NBC lets pictures tell the story


January 31, 1994|By RAY FRAGER

Here's an explanation for what happened to the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of yesterday's Super Bowl:

It took them until halftime to realize that the national anthem finally was over.

However, the audience can be thankful that, for a change, the game wasn't over until the fourth quarter.

After making it through two hours of pre-game programming, the viewer's reward was an odd game opening in which two stripped-to-the-waist football players banged on anvils in something that looked like a photo shoot for a romance-novel cover. ("Love's Savage Pass Rush"? "The Sweet Goal Line of Desire"?)

Then came the long anthem, followed by the long tease, when the Buffalo Bills fooled us into thinking they'd be in the game all the way. So you broke out that other case of Mountain Dew, didn't you?

And if you don't remember a lot of what play-by-play man Dick Enberg and analyst Bob Trumpy had to say, it wasn't because you were too wired on the Dew. NBC's strength in yesterday's game telecast was in the pictures more than the words:

* The competitive fury in Emmitt Smith's face when he scored the go-ahead touchdown for the Cowboys in the third quarter.

* The many faces of Thurman Thomas on the Bills sideline -- from exultant to glum to disconsolate.

* The happy feet of Thomas faking out Leon Lett for a second-quarter touchdown.

* The transformation of a soft-drink-deprived Cindy Crawford into Rodney Dangerfield. Oh, that was a commercial, wasn't it?

Trumpy has undergone something of a transformation, too. He no longer howls about every call or rips every coaching decision. Plus, he had only one tasteless comment during the entire

telecast, and that came in the pre-game show. After a clear explanation via telestrator of the Bills' two-deep zone, Trumpy said of the Buffalo defense: "If they have to go man-to-man, it's Dr. Kevorkian for the Bills."

Then again, maybe Trumpy was trying to fit in with those promos for an NBC movie about televising an execution.

Meanwhile, Enberg practically turned into Pat Summerall, offering stripped-down play-by-play. There was barely an "oh my" to be heard.

NBC offered some clues as to why the Bills were succeeding in the first half. Viewers saw Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley consistently being taken out of plays. Replays showed the Bills finding open spots in the Dallas secondary and the defensive line.

I hate to quibble, but . . . OK, I really love to quibble. But let's not quibble about my quibbling. Anyway, couldn't NBC have set the offensive and defensive lineups at some point during the game? And with all of NBC's reporters, why did it take until just before the second half to find out what the injury was to Bills tight end Pete Metzelaars?

Perhaps everyone was mesmerized by the country superstar halftime show. The show, after all, marked the first time that theatrical lighting was used in a Super Bowl halftime. Kind of makes that dome all worthwhile.

Say what you will about NBC's pre-game show, the program did set a Super Bowl record: Most mentions of throwing up in first hour -- two; breaks previous record of one, shared by many networks.

Joe Gibbs, who obviously had a post-coaching personality transplant, talked about his nervous stomach before heading into the Super Bowl, and O.J. Simpson said that the Cowboys' Lett was so worried about the prospect of being interviewed by him that he was too stricken to keep their first appointment.

That bit of news prompted "Super Bowl Live" host Jim Lampley to get off one of the pre-game's best lines: "Juice, your questions throw fear in to the hearts of all the great ones."

But weren't all of our pre-game personalities just so chummy?

Will McDonough to Simpson: "I'm glad you're loose, too, pal." Todd Christensen to Lampley: "This is about as expert analysis as you can get, Lamps." Gibbs to Mike Ditka: "You were better-dressed than O.J. with that sweater [for their computer football match]."

It was just part of NBC's happy-face approach.

Not that the pre-game is supposed to be a report on health-care reform, but there was at least one serious news story to be covered -- the controversy over the Georgia state flag, which contains a Confederate emblem. That story got less than a minute. A literal puff piece -- about blow-up athletic shoes -- got more.

NBC had to make time for Simpson to inform us the Georgia Dome field is flat, unlike the crowned turf at Rich Stadium. That might have something to do with the fact that a domed field doesn't have to drain water. McDonough was all over that ultra-bright sideline markings story.

What promised to be the best part of the pre-game, Bob Costas' interview with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Johnson, fell flat. The Double-J's were on their best behavior and failed to show any of their reported testiness.

Leave it to Ditka, though, to sum up the performance by Jones and Johnson. "If I didn't know better, I'd say one of those guys was lying," Ditka said. "Because I know better, I know both of them are lying."

There were a few other high points in the pre-game. The look back at Super Bowl III was well-done, as was the piece on coaches' and players' television shows. Bill Cosby's pieces were a rarity -- humorous pre-game segments that were funny.

Let's not call the pre-game a disappointment, however. Like the Super Bowl itself, you shouldn't go in expecting too much.

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