Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Jul 2013

Birth Of The Yellow Line

The story behind the birth of the virtual first-down marker used on telecasts.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 19 Jul 2013

22 comments, Last at 27 Jul 2013, 11:54pm by Rikki


by Theo :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 1:36pm

Thanks for sharing.
IMHO the broadcasters are overdoing it now, the down and distance graphic makes a clunking sound, the network graphic makes a 'swooosh' for no reason.

I was watching some old superbowls and the 1993 Bills-Oilers game, and not having the score on screen is a pain though.
What they do well nowadays is clean up the sidelines. The down markers are clearly visible now, 20 years ago the sidelines were crowded with people.

There are so many things you notice in old games. Defenses stand totally still like a statue pre-snap. You don't see that much right now. Players celebrated jumping around with their arms in the air - right now everyone has a signature move; like they're in the WWE.

Also: receivers in 3 point stance (SB X).
Also: Receivers standing with their hands on their sides at the snap (Raiders, SB XI).
Also: 1979 commercials about how to save gas.
Also: a commentator saying "he runs like an Indian coming out of the woods". I don't expect to hear that one again any time soon.

by Dr. Mooch :: Sat, 07/20/2013 - 1:29am

Not unless one of the there's an NFC color guy who reads the site and wants to use it to describe RGIII, just to prove a point.

by Dean :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 2:51pm

I've always had mixed thoughts about this. The line itself is a wonderful improvement and most importantly, does not intrude upon the game itself. However, the revolution it launched is utterly awful. When I turn on a football game, I don't want a sonic assault. I don't want a video game. I neither need nor want flashing lights to tell me that the production truck just updated the score because I'm somehow too stupid to figure it out for myself. And I damn sure don't want any fucking robots! If there was some way to zoom in on my TV so that the four edges were cut out and I didn't have to see all that crap, I would do it in a second.

I compare it to the guitar revolution created by Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads. A trained ear can draw a line of demarcation before and after their playing. Sweep picking, two handed tapping, arpeggios - it all rewrote the rule book. Guitar Gods suddenly found themselves and their style of playing obsolete. The problem is that it launched an entire decade of shitty pop metal where even in the rare cases when the player had some chops, he didn't have nearly the same taste as Eddie and Randy. Saying you're influenced by Bach because you used an arpeggio in a power ballad does not a talented player make. I'm making a short story long her - go figure - but the point is that in both cases, the moment was genius, but the revolution was shit.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 4:29pm

I like the things that actually benefit from being on the field. The first down line is great. The line of scrimmage is nice as well. The estimated FG range line is iffy, but okay. I don't like the big arrow on the field with down and distance. That's much better on the side of screen rather than rendered onto the field.

by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 4:47pm

Totally agree about the dumb arrow. As if you can't tell by how they're lining up which direction they're going?

The stuff that is really annoying to me is when they take multiple steps to load the screen with one graphic sliding in, followed by another, with sound effects like you're watching a Transformer be assembled. Overkill.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 6:33pm

I dislike those, but the arrow is the worst to me because it's a big blob that can blend in with uniform color, and they aren't perfect with the border so it ends up obscuring the ball or a player when he passes through.

by Dean :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 8:28pm

The line of scrimmage is, to me, totally unnecessary. I can look at the ball and see where the LOS is. Yeah, the center moves the ball a little, but close enough. Especially when the artificial line is only an approximation. And I'm capable of looking at the LOS and adding 17 on my own quite well.

I didn't used to mind the scoreboard in the corner when it was exactly that - a scoreboard. But nowadays there's a mini-Las Vegas in the corner of the screen shouting LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME, and it's more of a distraction than it's worth. If that's how it's going to be packaged, I'd rather not have it at all.

