ABC super, once game got started

Phil Steadman

January 28, 1991|By Phil Steadman

You know the man the Super Bowl trophy is named for, Vince Lombardi, is smiling today.

The late, great coach was a no-nonsense guy when it came to football, remember. A couple of his dictums kept springing to mind during yesterday's best-ever title game.

It was after his potent Packers had breezed through the first game in 1967 when Lombardi suggested the outcome wasn't cosmic by stating, "Aw, the Super Bowl needs tradition."

A quarter century later, we've been witness to mini-dynasties, unexplainable flops, scores of brilliant individual performances and, now, a game whose outcome wasn't decided until the last play. Just what the coach ordered.

And who's to say the game outcome isn't cosmic these days considering upward of a billion people on Earth watched, and the pictures were bounced off satellites where alien beings no doubt pirated them for showing in bars on Uranus, Pluto and beyond.

Almost as much a part of the success wrought by the play itself is its presentation to the huddled masses. For its efforts yesterday, ABC earned a grade point in the cum laude range.

From kickoff to final gun, the visual and audio were first rate. Sure, Dan Dierdorf went a little squirrelly at the end, but who wanted complete cool under the circumstances?

Besides, there was the "Earthquake Kid," Al Michaels, a few chairs over keeping his head while all around him were losing theirs during the dramatic close.

As for the camera work, the end zone shot of Buffalo's Bruce Smith reaching down to strip Jeff Hostetler of the ball just as the quarterback switched it to the other hand to avoid a fumble and a touchdown ranks right up there with the legendary shot of Carlton Fisk waving a home run fair during the '75 World Series. The guy lugging the handheld camera should be going to Disneyland.

Contrary to rivals CBS and NBC, ABC doesn't grind out pre-game shows weekly during the season and it tends to show when time comes to cover the Big Dance every third January. Not that the others are expert at the assignment, but we have come to expect a certain formula in these things.

With two hours to fill prior to kickoff, the net provided almost nothing of even mild interest.

A saver was the background piece on the Giants' unlikely hero, Hostetler, a salt-of-the-earth farmboy from a large family who played and studied hard, married the coach's daughter, is raising a handsome family with a pregnant wife, has calmly waited his chance through seven seasons, and is just too good to be true, yet is.

Then, too, host Brent Musburger helped out mightily by not being his usual overdramatic and hyping self. Perhaps only a war could occasion such a change.

Long before ABC showed up to pick up $45 million in ad money for its six-hour stint, ESPN was on line with a 90-minute "GameDay" that concluded with Chris Berman reminding, "They'll kick it off in less than five hours." A sense of immediacy seemed to be missing.

ABC easily established a Super Bowl mark for self-servingness by: (1) touting itself shamelessly on a preview show Saturday, (2) assuring us several times that it had Peter Jennings at the ready should anything break on the war front, (3) modestly pointing out it was sponsoring a young boy who was nearly killed in a famous New York drug incident and (4) having M.C. Hammer do this dancing bit out in the parking lot as a way of publicizing the American Music Awards tonight, which the net just happens to be covering.

All of it, the self-promotion, the Bud Bowl foolishness, the haughty duel of companies producing $150 sneakers and the annual attempt to somehow link patriotism to football didn't sour the overall perception in the face of the thrilling contest.

The other Lombardi-ism that seemed to cover the game perfectly: "Football is blocking and tackling. Everything else is mythology." Words the Giants lived by.

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