Hype Dream Didn't Come True

ON THE AIR

January 30, 1995|By MILTON KENT

It had the potential to be the ultimate in horror shows.

Oh, not the San Francisco 49ers against the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Heck, everybody pretty much figured how that would turn out two weeks ago, when the teams won their conference titles.

What really had to put fear into the hearts and minds of right-thinking people everywhere was the concept of ABC getting its hands on the Super extravaganza.

Let's face it: The idea of putting such proven hypesters as Brent Musburger and Dan Dierdorf behind microphones and in front of cameras at the biggest spectacle this side of a certain Los Angeles County courtroom was scary.

Well, surprise, surprise, ABC turned in a creditable, and -- dare it be said -- restrained telecast, that was, apart from the game's outcome, actually worth watching for many of the six-plus hours, XTC from pre-game show to post-game locker room love-in.

The pairing of ABC and the NFL's biggest spectacle was, of course, strictly by luck of the rotation of the three broadcast networks that televise the league each week. In this case, the teaming was fortuitous, since each Monday night telecast takes on an air of a big party. And what's a bigger party than the Super Bowl, seen this year by an estimated 750 million people worldwide?

But to ABC's credit, especially once the game started, the network never lapsed into "Gosh, what a great time we're having here in Miami" pablum, but gave you the game fairly straight.

Dierdorf, Frank Gifford and Al Michaels, the Monday night broadcast trio, turned in a thankfully calm call of the game, jumping on story lines as appropriate, making the proper analyses, and, in general, staying away from trouble.

Michaels, a two-time Emmy winner, was, as always, solid with the play-by-play at his third Super Bowl. His call was measured and informational and, in the best tribute to someone in his role, Michaels never went out of his way to make himself noticed, saying little more than necessary to keep the viewer informed. His best line of the night came just after Gifford's wife, Kathie Lee, sang the national anthem, at which time Michaels said, "Your heart can start beating now, Frank. Are we ready to play some football?"

Gifford, who at times has lapsed into irrelevance, rebounded strongly last night with good early comments. For instance, he jumped on the San Diego secondary on the opening 49ers drive in which Jerry Rice sailed past two Chargers defenders for a touchdown -- less than 90 seconds into the contest.

"It's almost like they [the defenders] were trying to get his autograph. That is the worst thing that could have happened to the Chargers," said Gifford.

The revelation, however, was the toning down of Dierdorf, who has displayed a trait toward being overbearing, making the same point over and over again, while also adopting a "Gee whiz, this game is great" posture.

None of that happened last night as Dierdorf was downright affable. He poked gentle fun at the league for the smoke that accompanied the national anthem, and identified with the humiliated Chargers from his days as an offensive lineman with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Surprisingly, the network didn't debut any new graphics packages, one of the traditions of the Super Bowl telecaster. But, director Craig Janoff and producer Ken Wolfe were more than on top of the 27 cameras and 20 videotape machines used to chronicle the proceedings, coming up with whatever meaningful pictures there were in yet the latest NFC Super Bowl dominance.

The pre-game show with Musburger, a host who could make a church social take on Armageddon-esque proportions, had the biggest potential to send the hoopla meter off the scale.

And besides some pointless visits to the 49ers cheerleaders locker room, as well as the sets of the ABC sitcoms "Me and the Boys," and "Home Improvement", the pre-game show meandered to, but didn't quite stumble over, the border of the land of wretched excess.

Musburger, who was host to many such shows over at CBS, was remarkably controlled, referring to the audience as "folks" only five times, though the fact that he was alone throughout the program gave the show a sort of disjointed feeling.

Still, the two-hour program -- which carried a record three title sponsorships -- only proved that all you really need to set up a football game, even the Super Bowl, is 30 minutes.

With the exception of Lynn Swann's excellent profile of Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and the trenchant observations of New York Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason -- who will make an excellent replacement for Gifford in the Monday Night Football booth when both decide to call it a career -- there was very little of substance in the pre-game show.

Of course, the other important moments of note were the halftime show and the commercials.

The less said about the intermission program, produced by Disney, the better, except one can only hope that otherwise heralded singers Tony Bennett and Patti Labelle can take the checks from this performance and purchase something to wash away their undoubted embarrassment from being associated with such a travesty.

As for the ads, the clear champions were the three Pepsi spots that were laugh out loud winners, the Doritos commercials with former governors Ann Richards and Mario Cuomo, and the one-time only Nike drama in which Dennis Hopper thankfully culminated his series of whacked out former referee spots with a hilarious soliloquy on his love of football.

The losers were the losers in the Bud Bowl and McDonald's commercials. Maybe if you stick those five guys in the two spots on that one deserted island, the world would be a better place.

Or maybe not.

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