Halftime deficits are tough on viewers

January 09, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

The TV Repairman:

On any given day, to reverse an old NFL saying, any team can be totally destroyed, embarrassed, creamed, mortified, diced, disgraced, annihilated, humiliated and rendered completely inept. Which doesn't necessarily mean said team is without merit, except when we're talking about the playoffs.

Hey, didn't the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sneak up on a few teams this season?

"This is sad [or words to that effect]," gasped NBC studio commentator Mike Ditka, "Cleveland's not a mentally tough team." It was halftime Saturday and the Brownies trailed the Steelers, 24-3, and appeared hardly interested. The Dawg Pound goes on the road.

The Brownout wasn't even the worst half-blowout, the late Saturday game seeing the 49ers atop the Bears, 30-3, at intermission. Good thing Chicago was treated to a field goal early by Frisco. Yesterday's mid-scores were the Cowboys over the Packers, 28-9, and the Dolphins over the Chargers, 21-6.

As anyone who spends even a bit of time staring at football games knows, big early leads have a way of robbing games of excitement, the team ahead reeling in its offense and looking to get things over with while the trailer is forced into taking chances, which usually backfire horrendously.

Verification, of sorts, was readily available in the Miami-San Diego game, the Chargers scurrying back from the abyss, despite ruinous calls against them, to win, 22-21, as the Dolphs stumbled around, packed equipment and thought about the assignment in Pittsburgh this weekend. Additionally, a non-competitive first half has been known to deplete an audience markedly, a top-level no-no in the television business.

Fact is, the swan song game partially atoned for the carnage that preceded it on a weekend when the NFL could have used some interesting contests in the conference semifinals if only to get folks away from the general consensus that there is no Super Bowl this year in lieu of the Cowboys-49ers scrum for the NFC crown Sunday.

The reason for this is, of course, the AFC hasn't done too well in the Supe of late, losing 10 straight by an average point differential of 22.4 points. The NFC has won 12 of the last 13 late January matchups but, prior to that, the AFC had won eight of nine and 11 of 13.

All this suggests that realignment might not be a bad idea, or that the playoffs should be seeded according to the ability of the teams, not by conference.

Faced with the monumental task of trying to make the games appear interesting in the face of outcomes almost etched in stone, TV's stadium analysts were on their game, particularly Paul Maguire, who was working the Pitt game. His play-by-play partner Marv Albert coined the phrase "Czar of the Telestrator," referring to his former NBA hoops cohort Mike Fratello, but it fits Maguire perfectly these days.

As opposed to John Madden, who seems to be on automatic pilot full time, the NBC analyst gave good, crisp explanations for why the Steelers were ripping the Browns to shreds. And, when necessary, he lowered the boom on people when it was deserved.

"You have to wonder what goes through Vinny Testaverde's mind [when he's standing in the end zone] and he has several chances to get rid of the ball but doesn't," Maguire yelped as Cleveland's quarterback very calmly took a safety.

As opposed to some analysts who gloss over the blunders of individuals and deal in generalities during replays, Maguire zeroes in and exposes the guilty parties if they're shoddy efforts warrant it. Conversely, Madden rarely sees the down side of anything, preferring to stick with his favorites as constantly turning in yeoman work on every play.

The Cowboys, from the moment they moved ahead, 14-0, following a 94-yard aerial strike in the first period, appeared home free, so Big John spent the afternoon touting "his guy," Nate Newton, one of those "big, ol' offensive linemen" Madden favors so profusely.

Newton did nothing out of the ordinary all afternoon, contrary to what the commentary suggested. And, since it is standard operating procedure for all Fox announcers to hype upcoming shows on the network, Pat Summerall spent the entire game touting plays for the All-Madden Team, a show that will be seen on Fox Jan. 22.

Although Matt Millen didn't get off to a very good start, informing us, "The Chicago football Bears have the best team defense and team offense I've seen all season," he recovered nicely and told viewers exactly what was on his mind. A bad call by an official, and there seemed to be about a hundred of them in the four games, met with Matt's "boy, is that [offsetting penalties for a flagrant late hit on Frisco QB Steve Young in the end zone] baloney."

Dick Enberg, working under the handicap of having Bob Trumpy sitting next to him and making either obvious or nonsensical pronouncements, added much to the excitement of Miami's missed field-goal attempt at the final gun with his unique ability to be calm and informative as his voice shoots up an octave in excitement.

NBC easily won the studio show race, Joe Gibbs and Ditka lamenting the fact instant replay is gone and begging for its return, a suggestion worth its weight in gold considering the incomprehensible calls made by the officiating-by-committee zebras since Labor Day weekend. Although Jimmy Johnson (Fox) made lots of points when he theorized that the only place badly-beaten Green Bay defensive back Terrell Buckley "could be hidden is on the bench."

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