Louisville faced a fourth-and-12 at Clemson's 14-yard line earlier this season, trailing by six points with just 40 seconds to play. Lamar Jackson found receiver James Quick in space with eight yards standing between him and a first down.
Quick got seven and hardly fought a Tigers defender who forced him out of bounds. The chains were on the other side of the field, and the first-down marker was at least nine feet from the sideline where Quick went out of bounds.
The millions watching on TV knew Quick was short and wondered why his effort hadn't matched the moment's significance and intensity. Players with an uncanny sense of field awareness are routinely praised on television broadcasts, and though most players would claim to possess it, not everyone does.
It's part of football, but does it have to be?
Last week, a possible playoff spot hinged on Ohio State's J.T. Barrett earning a first down by just a few inches in double overtime on fourth-and-one. Officials didn't overturn the spot upon review, and the Buckeyes won the game on the next play. Afterward, a "bitterly disappointed" Jim Harbaugh went on a rant against the referees that cost him $10,000.
Football instituted instant replay as one way to embrace technology and eliminate subjectivity in officiating as much as possible. What about other ways?
Nobody wants to see it more than Alan Amron, the designer, inventor and patent holder of the First Down Laser, which could project a visible, bright green line to show where offenses need to get to for a first down.
The problem is that no one's ready to let him do it. Not yet, anyway.
"Everybody is aggressively positive about our line," Amron told Sports on Earth this week via Skype from Latvia, where he's been on a speaking tour to aspiring entrepreneurs. "I don't understand why it's not in the game yet today. We have officials that endorse using our line. We have coaches endorse using our line. It's just such a political deal."
Amron has come close over the last half-decade to getting his laser implemented, aided by his partner, the late Pat Summerall, helping to open doors into meetings with NFL owners, coaches, administrators and the competition committee.
The current model that Amron said could be implemented tomorrow has been ready for nearly two years. Pete Carroll loved what he saw when he met with Amron and First Down Laser in his last year at USC.
"He said, 'Guys, I don't care about NCAA, I'm going to do it against Notre Dame,'" Amron said. "We said, 'Great,' walked out and thought they were going to do it in the Coliseum."
Then Amron got a call from the NCAA saying no, Carroll couldn't take initiative and use the laser just because he wanted to do so.
They've met with the NFL several times, including one meeting with six owners, at least six coaches and the head of officiating.
"Every time we made the presentation, the only question they had was they don't want to eliminate the chains," Amron said. "They have a certain panache. We don't necessarily want to bring them out, but we want to have them."
Amron's staff has never been able to use it in a game, but they did a demo with the late Dennis Green and Jim Fassel with a team from the now-defunct UFL in the now-demolished Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. Amron said his company is currently engaged in promising negotiations with an unnamed NFL team about using the laser in a preseason game in 2017.
Amron did get to use one of his similar laser systems at the 2013 and 2014 NCAA track championships at the University of Oregon.
"Our line was on the ground for the shot put, the hammer throw, the long jump, triple jump and discus," Amron said. "We put our line down on the field. Everybody in the stadium could see it, everybody on TV could see it."
So what's stopping football from following suit? It's not money. A basic unit with a laser in the chains themselves costs about $50,000, plus the cost of paying workers to operate it.
A full system installed in a stadium -- with a moving laser projected from overhead -- costs $750,000. Amron says the company has sponsors on board willing to foot the cost in exchange for recognition during broadcasts as the companies that helped put the line on the field. The NFL would also get paid for signing off on sponsorships for the laser, Amron said.
He's gotten significant interest from the CFL, but unlike the NFL, most teams in that league do not own the stadiums they call home, making installation a difficult proposition.
Still, a tangible explanation for why it hasn't become reality is tough to find, beyond, "It's just not the way we've always done it."
"There's technologies out there. The pylon camera was a good example that's become common in games now," said Walt Anderson, the Big 12's coordinator of officials who also works as an NFL official. "The bottom line is, what can we do to get things right? If that's your goal, anything should be considered."
For Power Five college football schools that voted for autonomy in August 2014, implementing changes in technology could happen without being bogged down by budget limitations and less attractive options for sponsors at smaller schools.
South Alabama coach Joey Jones is one of four FBS representatives on the 13-person NCAA Football Rules Committee. Nothing about the laser or any other officiating accuracy technology has come across his desk or been seriously considered during his time on the committee. The main reason, he says, is the committee is mostly focused on rules changes emphasizing player safety. This year, that's meant giving replay officials the power to stop a game for an injured player when on-field officials or coaches didn't see the injury, or tweaking when players can be blocked below the waist.
In the case of last week's play involving Barrett, a first down line would have been useful for replay, but a ball outfitted with GPS technology would have been ideal. That concept is much further from implementation at any level of football compared to a first down laser, but Amron's company has tested RFID chips that could be installed in players' pads and a football that would show on replay where the ball was when a player's knee was down.
It also presents issues like the placement of a chip in a ball without a simple shape. Wilson balked at the idea of installing a chip that could throw off its ball's balance. And could it be precise enough to pick up the ball's placement on the field if chips were in the tips of the football but the furthest point of the ball was its bulge in the middle?
For all the logistical problems involved in helping officials more accurately spot the football after a play, concerns over a first down laser are minimal beyond clearing the bureaucratic red tape at football's two highest levels to make it happen.
"Anything we can do to make it right, we should do," Anderson said. "The mushrooming explosion of technology is applicable in so many areas. Why not use it if it's there and it's practical and makes sense to people?"