ESPN camera work helps to paint a pretty picture

August 28, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

There weren't a lot of them, but the pictures and words about Baltimore that ESPN did telecast to the rest of the country last night were good ones. They certainly couldn't do anything but enhance the city's image nationally in its bid for an NFL expansion team.

During "SportsCenter" and the "NFL Pre-game Show," anchors Bob Ley and Chris Berman kept referring fondly to Memorial Stadium as the "Old Horseshoe," as though they were talking about Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds. The sense of the term and its delivery by the announcers was that Baltimore is a city with a rich sports tradition.

Berman also made it sound as if Baltimore has considerable momentum toward getting an expansion team. The pre-game show opened with a freeze-frame of a banner saying, "Give Baltimore The Ball" filling a TV screen behind Berman, while he said, "The word is that Baltimore may have moved into the No. 2 spot behind St. Louis and ahead of Charlotte in getting one of the two planned NFL expansion teams."

Who cares that Berman didn't say where that "word" came from or what it was based on? It sounded good when matched with the words "Give Baltimore The Ball."

But, perhaps, among the best things that happened to Baltimore were the camera shots ESPN chose to use as "breakers" leading viewers in and out of segments that traveled from the ESPN studios to Memorial Stadium and back again.

Viewers repeatedly saw shots of the 33rd Street facade of the stadium -- with the inscription flooded in lights and fans streaming toward it in the gathering darkness.

The image suggested several things, all of them good. First, the stream of fans moving toward the stadium says to viewers directly and powerfully that there are a lot of fans eager to go to football games.

But, more important, that shot of the front of Memorial Stadium, which ESPN showcased last night, is the very snapshot that middle-age viewers all over the country carry in their memory bank from watching titanic struggles on Sunday afternoons between the Colts and teams such as the New York Giants. Seeing it, I suspect, set off a chain reaction of mental images of Baltimore's football greatness.

During the game, the good-looking pictures of Baltimore today and fond words about Baltimore's football past kept flowing.

Overhead shots from the Goodyear blimp made a sold-out Memorial Stadium and the surrounding neighborhood look like a glittery postcard. Virtually every crowd shot showed people smiling, waving pompons and cheering.

All of it was enhanced by audio work that captured the sustained cheering. From the opening kickoff, it sounded as though it was late in the fourth quarter and the Colts were driving up the field with John Unitas throwing sideline passes to Raymond Berry.

Even Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann, the game announcers, got caught up in the enthusiasm.

As the camera showed pictures of former Colts putting on their old jerseys just before halftime, Patrick said, "For my money, Unitas is still the best that ever played that quarterback position." Later, as cameras panned the crowd and then stopped on another banner saying, "Give Baltimore The Ball," Patrick said, "It's a city with a great sports tradition, there's no doubt about that. And they want the ball again."

It's too bad ESPN didn't show the halftime events live and the never-say-die Baltimore Colt Marching Band. But ESPN had its own sports show to do. It did show tape of John Mackey being honored. All in all, it was a pretty terrific and emotional night on the tube for Baltimore.

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