A super game, and all in perspective


January 28, 1991|By Michael Hill

JUST WHAT America needed, a great football game. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Going into the weekend, it appeared that the combination of the country's focus on the Persian Gulf and the intense security at the stadium in Tampa would turn this Super Bowl into the Subdued Bowl. But actually all the turmoil ended up benefitting the affair.

That's because the war did, indeed, put the Super Bowl in perspective. Instead of the attention being directed to all the hype and fluff, it was aimed at the game itself, which, it turned out, could be a pretty marvelous event, worthy of genuine admiration and celebration, even without the excessive extraneous trappings.

Give ABC credit. Though there was a shaky moment earlier in the afternoon when some military expert was using what looked like football's instant replay telestrator device to explain the strategic significance of the huge oil spill in the gulf, the network neatly drew the lines between the news and war throughout the pregame and game coverage.

Peter Jennings came on at the beginning of the game and at the quarter breaks with brief updates and anchored a substantial, straightforward report at halftime. He engaged in no locker room chit-chat, he just did his job.

And the three game announcers, Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf, also kept their commentary focused on the athletic entertainment at hand, never reaching beyond their bounds to try to connect the Super Bowl with Operation Desert Storm.

Indeed, whether consciously or unconsciously, their call of the game seemed to keep away from the military terminology and analogies that are usually the stock in trade of football analysts.

In fact, the only connection that was made between the two operations came in a meaningful report by Judd Rose that closed out the halftime news report, a nearly live piece on servicemen in Saudi Arabia who were up in the middle of the night watching the Super Bowl.

Though Channel 13 (WJZ) caused Baltimore viewers to miss a crucial comment by one of the soldiers -- WJZ couldn't figure out how to put up the lottery numbers without cutting out the network sound -- it was clear that the Super Bowl was an important American icon to these guys, worth maintaining even in a time of national crisis, maybe especially in such a time.

We can be thankful that the extended news coverage kept us away from that awful Super Bowl halftime show, though coverage did return to the field just in time for a rather manipulative -- bring out the kids and head straight to the heartstrings -- tribute to the soldiers that seemed well-intentioned but too show-bizzy for the subject involved.

You would think that President Bush would have had something a bit more substantial to say to the country at a time like this instead of joining his wife Barbara in basically reading part of the halftime show script. But no harm, no foul.

Of course, ABC was not really put to the test, as NBC and CBS were last week during the league championship games, since no breaking news, no Scud missile attacks, occurred during the Super Bowl telecast. So there were no sudden departures from the game with their potential for awkward transitions.

But the attention ABC had clearly paid to keeping the proper tone in its planned coverage of the two events has to make you think that the network personnel would have handled such a situation well.

In fact, you have to wonder why Saddam Hussein did not choose to interrupt the Super Bowl by launching a few missiles. Assuming he's not out of Scuds or working launchers, wouldn't it have demonstrated the vulnerability of a venerated American institution to the whim of Iraqi might?

Maybe he was afraid that if viewers missed a crucial play, then America really would get mad and he'd be in more trouble than he already is.

Or perhaps he didn't understand exactly what the Super Bowl represents, figuring it can't be that important because it's not carried on CNN.

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