The TV repairman After days of getting thumped by CNN on the Persian Gulf beat, NBC and CBS had a chance to slink away for a few hours yesterday and get back on familiar ground, covering pro football.
Generally speaking, they comported themselves well. Which, considering their decades of experience, should come as no surprise.
Despite working a game that was over quicker than a Mike Tyson fight (Bills 51, Raiders 3), Bill Walsh was the day's only four-star performer.
The NBC analyst gained points right off the bat by quickly noting the Raiders weren't prepared to stop Buffalo coming in, and did virtually nothing to correct the situation.
The Bills were in the process of marching down the field to their second touchdown when Walsh gasped, "The Raiders stayed in their basic defense even after a timeout. Just what the Bills want, the Raiders are giving them defensively."
Instead of making excuses for the beleaguered Los Angeles quarterback, Jay Schroeder, Walsh said: "Schroeder looks rattled; they're going to have to settle this guy down."
It was 27-3 when Walsh indicated the Raiders were all but "eliminated," instead of using the time-honored "there's a lot of time left" to string viewers along.
Without fail, networks will bemoan the fact fans tune out in droves when a game isn't competitive. This is hardly an ironclad rule, however, and watching a team function almost to perfection is often a large hoot. Buffalo's romp was.
After the quarterfinal games last week, it was pointed out to the nets how many replays they showed during a game -- the count was in the thousands -- and it made an impact, because NBC and CBS showed admirable restraint in not giving us six angles of a dive off tackle.
With no Super Bowl to coo over -- ABC transmits XXV from Tampa Sunday with Brent (Oh no!) Musburger as host -- CBS did an opening worthy of the biggie: "Football is a game of grace . . . it is also a game of brute force. History awaits the 49ers. New York is thirsty for a return to the big dance."
This did not bode well for the Giants-49ers game to follow, but nothing could take away from the Giants' pulsating 15-13 victory, not even a run-of-the-mill call by John Madden and Pat Summerall.
It wasn't so much what the two old standbys said, but what they didn't say. Madden rarely explained why things were happening, and, as the years roll by, he has gotten into the habit of becoming infatuated with one player and harping on his exploits endlessly. One more word about Jumbo Elliott and I'll scream.
Maurice Carthon dropped a feathery pass in the end zone any child could catch and Pat and John were all but stifling yawns.
Perhaps so wrapped up in the game, they were in shock when Matt Bahr won it with a field goal on the last play. It was left for newsman Dan Rather to gasp "What a game!" as cameras shifted to the newsroom for an update on the Persian Gulf.
So give Madden and Summerall two stars, no more. CBS picked up some ground in the post-game when "NFL Today" host Greg Gumbel went into the locker room and tended a series of interesting and valid questions to the celebrating masses.
Gumbel's three stars more than tripled the NBC post-game effort, when Todd Christensen asked consecutively, "What does feel like going to the Super Bowl? Who would you rather play? Is this icing on the cake? Will one week [preparation time for the Super Bowl] make a difference?"
It's unfair to expect a guy to be the second coming of Mike Wallace shortly after turning in his shoulder pads. But the net shouldn't ram an amateur down the public's throat. Todd, already a star in the minds of some, Todd included, gets half a star to build on.
No doubt the worst was saved for last following both games. First, Paul Maguire looked dead into the camera and told his hometown Buffalo buddies, "I'm so proud of you guys." Summerall ended the NFC title game by saying to Madden, "Thank you for the privilege of spending 10 years next to you."