Insecurity marred ABC's '91 Super Bowl telecast

ON THE AIR

January 27, 1995|By MILTON KENT

The last time ABC Sports had possession of the Super Bowl telecast, there were real worries about possible bombs bursting in air, beyond those in the lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The 1991 game, played in Tampa, Fla., was staged during the Persian Gulf War, and security issues were, to say the least, heightened.

"I don't think it got to us until we had private meetings with the people in charge of security and they were going over how we should react if we were taken," said Frank Gifford during a recent teleconference with TV sports writers.

Gifford continued: "I looked at Dan [Dierdorf] and Al [Michaels]. The thought was we might be the focal point of any terrorist attack. I'm thinking, 'My God, what are we getting into? This is a football game. What is going on in this world?' "

The notion that a terrorist group or enemy nation might attack a sporting event seems laughable on its face, but then the Super Bowl, with its two weeks of buildup, mammoth television ratings and unofficial holiday atmosphere, is no mere sporting event.

"I was there for the first Super Bowl [in Los Angeles in 1967], and it wasn't even sold out," said Gifford, who will join Michaels and Dierdorf in the ABC booth in Miami Sunday (6 p.m., Ch. 2). "It's taken on a life of its own. It's easy to say that it's overhyped, especially for you guys [writers], but other people look forward to it, with parties and celebrations."

Indeed, nine of the 20 most-watched programs in television history are Super Bowls, and no game since the first game, whose telecasts went out on both CBS and NBC, has drawn below a 36 rating or lower than a 60 share of the audience.

"This is the biggest television event of the year," said Jack O'Hara, ABC Sports executive producer. "The Super Bowl is a mid-60s in share and low-40s in ratings performer. The teams, to a certain extent, aren't going to affect the telecast."

The members of the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers, this year's combatants, will no doubt be thrilled to hear that their presence isn't required Sunday, but O'Hara may have a point.

For instance, without looking it up or calling your know-it-all pal, Stinky, can you, off the top of your head, come up with the participants of, say, the Super Bowl played on Jan. 20, 1985, and who won said contest? Answer to follow.

At any rate, as the 49ers and Chargers take the Joe Robbie Stadium field for the 6:18 p.m. start, ABC's technical crew, led by "Monday Night Football" producer Ken Wolfe and director Craig Janoff, will chronicle every nook and cranny, with enough equipment to start an electronics store chain.

In all, the alphabet network will bring 27 cameras, 20 videotape machines, 50 microphones, 75 monitors, 20 miles of camera cable and more than 200 actual living, breathing people to work on beaming the game into your living room, which, believe it or not, is only slightly more hardware and personnel than ABC trots out to a Monday night game.

"Craig and I approach each Monday night as a mini-Super Bowl. In general, we take what we've done each Monday night and try to better it a little bit. The Super Bowl is tailor-made for our production," said Wolfe, who is producing his third Super Bowl.

As for the game, virtually everyone expects a San Francisco blowout, and Michaels, Gifford and Dierdorf are no exception.

"If they play a game of this magnitude 10 times, San Francisco would win eight or nine times," said Dierdorf. "The only way [the Chargers] can win is if they have some help from San Francisco. Will San Francisco do something uncharacteristic? Can they capitalize? We'll see. Is it impossible for San Diego to win? Obviously not, but it will be tough."

Said Michaels: "[The 49ers] could be the best team of all. They're playing at such a high level that some San Francisco officials, although they aren't saying it now, if they blow San Diego out, they might say this might be the best of the five teams to get to the Super Bowl."

By the way, the second of those 49ers teams knocked off the Miami Dolphins, 38-16, in the above mentioned Super Bowl, ABC's first Super telecast.

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