Dallas' lethargic first half is a super break for fans and NBC's sponsors, too

January 31, 1994|By Phil Jackman


Thank you, Dallas, for playing a sloppy first half. It made for a fine Super Sunday, interesting and competitive football stretching all the way to 8:30 p.m. after NBC kicked off its pre-game filibuster at 4.

Some years, an absolutely galling presentation leading up to the action remember Brent, Phyllis, Irv and The Greek cruising on Miami's Biscayne Bay? was followed by a game that was pretty well over in the first half-hour.

How good are the Cowboys? Seemingly good enough to chose when and where to turn it on to win convincingly, yet still assure a good show for the estimated 135 million people viewing. And for the advertisers dropping approximately $50 million in the pot.

Just imagine if the halves were reversed and the 'Boys laid a 24-0 pasting on Buffalo in the first 30 minutes. Chances are the best of all Super Bowl halftime extravaganzas would have suffered grievious audience desertion.

Fact is, Super Bowls rise or fall according to the action on the field, too much being made of the words tumbling out of the announcing booth and the pictures being dispatched.

While many probably missed the sights of sounds of "Eight-Million Dollar Man" John Madden making with the mud, the blood and the tears, Dick Enberg and Bob Trumpy turned in a solid, even effort. And I defy anyone short of a person in the business to discern any difference between the way ABC, CBS and NBC send along a game when they're concentrating strictly on what's going on the field.

The nation, indeed folks watching in 75 countries around the world, probably didn't take more than one breath while Dallas was getting a 50-yard return on the opening kick and barging down the field unmolested. The Cowboys getting only three points out of it was like the Bills staging a heroic goal-line stand in the waning moments.

When Buffalo not only tied it, but dominated play and went ahead on a touchdown drive that consumed an hour and covered three-quarters of a mile, we rejoiced unabashedly for two reasons:

First, there was great promise that this would be a game and, secondly, Trumpy was heard to utter to Enberg, "Dick, it's tough to get a comment in here, Buffalo (with its no-huddle offense) is running plays off so quickly."

That's OK, Trump, the thing is every play doesn't require extended comment, especially when you say things like, "That move is not coachable or teachable," and "The team that adjusts the best at halftime usually comes out the winner."

With the Bills up 13-6 at halftime and the annual funk of Thurman Thomas nowhere in sight, the network already had itself $$TC winner, assured not only by the football but the fluff surrounding it.

The features and the studio talk were such that two hours seemed to fly by. Of course, it being the 25th anniversary of the Jets' upset win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, this shocker was given great play, and it wasn't an all-hail-to-Joe Namath tribute.

In typical straight-from-the-lip fashion, John Unitas said, "I think if I had started the second half, we would have won the game."

But then-Coach Don Shula was slow to pull the trigger, a mistake he didn't make a few years later in Miami when Bob Griese was back at the controls after being injured, replacing (ironically) Earl Morrall.

The interviews with several Minnesota Vikings, who lost four Supes in the 1970s, were diverse ranging from sad to tackle Gary Larsen's comment, "You get up the next morning and read about all the troubles in the world and the tough times people are having and you think, 'So we lost a Super Bowl, so what?'"

Bob Costas got everything there was to be gotten out of Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones, the Cowboy braintrust, these two being expert politicians, but it was easy to see there is friction there.

Maybe Mike Ditka had the best comment when he said, "If I didn't know better, I'd say one of them was lying. But knowing what I know, I'd say they're both lying."

Ditka, although he improved steadily throughout the season, pales when he has to sit and talk the game and strategy at the same table as Joe Gibbs. Perhaps, as seems to happen with any coach who takes a job with NBC, Ditka will land a job somewhere and he'll be back home.

It's obvious Ditka coaches by instinct. Motivation, enthusiasm and intimidation are his strengths. Gibbs, on the other hand, seems to grasp situations almost instantly and has such command of his craft that he can come up with corrective action within seconds.

In the game within a game, the rush by advertisers to cough up $900,000 for a 30-second spot, the winners and losers were as clearly defined as those on the field. Pepsi had a huge day, its ads proving the "real thing." Yes, we'll remember the Alamo (and the four million-mile drive).

As for the shoe companies, Reebok and Nike, they arrived at a stalemate, one's stuff being weak and stupid while the other continues to push its signature guy as some sort of Godzilla-like destruction machine.

Usually, smoke, lights and a million amplifiers make for excitement in a stadium but doesn't transfer well onto a TV screen. But the "Rockin' Country Sunday" show at halftime was terrific in that lyrics and actions could be easily understood. The world is still waiting for a translation of that crotch-grabbing fiasco of last year.

Just as good and of Olympic Opening or Closing Ceremony quality was the National Anthem rendered by Natalie Cole and a choir. So the trappings were there and the game, too.

NBC did lay it on a little thick in the late going, insisting on invading the private misery of Thurman Thomas over and over. It seemed like the perfect spot for someone to utter, "The Bills should get rid of this guy," but then there would be no "drive for five" next year, would there?

At long last, Buffalo, we've learned to live with it. Have you?

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