Pre-game show looks like a must miss

RADIO-TV

January 27, 1991|By RAY FRAGER

If there's one word that can be used to describe the prospects for today's Super Bowl telecast, it's unbe-blimp-able.

OK, so that's not a word. But the Super Bowl is not a football game. It's an Event. It's a Television Event. It's a Major Television Event. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to capitalize words unnecessarily.

But there won't be any blimp. Precautions against terrorism have led officials to close the airspace above Tampa Stadium during the game -- and that includes ABC's blimp. Chin up, America, if you can make it through the pre-game show, you most likely can put with no aerial view of The Game (oops, there go those capital letters again).

The tentative lineup for the two-hour pre-game (4 p.m., channels 13, 7) sounds so unpromising that it almost makes one long for the return of the National Football League players' talent show (remember Reggie White's impressions?).

Brent Musburger, who certainly landed on his microphone after being dumped by CBS in April, is the pre-game host, and -- let the Brent-bashers wail -- he is perfect for the role. Make Musburger the host for an important sporting event, where his predilection for hyperbole doesn't seem so pronounced, and few can match him. But can Musburger keep us awake through features on the making of the Super Bowl football, discussions of what it's like to play in the Super Bowl and on instant-replay officiating by Bob Griese and Dick Vermeil, a performance by Three Dog Night and Up With People and an interview with M.C. Hammer (perhaps to balance Up With People)?

A serious question hanging over the Super Bowl -- over the country, for that matter -- is: What will be happening in the Persian Gulf war? ABC News has scheduled at least one update with Peter Jennings during the pre-game, and there could be others at the end of each quarter, with a longer update at halftime. And NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said the game could be postponed by a turn of events in the gulf.

ABC won't try to hold up the game if it has to go away for war news, network sports president Dennis Swanson told USA Today.

"We'll return to the game, not go to a commercial, but we do plan on getting all our commercials in," Swanson said.

At $800,000 per 30 seconds, you better believe ABC will try to get them in.

Between the commercials, the "Monday Night Football" crew of Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf will describe the play of the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. They will be backed by an ABC contingent of about 200 people, with 21 cameras, 16 videotape machines, 50 microphones and 20 miles of audio and video cable.

It is not an announcing team without its faults. One of them certainly isn't Michaels, a witty, gifted play-by-play man. His partners, however, are another matter.

Dierdorf moved into the top rank of network football analysts -- you could have flipped a coin between him and John Madden, as far as I was concerned -- but then seemed to realize it. His analytic bursts turned into monologues. He was speaking in the first person more often.

Still, most of what Dierdorf has to say is worth hearing -- which, unfortunately, is more than you can say for Gifford.

Gifford has become as much a critical target as, say, Musburger, so maybe it's too easy to make Gifford out to be a non-factor in the telecasts, someone who usually just spouts cliches. At minimum, though, Gifford is taking up air time that could be more usefully occupied by Michaels.

Regardless of who's speaking, he will have to be aware of events beyond Tampa Stadium.

"Our job Sunday is to announce a football game," Michaels said in a news conference last week. "We certainly understand it is being broadcast in a much larger context."

And, in that context, Michaels will try to steer clear of war &L terminology.

"The connection between sports and the military is so close, there will be a slip," he said. "We don't mean to be cute or clever, but I'll go into the game clearly thinking about the types of analogies I want to make."

"This Super Bowl mood is different," Dierdorf said. "It is America's biggest party, but the topics are divided between people who want to talk about football and people who want to talk about events in the Middle East.

"I know one thing, when we cut away to ABC News, I'm going to be like everyone else -- I'm going to want the audio in my ear. I want to know what's happening."

"Roone Arledge [ABC News president] understands the value of sports and news," Gifford said, "and if we cut away, what's happening in the game is trivial. There's no such thing as a crucial moment in the game if there is a reason to break away to coverage of the war."

Come today, we all can pray, maybe peace will break out in the Middle East, and ABC will give us wall-to-wall coverage, wrapping up just in time for the 6:18 p.m. kickoff of the Super Bowl. Now there's an Event.

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