Before Tony Verna invented instant replay, no one said, “Let’s go to the videotape.”

Verna was directing the Army-Navy football game for CBS Sports in 1963 when he ran the first instant replay on television, changing the way sports were viewed by fans and, over time, refereed by officials. His invention, for which he received no patent or payment, is considered one of the most momentous in sports and entertainment history.

The innovative TV director and producer died Sunday at his home in Palm Desert, California, at age 81. The cause was acute leukemia, said a daughter, Tracy Verna Soiseth.

Verna, who began working in television at 19, had helped direct the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and was one of the top sports producers at CBS when he came up with the idea for instant replay.

He quietly arranged for a videotape machine, then the size of a refrigerator, to be trucked from New York to Philadelphia, where the annual football game between Army and Navy would be played.

Delayed one week because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the game took place on Dec. 7, 1963, at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium before 100,000 spectators. Army had a 7-2 record; Navy, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach, was 8-1.

A solemn ceremony commemorated the slain president, who had been a Navy veteran and had attended the two previous games between the service academies.

After the opening kickoff, Verna had one camera focused on the quarterback at all times. Several times during the game, he wanted to show a replay, but technical glitches got in the way.

Among other things, the roll of videotape in the machine contained an old episode of “I Love Lucy.” When Verna hoped to see a play on the gridiron, a fleeting image of Lucille Ball sometimes flickered across his monitor.

Finally, with Navy leading 21-7 in the fourth quarter, everything came together. Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh faked to his halfback, then ran for a 1-yard touchdown.

Seconds later, Verna knew that the moment had been captured on videotape. When the replay of the touchdown was shown, no one had seen anything like it before.

“This is not live!” announcer Lindsey Nelson shouted to viewers. “Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again.”

A two-point conversion made the score 21-15. Army recovered an onside kick and then drove to the Navy 2-yard-line before time ran out.

It was a memorable game in the long football rivalry, but it soon became known for the sensation created by Verna’s invention. When the technology was used again in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1964, sportcaster Pat Summerall gave it the name that would endure: instant replay.

Within a year, it became standard for virtually every kind of sports programming. It was credited with helping make football the most popular televised sport in the country, with almost every play reexamined from countless angles.

“We changed the way people watch sports on television,” Verna told USA Today in 2003. “You can’t imagine sports without it.”

By the 1990s, instant replay was used to review calls by officials in football, basketball, hockey and other sports. In 2014, baseball expanded the use of replays when umpiring decisions were challenged.

Entertainment Weekly named instant replay one of the 100 most important developments in television history, and Sports Illustrated called it one of the 20 most significant “tipping points” in sports in the second half of the 20th century.

Verna, meanwhile, continued to work behind the camera. He directed 12 Kentucky Derby broadcasts and one of pro football’s most celebrated games, the 1967 “Ice Bowl,” in which the Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL championship in subzero weather.

But for years he was all but forgotten as the developer of one of the most important innovations in sports and broadcasting history.

“What bothered me is that [CBS] never gave me the recognition,” Verna told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. “This wasn’t a mushroom that came out of the ground. There wasn’t a button you could hit. Someone had to come up with it.”

Anthony Frederick Verna was born Nov. 26, 1933, in Philadelphia. His father, an Italian immigrant, was a photographer.

Verna left the University of Pennsylvania to take his first job in television in Philadelphia, and by 1955 he was directing national broadcasts of baseball games. Before leaving CBS in 1981, he directed or produced virtually every kind of sporting event, including tennis, figure skating, hockey and basketball.

Later, he produced interviews with Mother Teresa and presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He was the co-producer and co-director of “Live Aid,” the 1985 fundraiser for African famine relief that was organized by Bob Geldof and watched by more than 1 billion people. Verna later directed worldwide coverage of Pope John Paul II’s prayer for world peace.

In 1995, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for sports from the Directors Guild of America.

His first marriage, to Joanna Hayes, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Carol Hahn Verna of Palm Desert; a daughter from his first marriage, Tracy Verna Soiseth of Los Angeles; two children from his second marriage, Jenny Axelrod of Los Angeles and Eric Verna of Palm Desert; and three grandchildren.

Verna wrote several textbooks about television production plus a novel and a memoir. In recent years, he developed several applications for smartphones, but few inventions of any kind have had the lasting effect of the instant replay.

“I didn’t invent instant replay to improve officiating, or anything like that,” he told Pacific Standard magazine in 2013. “I invented it for a better telecast.”