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IN THE SPOTLIGHT

January 25, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

SUPER BOWL XXI, Sunday, 3 p.m. (2)(8)--How super is it?

So super that 127 million Americans--more than half the nation's population--watched the 1986 Super Bowl on NBC. That tops by a whopping 47 million the estimated audience for what NBC calls the most watched baseball telecast ever--the seventh game of last year's World Series.

What's more, 60 other nations will carry America's premiere football bonanza, including Britain, where United States-style football is now such a hot ticket that one channel there will broadcast the entire game live at 11 p.m. with Frank Gifford as commentator. The audience is expected to equal last year's 3.6 million.

The Super Bowl--matching the New York Giants and underdog Denver Broncos--will be telecast even in China, on a slight delay . . . May 24. Maybe the Chinese will call it the Gangs of Eleven.

Back in the U.S., CBS will start viewers off with the two-hour "Super Bowl Today" preview at 1 p.m. followed by the Big Telecast at 3.

CBS will have its first-stringers--tranquil Pat Summerall and thundering John Madden--in the booth for its first Super Bowl coverage in three years. Madden will be using the old CBS chalkboard, which allows him to scribble directly on the screen, thereby explaining simple plays in such a way that they become impossible to understand. Ah, the joys of technology.

Otherwise, CBS promises no special gadgetry or gimmickry. Certainly there will be nothing to approach the inventive potty break that NBC pioneered at the 1986 Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is a promotional plum that CBS hardly can afford to ignore, though. So there have been rumors of Dan Rather showing at half time with a newscast. Or maybe Mike Wallace will interview Ollie North under the goalposts.

Of course, the Super Bowl is itself a gimmick of sorts, a football game that commercial interests have transformed into the single greatest piece of hype in the history of sports. Never has an event of so little noncommercial importance been treated as if it were so important. One suspects that much of America watches it on TV merely out of habit or because it has become one of the most spectacular media events in history.

Super Bowl Hype XXI began in earnest last Sunday when CBS aired its first preview- preview show and cable's ESPN initiated its 22 hours of Super Bowl programming leading to today's game in Pasadena.

Not everyone loves the Super Bowl, though. In fact, the championship game may indirectly cause violence off the field, according to an article in Mother Jones magazine.

It's a day for beer, betting and perhaps beating.

Candace Rios, a counselor at a Chicago shelter for battered women, recalls in the article that an unusually large number of women complained of being beaten after last year's game, which was won by the Chicago Bears.

And says clinical psychologist Lenore Walker in Denver:

"Winning football is about power, and violence against women is the ultimate form of power in this society."

That's something to think about as the Giants and Broncos prepare to knock heads on Super Bowl Sunday.

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