I'm sure there's plenty of marketing research to show that I'm a dinosaur. That's OK. In the immortal words of Ironhead Haynes, "there's no future in being a dinosaur, but there's a hell of a past; leave deep prints."

by MJK :: Sun, 07/21/2013 - 3:55pm

The LOS is somewhat useful during the play. First, for scrambling QB's, it is a visual reminder of when he has passed the point of no return and has to run (and it's still fun to see him pump fake five or six yards downfield and fake out a closing safety). Generally by the time a scramble breaks off, the line-play has shifted so far off the original LOS that its not obvious where it was, and the viewers may have forgotten. Secondly, if you are inclined to follow such things instead of just staring at the QB, it's a very good indicator of how close within the rules the defense is playing regarding the five-yard chuck rule. Generally, if the TE is still within a few paces of the marked LOS and is sitting on his rear, it was a good defensive chuck; if he's 8-12 yards away from the marked LOS, then someone got away with something.

by Bobman :: Wed, 07/24/2013 - 5:44pm

Dean, yes, death to the robots!

To give you an idea of whom they are targeting, when my kids were younger, say 5, and the robots came on, they loved them. Now my oldest (age 12) knows that if he comments positively on the robots he will spend a day locked in an airless cement box with a recording of Troy Aikman reading the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning on an endless loop... or whatever the "21st Century, enlightened parent, don't send me to jail" version of that is....

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 07/25/2013 - 12:49am

With you all the way on the stupid robots and whooshing logos. I don't need to be reminded after every set of downs what network I'm watching, for Grid's sake! I knew that when I turned on the game!

by Rikki (not verified) :: Sat, 07/27/2013 - 11:54pm

I've always thought the robot was a clever parody.

by krugerindustria... :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 3:04pm

I never understood the fox puck, black puck...white ice, how can you get more contrast than that. Yet it turned into what would become among the greatest ideas in the first down marker.
Makes one wonder what the next great leap will be... endzone camera angles? Imagine fledgeling network starting with college fb, and giving us the Madden view from behind the QB. THat would be epic.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 4:29pm

If I remember right, it was visible through the wall.

by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 4:50pm

Correct. But it didn't work all that well even for that, since you just saw a glow from the puck but couldn't see the sticks or anything else. Hockey is a great game to see live, but pretty much stinks on TV. I've been to a fair number of hockey games yet can't quite put my finger on why that is. Other sports are different experiences live than on TV, but you still get a high enjoyment factor. But hockey just isn't as good.

by justme_cd :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 5:04pm

The next great leap should be syncing the time from every camera angle. This would make challenges go so much smoother.

From camera angle 1 you can see when the ball pops out, but not when the knee hits the ground.

From camera angle 2 you can see when the knee hits but not when the ball pops out.

Right now its just sorry, play stands. But if the two camera's were synced then they could play the video from both angles that have a synced time stamp - the knee hits at 06:15:94:003 but the ball fumbles three frames later 06:15:94:006

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 6:35pm

Forget the synching, if they manage to film the whole game a 1000 FPS that would be awesome.

by dbostedo :: Sun, 07/21/2013 - 6:41pm

It wasn't just about contrast. A small black puck is hard to follow on TV, even against white ice. Particularly on standard-def TV. It was about making the puck easier to follow by making a larger mark as well.

HD TV has been a huge plus for hockey though. I'd say it's improved hockey viewing on TV more than it improved football, which is considerable.

by Jerry :: Sun, 07/21/2013 - 9:29pm

As a veteran hockey fan, the problem I had with the glow puck was that it was hard to watch anything else. I want to watch the players, and can usually infer where the puck is if I don't see it. With the big bright blob, though, it was hard to focus on anything but the puck.

by John Walt :: Fri, 07/19/2013 - 5:48pm

I also think having enough cameras in a stadium so they can watch replays like in Madden is doable.

by MJK :: Sun, 07/21/2013 - 3:56pm

Great article. Thanks for sharing! Hearing the business side as well as the technical side is really, really interesting.

by andrew :: Wed, 07/24/2013 - 12:47am

Next step: Add it to the quarterback's HUD inside his helmet, which will also contain the play selection, the receiver routes and available contract incentives.

by Whatev :: Thu, 07/25/2013 - 3:17am

Plus a lock warning system to indicate when a rusher is free?