CBS gave viewers a good deal in yesterday's Super Bowl telecast, but the network's coverage also provided something rare indeed -- it let you know who was going to win before the game.
No, I'm not talking about predictions from experts or a convincing set of statistics. The clue to the game's outcome was in two brief interviews before kickoff.
Pat O'Brien tried to speak to Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly as his team prepared to take the field. Kelly answered O'Brien's questions with psyched-to-the-gills grunts and ignored others -- though, to be fair, a question about whether the Bills would like to score first deserved to be ignored. That illuminating exchange was followed by Lesley Visser's chat with Washington Redskins receiver Gary Clark, who seemed no more concerned than a fellow on his way to the corner market for a loaf of bread.
We'd heard all week -- and in the pre-game show -- about how loose the Redskins were and how tight the Bills were. There, in about a two-minute exchange, CBS presented the contrast. After seeing Kelly's reaction to O'Brien, was it that much of a surprise when Bills receiver Andre Reed almost literally flipped his lid -- drawing a penalty for slamming his helmet, taking his team out of field-goal range late in the first half -- in reaction to an apparent missed call by the officials?
The missed calls were few when it came to CBS' telecast.
Start with play-by-play man Pat Summerall and analyst John Madden. And fast-forward to the fourth quarter, when the game was out of hand, always a test for broadcasters. How could we tell the game was out of hand? Madden started talking about the Winter Olympics.
In the last quarter, Madden recounted a conversation he had with the father of Redskins offensive lineman Mark Schlereth about Madden's having dubbed Schlereth "Stinky." "If your dad says he likes it when you [Madden] call him Stinky," Madden said, "then it must be true."
Then there was the shot of Redskins assistant coach Richie Petitbon, whose rotund physique belies his past as an NFL defensive back. Petitbon's belt -- actually, kind of a tool belt with various items dangling from it -- was slipping, and Madden said, "Richie's holster is low," then added, "He's going to lead the league in things dangling."
But it was left to Summerall for the best line of the day. After Madden reacted to shots of some fans looking uninterested by saying they were bored, CBS' cameras caught a man seated next to an attractive young woman and with another attractive young woman on his lap. Summerall said: "There's a man who's not bored."
Despite the 37-24 score, CBS did its best not to bore -- and mostly succeeded.
The network's use of remote-controlled blimp cameras quickly paid off with marvelous pictures of the Redskins' attempt to score inside the Bills' 5 during the first quarter. And, throughout the game, the blimp cameras provided telling replays, particularly illustrating a hole big enough to drive the proverbial truck through (proverbial truck? must be one carrying Bibles) on Gerald Riggs' third-quarter touchdown.
CBS' super slow motion likewise was superb. Whether it was displaying the Redskins' Art Monk stepping on the end line on an apparent touchdown catch, showing the Redskins' Wilber Marshall asking an official to follow the bouncing helmet (from Reed) or demonstrating how Washington pressure forced Kelly to float a long pass, the slo-mo was indeed super.
The network also unveiled a new graphics look, which is more readable and brighter. Better yet, the graphics said something -- breaking down the number of times the Redskins ran from various formations and listing the ways in which Kelly was pressured.
Mostly, though, Madden said something about how to approach announcing a football game. You want to know technical stuff? He'll give you that. But his real forte is translating the visceral joy of the game, something that can get snowed under in the avalanche of Super Bowl hype. One example illustrates most clearly:
In the second quarter, Marshall tackled Reed after a reception, dumping him on the ground. The replay showed Marshall grabbing Reed by the pants. Madden captioned the picture this way: "Wilber Marshall almost pantsed Andre Reed at the end of that play. . . You can tackle a guy, but you got to leave his pants on."
Before this sounds like an Emmy nomination entry for the network, I should note that not everything on the telecast was so outstanding.
Visser, for one, had an uneven day. She was a significant presence at the end of the game, becoming the first woman to preside over the awarding of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but her performance mainly served to prove that a woman can ask the same innocuous questions and get the same white-bread answers as a man.