See ya later, CBS time to say fare-thee-well

RADIO-TV

January 24, 1994|By RAY FRAGER

The last word, appropriately enough, went to John Madden, even if it was via tape.

At the end of yesterday's NFC championship telecast, CBS left the NFL with these words: "These are the memories, and the great thing is they last forever."

So concludes CBS' 38 consecutive years of televising the NFL.

Very little is final in the world of television, so we shouldn't get too choked up over this. Already, there are reports that Madden and partner Pat Summerall will be back together in the fall on the Fox network. And four years from now, CBS may have saved enough money for a pre-emptive strike when NFL rights are for sale again. But football could use a little sentiment now and then.

The telecast ended with a short piece of taped highlights tacked onto the post-game show. You probably noticed that the package began with a black-and-white kickoff by the Baltimore Colts. Yes, CBS has been carrying the NFL that long, back when the league didn't think it was a bad idea to have a team in Baltimore.

Madden's taped comment about lasting memories came over shots of Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson celebrating victories, but it was meant to summarize the network's pro football experience. The words also summarized Madden -- he may not '' always be the most eloquent announcer, but he usually manages to find the right words.

Yesterday's game wasn't an appropriate send-off for Madden and Summerall, but as an example of what they do best, it will suffice.

With the outcome decided half way through the last quarter, Madden could turn his attention elsewhere. He waxed enthusiastic about the bunting around Texas Stadium. He talked about the regenerative powers of Tony Casillas' tamales on hobbled Cowboys teammate Russell Maryland. He identified the variety of coach (or, in this case, player) who plays the role of "get-back coach" to keep others off the field.

Yes, pretty much Madden business as usual.

At least that was reassuring, because the opening was anything but. In fact, I wonder if the producer of the opening tease was auditioning for a job with Fox and its younger audience. The piece was set in TV Commercial Land, specifically that pool hall where those 20ish folks discuss bad sitcoms in a Budweiser spot.

How incongruous to have that unentertaining spot dissolve into Summerall's familiar voice.

Once the game started, though, everything was fine. (Unless you count halftime, because somebody let Matt Millen on the set.)

For most of the first half, you hardly noticed Summerall, but that is his way -- he lets Madden set up the game. Madden focused much of his early attention on the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith, who was showing no signs of being hampered by an injured right shoulder. At one point, Madden noted that Smith's shoulder must have been in good shape, because he was letting teammates help him up by tugging on his right hand.

Then the focus shifted to Madden's two other Cowboys heroes for the day, offensive tackle Erik Williams and defensive end Charles Haley.

Last week, Madden told a news conference that he can be guilty of overkill at times, and maybe he nearly reached that point on both players, but CBS' replays backed up the praise being heaped upon them.

Finally, signaling the end of the Erik Williams Show, a slow-motion replay caught the 6-foot-6, 321-pound tackle squirting water on his face, then spitting it out. Williams didn't swallow, Madden said, "because when you're 330 pounds, you don't want to get logy, so you spread the water around" to your teammates. "Whether they want it or not," Summerall added.

That's typical Summerall: letting Madden go on and then adding droll punctuation mark. Another example came in the second half. The 49ers' Steve Young fumbled, and San Francisco recovered for a gain.

"I remember one time we made that play famous," Madden said, recalling how, when he coached the Raiders, quarterback Ken Stablerand teammates combined to fumble the ball forward for a winning touchdown. "That play wasn't planned, was it?" Summerall said.

If Fox was taking notes on this telecast, it would do well to note CBS' planning. The camera work was flawless. A viewer's questions almost always were answered by the replays. The graphics, particularly those highlighting the defensive pressure on Young and the lack of production by Jerry Rice, told the story of the game.

As the game wound down, the cameras caught more and more of the signs saying farewell to CBS, Summerall and Madden. Summerall said CBS doesn't stand for "Come Back Soon." He read off a list of seemingly everybody working the telecast. Then the Cowboys doused their coach, and it was time to reflect that, unlike Jimmy Johnson's hair, everything can't stay in place.

"We don't have football anymore at CBS, but we have the memories," Madden said. "I'm not going to say I love you, but I like you an awful lot," Summerall told his partner.

Microphones shaking, voices breaking, "NFL Today" hosts Greg Gumbel and Terry Bradshaw said their goodbyes. Bradshaw to Gumbel: "I tell you, if you were a little bit better-looking, I'd give you some sugar."

Then Gumbel said so long, and the tape rolled -- Lindsey Nelson, Ray Scott, Frank Glieber, Brent Musburger . . .

Goodbye is too good a word, babe, so I'll just say, fare-thee-well. Way to go, CBS. I refuse to get teary-eyed over Brent Musburger.

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