NOW WE HAVE IT -- scientific proof that images can be deceiving and that NFL re-ferees don't know projectile geometry from rocket science, or even, say, a lateral from a forward pass.
While the Tennessee Titans bask in this week's Super Bowl hoopla, Buffalo Bills fans have more reason to cry in their beer as they reflect on What Should Have Been.
A University of Rochester professor has offered proof that the pass at the end of the Bills-Titans AFC playoff game that ended the Bills' season Jan. 8 was not a lateral pass but an illegal forward pass that should have been called back.
Mark Bocko, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the keys to looking at the play are where the television cameras were placed and the height of the ball when it was thrown versus when it was caught.
"The point was the fact that the ball was higher when it was thrown than when it was caught makes it look like the ball may have gone backwards," he said. "You're viewing this trajectory in three-dimensions, from an angle that makes it appear it went backward."
"It's basically just simple geometry," he said.
Bocko, a longtime Bills fan, watched that Saturday playoff game on television, saw the replays and studied the photos in the newspaper the next day.
"So Sunday morning, I sat down at my computer and wrote a program to plot trajectory," he said. "This isn't definitive, because I don't know exactly where the camera was."
Using the Matlab program, he estimated that when the ball was thrown it was about 6 feet off the ground and was caught about 1 foot above the ground. While the ball was thrown on the 25-yard line, he estimated that the television camera catching the action was located at about the 20-yard line, creating a geometric illusion.
Viewing the path of the ball against the background of the 25-yard line, it appears to be a legal lateral. But projecting the path of the ball down onto the playing surface, the ball can be seen advancing upfield.
Bocko is philosophical about the play.
"There's nothing we can do now but make ourselves feel better over the winter," he said. "I'm sure those referees don't think of projectile geometry."
Bocko is content to let his Sunday morning exercise stand as is, and is not planning to take the case further to find out where the cameras were located. But if anyone were to give him the location, he would be able to plop that coordinate into the program for a more accurate result.
Bocko has placed his research into the lateral on a web site, www.ee.rochester.edu:8080/courses/ece111/bills/, with this caveat:
"To make a definitive determination of the legality of the lateral one would need to know the precise location of the camera that took the replay video, and in the absence of such information this analysis is subject to revision. However, this does suggest that images can be deceiving."
Now, how is the professor's computer program at plotting skates in the crease?