In the first quarter of Sunday's National Football Conference division final in Green Bay, Packers receiver Jermichael Finley extends for a pass. New York Giants defensive back Kenny Phillips comes across Finley's head with a forearm – a clear foul under the new NFL rules. Yet no flag falls. In the TV booth, FOX announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman watch the super slo-mo replay showing Finley's whiplash from the blow. "That should have been a flag on a defenceless receiver," says Aikman.
In the past (before NFL referees looked like guilty guys inside a peep-show hood) there was margin for error when athletes collided at high speed with malice aforethought. TV announcers could bloviate about "physical" play and a "man's game" without fear of contradiction. There was a generous margin for error. In short, it was a world made for Don Cherry.
As this weekend's NFL playoff games and NHL contests reveal, there is no hiding from the truth about dirty play in super slo-mo. A normal-motion picture is filmed at 24 frames per second. Television uses 29.97 frames/second. High-speed cameras can film up to a quarter of a million frames per second. If you're looking for one factor that has revolutionized pro sports coverage it's the unvarnished truth delivered by the sophisticated high-speed cameras recording sports events.
With super slo-mo, we are able to distinguish that vicious James Harrison tackle as a head shot, not a high hit in blindingly fast real time. We can accurately capture Brad Marchand's submarine hit on Sami Salo for the weasel move it was. We can see just how dangerous it is when René Bourque pitches Brent Seabrook headfirst into the boards. If anything, the crystal-clear images amplify the idiocy.
Every one of these fouls is then relentlessly repeated and denounced as the medical staff tries to reconstruct the fallen victim on the field or the ice. In fact, the frame-by-frame study may be hurting pro sports, exposing just how dangerous they are to the human brain or the back or anterior cruciate ligament. When the running back's leg snaps like a turkey wishbone at 1/60th real speed or the defenceman's neck whiplashes like in a high-speed car crash, there is little room for debate.
Likewise, this unequivocal video evidence has crept into the mindset of the athlete. Faced with becoming the sports equivalent of the Zapruder film, we hear them now moaning about not knowing what constitutes a legal check or a proper tackle. We hear them saying they can't rewire training from the previous 20 years. They now say they're holding back.
Finally, super slo-mo has reduced televised sports to a Supreme Court appeal with briefs for the defendant ("He got him in the shoulder, not the head!") and depositions for the complainant ("He targeted the head!"). TV crews of former players are now deliberative bodies engaged in extemporaneous debate. What can't be debated is the impact the technology has had on the alibi pro sports.
They say the truth shall set you free. Super slo-mo has produced the truth is pro sports. It's uncertain whether that has set anyone free of the sports' shibboleths While its cameras pick up the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Hockey Night In Canada's on-air oracles still try to fog up the lens with hot air. This Saturday it was the Sultan of Circumlocution, P.J. Stock, trying to explain the value of newly acquired Montreal Canadien René Bourque.
"He has that nastiness that the Montreal Canadiens are missing. He has suspensions … I use the term stupid because a lot of suspensions are … every now and then you have to do something stupid to create some space for yourself for other players to be a little hesitant when they come around you. … I don't encourage it, but you have to do it every now and then."
To sum up, suspension-worthy acts are not to be encouraged. Unless, of course, propelling an opponent into the boards or elbowing him in the temple serves to get you some more space and time on the ice. Then it's okay. Now and then.
CHOCOLATE CAKE ALERT
Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole take their sugar-shock to radio this week, filling in for James Cybulski on TSN Radio 1050 this week. Actually, we think O'Toole mighty be a really effective host if he could just get himself unharnessed from Onrait's schtick.
Onrait's TV act is like watching a 12-year-old who's just eaten all his Halloween candy in 15 minutes. But that might work on radio opposite Bob McCown. This week could be a revelation or totally offensive. Can't wait.