Most football fans will instantly recognize the reference to the infamous 98-yard charge led by famed quarterback John Elway.
With the game on the line and the Super Bowl awaiting the winner, that rally led to Denver tying the game 20-all.
The wind taken out of their sails—and let’s face it, upholding a long-standing tradition—the Cleveland Browns went on to yield the field goal that sent the Broncos to the Super Bowl.
One reason I remember the game so well is my wife and watched it in the home of close friends in a suburb of Denver.
While he was a bit laid-back about football, she fit the living, breathing definition of “rabid” Broncos’ fan. To say that she gloated over Denver’s victory would be a whopping understatement.
The subject of The Drive arose recently when I chatted about football with a couple friends. Turns out one, who used to live in northern Ohio, saw the historic event in person.
He recalled how fans in Cleveland’s infamous “Dawg Pound” started cheering over the game-ending field goal, while the kicker’s shoulders slumped.
My buddy claimed that was because both parties assumed the kick had hooked wide and was no good.
Yet the referees threw their arms up, signaling it was good.
“It was fixed,” my friend said. “The NFL didn’t want two teams from east of the Mississippi (River) in the Super Bowl, so they made sure the Broncos won. It was fixed.”
An interesting theory, especially since that was the first time I heard such a view in 30 years.
Reflecting on Technology
While most people would pass off this claim as a case of sour grapes, it prompted me to reflect on a deeper level.
Considering the rapid pace of today’s technological innovations, it isn’t difficult to imagine the day coming when goal posts come equipped with laser beams. The kind that would leave no doubt as to whether the ball passed over the crossbar and between the goal posts.
Indeed, a friend more knowledgeable about worldwide sports told me recently that this kind of goal-line technology is already used in many European soccer leagues.
In recent decades the craving to eliminate human error from sports has fueled the development of instant replay cameras, timing devices, and other ways of making sure the “right” call gets made. (As a side note, most of the time the referees and umpires do make the right call.)
Having recently watched a series of programs on robots—most of which originally aired on the Discovery Channel—I can’t help wondering if one day scientists will proclaim they have developed the RoboRef.
Such a computer-equipped automaton would never make a mistake, blow a call, or miss a field goal drifting wide right.
In addition, he couldn’t be goaded into changing his mind by over-wrought coaches or players screaming, “You got it wrong!” In the case of RoboRef, there wouldn’t be any reason to argue.
The New Frankenstein
Such a prospect isn’t too far-fetched, given the predictions that artificial intelligence is destined to create machines that are smarter than human beings. Or scientists now making robots that are mirror images of people and can’t be detected from the real thing.
What I fear is that in our race to design perfect machines, and people, we will forget that perfection will never be possible on this planet.
Instead of creating the super race, we will wind up fashioning the 21st century version of Frankenstein.
Besides, if we invent the perfect referee, what will people argue 30 years from now?