As ancient artifacts go, the 1970s-era Kodak Analyst 16mm film projector sitting on the counter in the Eagles' video room doesn't exactly compare with a 2,800-year-old Assyrian treasure, but it is a powerful symbol of NFL days gone by.
"We turn it on every once in a while," Mike Dougherty, the Eagles' video director, says with a laugh.
When Dougherty and his two-man staff crank up the old black-and-white game films, they marvel at the advancements made in video technology. Games and practices that were once chronicled on film, developed in labs, spliced together by hand and stored in clunky canisters are now contained on computer drives that can hold ever-swelling amounts of data. As a result, coaches and players can break down their own and opponents' performances in as many different ways as they can imagine -- and then some.
Dougherty, who has been with the Eagles since 1976, back when the Kodak Analyst could be found spinning away in offices and meeting rooms, has watched the NFL progress from film to videotape to computers. Today's teams have access to every play from every game played in the NFL. They can break down practice and game tape in every possible combination. "Efficiency is the key for the whole thing, time and efficiency," Dougherty says.
In 1986, the NFL moved from celluloid to video, introducing beta technology to the game. Dougherty and his staff would take tapes of the game -- taken from the sideline (capturing all 22 players at all times) and end zone (concentrating primarily on the ball) -- and make 7-10 "cutup" tapes for coaches. Each cutup would focus on a specific area: passing game, running game, special teams, line play, etc. The coaches would then be able to watch the tapes themselves and show them to their position groups -- or the team as a whole. Enterprising players could ask for duplicates to watch, along with any videos received from upcoming opponents.
Nine years later, the NFL made the jump to the digital age. Avid Sports produced a computer program that allowed teams to store game tapes on computers and sort video in more specific ways. Instead of carrying around tapes, players and coaches were given CDs, which held more information and allowed for greater ease in watching. Teams around the league could create more thorough scouting reports on opponents, thanks to the ability to edit digitally. Before 1995, teams only received two or three game tapes of upcoming opponents. With the new system, they received and logged them all.
As revolutionary as that was, the current system is like a jump to light speed. Twenty-nine NFL teams use software from XOS Technologies (the other three use DV Sports' programs) and can now sort their opponents' game tapes by every possible permutation. Want to know what plays teams run on first down after converting on third? No problem. Looking to isolate a specific player and see what he did each time on the field? Done.
"It allows coaches the freedom to look at things they want," says Bills video director Henry Kunttu, who has been with the team for 38 years. "It's very functional."
As each game tape is stored on the teams' servers (most have 32 terabytes, or 32 million MB of memory), it is synced with the play-by-play, the better to solve specific problems. For instance, if a coach wants to see all second-down plays, run and pass, a video staff can create a file that includes them. If they want all second-down plays, run and pass, from between the opponent's 20- and 5-yard lines, they can do that, too. It's all in the computer.
"We can build specific cutups for any coach," Dougherty says. "There are infinite possibilities."
The one roadblock is the coaches' level of digital expertise. A highly savvy coach can do his own cutup work on a laptop by assigning specific plays (i.e. all second-down passes) to a certain category. In Buffalo, some players, like running back Marshawn Lynch, do that, too. Others still work off DVDs created by video staffs. Some of the, ahem, more experienced coaches need extra help.
"Some older coaches don't want to use the computers," Kunttu says. "They want to use videotape, but we've been fairly successful in teaching them."
In the end, it's about the players on the field. But preparing those men for games has become more efficient and sophisticated. "It allows them to work on more things," Kunttu says.
And assures that the Kodak Analyst will forever be a museum piece.