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Sci-Tech
Sunday, 10-September-2006
By Gary Myers(New York Daily News)- - The NFL is always trying to find the newest technology to improve the game, but by eliminating the coach-to-referee buzzer system for instant-replay challenges last season, it left it all to a red flag, which could have cost the Miami Dolphins in the season opener Thursday night.

Miami coach Nick Saban took way too much time throwing the flag with 6:11 remaining after Steelers tight end Heath Miller scored on an 87-yard touchdown to give Pittsburgh what would be a 21-17 lead. Replays clearly showed Miller's leg out of bounds around the Miami 1. On close plays, officials are instructed to wait 40 seconds to spot the ball instead of putting it down immediately. Then the 25-second clock is started. By the time the Steelers kicked the extra point, 22 seconds were off the clock, meaning there were 62 seconds between plays.

By the time Saban got word from the coaches' booth to challenge the call, the snap was imminent and officials had their backs to him to watch the extra point, and thus didn't see when he threw the flag. He clearly tossed it before the ball was snapped. Saban could have run out of the coaches' box to get the officials' attention, but he tentatively and almost sheepishly threw the flag.

"I didn't realize that no one would see me throw the flag at that time," Saban said Friday. "I promise you that I do have the speed and athleticism to get to them, so I have nobody to blame except me. But that's not why we won or lost the game."

If the NFL had perfected the buzzer system, Saban would not have to get the officials' attention with the flag. He could have buzzed them. The system was in effect from 1999-2004, with the flag as the backup.

"We had too many false buzzes and accidental buzzes," Mike Pereira, the league's vice president of officiating, said Friday. "Most coaches were throwing the flag anyway and not relying on the buzzer. It was impractical. We felt going to the flag was the best method."

How could Saban have gotten the attention of the officials when they had their backs turned to him? "He is allowed to run down the field," Pereira said. "We can't have him run across the field. He can, however, go as far he needs to go out to get the attention of the officials."

As for whether the officials should have just gotten the call right on the field, "It's a tough call to make on an 87-yard play when you're not standing on the goal line," Pereira said. "It's a tough judgment call to make. In real time, it's very difficult."

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