Friday, September 27, 2013

Day 180: Happy Birthday, Virtual First Down Line!

Today is a day for celebrating... For one, it's my seventh wedding anniversary. It's also my mother-in-law's birthday... Happy Birthday!! And she shares a birthday with two pretty cool things: both Google and the virtual first-down line turn 15 today. If you asked me how long either of those things has been around, I would've guessed longer. I can barely remember a day when I couldn't turn to Google for the answers to all of my questions!

I know Google doesn't have anything to do with sports specifically, but if you get the chance, check out the Google Doodle today. You get to whack a pinata full of virtual candy. I may or may not have replayed it three or four times. Like I thought some candy was going to shoot out of my computer or something. It didn't.

But the real celebration here is for the virtual first-down line. Any football fan knows how difficult it is to tell if your team has gained enough yardage for a first down. The invention of the yellow line, seen only on the television screen, has made armchair referees out of all of us. What? Why do you need to measure for that first down? That running back clearly made it past the yellow line! I bet the referees on the field wish they could see that line. And the players too.

The virtual first-down line was invented in 1998 by SportVision who basically took existing technology that was invented 20 years prior and worked out a lot of the initial bugs and started shopping it around. ESPN was the first to buy in to the technology, introducing it in a Ravens-Bengals game in Baltimore. They were even smart enough to negotiate a year of exclusivity which really pissed off Fox who wanted to use the yellow line during that year's Super Bowl. ESPN said no.

Over the past decade and a half, the technology has improved and now you can't imagine a game without that line. At least I can't. Some folks often wonder where the line is when they attend their first live football game!


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