Game upstages network: NBC drops ball in final NFL telecast

Media Watch

January 26, 1998|By Milton Kent

For the first time in goodness knows how long, Super Bowl viewers got a game worth watching from start to finish. But in its final NFL telecast for the foreseeable future, NBC didn't give them a telecast to remember.

The Peacock network turned in a serviceable effort that would have been fine for Week 2 or 3 of the season. Alas, this was not only the end of the season, but also the end of the road for NBC, which lost the rights to the AFC two weeks ago for the next five or eight years.

It demanded a broadcast to be savored. Instead, like Denver safety Steve Atwater's near interception in the third quarter, the network seemed to just miss at opportunities that would have made an acceptable telecast something special.

For instance, when analyst Phil Simms noted early on that both quarterbacks -- Denver's John Elway and Green Bay's Brett Favre -- liked to use the hard count at the line rather than going with a silent snap, it seemed like a perfect cue for us to hear the two men actually calling signals, but it never came.

More significantly, just before the start of the second half, Jim Gray, who was working the Denver sideline, reported that running back Terrell Davis, who missed the second quarter after he was struck in the head, had not suffered a concussion, as had been reported, but rather a migraine headache.

Gray accurately reported that Davis, who had migraines through most of last season, thought the problem had been corrected by his wearing of braces.

Nice work by Gray, but it should have come much sooner. After all, NBC, the network of the AFC, made great hay of Davis' headaches last year. Did one or more of the hundreds of editorial employees involved with the production forget about the illness, raising it only when the Broncos did? How could that happen, particularly on a telecast of this magnitude?

Executive producer Tom Roy, who shared producer credits with Ed Feibischoff, did a nice job with replays, though they were occasionally slow. And the graphics packages, especially the animation after touchdowns, were instructive and interesting without being intrusive. But the segments with analyst Randy Cross, who was working with 3-D graphics, weren't useful.

Although the network still never broke down to install a continuous score and clock, even for a telecast like last night's, Roy and director John Gonzalez went with the next best option, with down and distance appearing on-screen before each play and the score and clock showing up less frequently.

In the booth, play-by-play man Dick Enberg, working his eighth and most likely last Super Bowl, seemed uncharacteristically flustered early, but got back on form as the game progressed and was on the money in the tense fourth quarter with great calls of the final Denver and Green Bay drives that struck the emotion of the moment without being treacly.

The stars of the day, though, were Simms and his analyst partner Paul Maguire, who seemed mute in the first quarter, but sprang to life by halftime. Maguire, a former punter, wasn't afraid to take names and call dumb behavior just that or worse, for instance, pointing out that Denver punter Tom Rouen nearly missed a fourth-quarter kick.

Said Maguire of Rouen: "They only pay you to do one thing. You ought to be able to do it." While Simms is supposedly and appropriately on his way to CBS as the No. 1 analyst, there has to be a place for Maguire at some network. He's far too good to lose.

It seemed odd that at the end of the pre-game show and at the top of the telecast, the network listed production credits, but everything made sense when NBC finally signed off around 10: 30 p.m. as it melded the end of the Super Bowl with the start of "Third Rock From the Sun."

It was a cheap, tasteless trick and any NBC sports employee who spent any length of time working on football over the years has the right to be furious with their "superiors" for pulling such a stunt. People like Enberg deserved infinitely better than that.

The 2 1/2 -hour pre-game show, which got an extra 10 minutes when the NBA game ran short, was blissfully devoid of superfluous appearances from NBC entertainment personnel.

Unfortunately, it was filled with all the infuriating touches of over-production that NBC has become known for broadcasting.

For instance, an otherwise interesting feature on legendary former Packers coach Vince Lombardi was almost ruined by overly weepy music from the movie "Titanic," which was completely incongruous on a piece about a man known for his absence of sentimentality.

And would someone please tell NBC's feature producers that the less material that is shot with filtered lenses and the less black and white footage in pieces, the better.

It seemed that every other pre-game show package had one or the other or both. Generally speaking, a good story tells itself and doesn't need gimmicks.

The less said about the halftime show, the better, except this: The music of Motown meant far too much to far too many people to be trivialized the way it was last night.

The best commercials of the night, from this vantage point, came in the pre-game from Miller Lite. Their four spots, particularly the one with the guy in the beaver suit terrorizing the pioneer family for their beer, never failed to amuse.

And, has the potato-chip sponsored pre-game show ended yet?

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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