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SUPER BOWL XXI : TELEVISION COMMENTARY : This Game Did Not Even Have Chance to Live Up to Its Billing

January 26, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

First, the confession.

I went out of my way to avoid reading any of the 4,386 advance stories on Super Bowl XXI. I did hear a radio sportscaster mercilessly grill a Giant linebacker (he asked him if he were having a good time in Los Angeles), but watched none of the 862 TV interviews of Giant and Bronco coaches and players and their valets, chauffeurs, relatives and entourages.

Hence, I approached this game serenely and blissfully, in complete ignorance, unaware of what John Elway had for dinner Saturday night or if Harry Carson had a bigger inseam than Joe Morris or whether Steve Sewell had dandruff or what Phil Simms thought about the gross national product.

It was dicey.

But I was determined to enjoy Sunday's game without succumbing to the carnival come-ons associated with this annual big, bloated blimp of a spectacle. The game is inevitably preceded by a week of NFL smooching and a media feeding frenzy, as everyone joins in advertising a Super Bowl that is rarely even semi-super.

Can you dig it? An American audience of 130 million was expected to tune in Sunday's game, which also was beamed internationally. It's to be telecast even in Red China May 24, reportedly right after the Spring executions.

How could the Super Bowl ever live up to its billing. World War III couldn't live up to this level of hype.

I looked in on CBS at 9:15 a.m. Sunday and there was Irv Cross earnestly reporting what the Giants had for breakfast. And there was Will McDonough reporting on the "mood" in the Broncos locker room. The mood?

"And if you're wondering about the length of the grass here today . . . " Brent Musburger began from the Rose Bowl. No I wasn't. I've got enough problems with my own grass.

Later on, during the CBS Sports show preceding the CBS Sports show that preceded the game, Musburger revealed that several of the Broncos "have their game faces on." As opposed to their false noses and wax lips.

And so it went.

It had to happen, didn't it? After a promising start, the Giants/Broncos game diminished to a low hum, a sort of football Muzak that was nice to have on in the background while you read a book. All right, I didn't read a book, but I wanted to.

CBS provided a nice, solid telecast, both technically and in the announcing booth. Pat Summerall and John Madden obviously had their game faces on.

Summerall is sort of a low hum himself, someone who would get excited maybe if he saw a 96-yard field goal by a legless kicker whose eyes were closed. Or maybe not.

Madden? You don't need to hear about him from me. He is everywhere and Everyman, the omnipresent TV huckster and blue collar sportscaster who is bigger than big. Even after you turn off the set, his voice still echoes in the room. Despite being overexposed, though, he remains enormously likable in limited doses and, as a bonus, is also a heck of smart and perceptive football man.

And a funny one.

Madden on Elway: "That's not an arm. That's a gun. You oughta have a permit to carry that thing." On a pass interference call: "That should be more than a flag. That should be an arrest." On CBS stereocasting a football game: "How does spit sound in stereo?"

How does Zzzzzzz sound in stereo?

You have to hand it to CBS, too, for going light on the self promotion. If ABC were doing this game, Al Michaels and Frank Gifford would be sitting in the booth with Joan Collins. Aside from the usual promos for entertainment series and deployment of Mariette Hartley of "The Morning Program" in Sunday's pregame show, CBS played it pretty straight.

On the negative side, though, here's one vote for chucking Madden's chalkboard. Please! Pretty please with sugar on it!

Madden's explanation of the chalkboard during the pregame show was a real hoot. It went something like this: We do this thing there and that here and we do that like this and then we take this here and do that and then these guys do this so I can push this up.

In other words, he scribbles on the screen.

Enough already. At one point during the fourth quarter, Madden sounded almost giddy while using the chalkboard to analyze the Giants Gatorade buckets. "Now that bucket there. . . . "

CBS also could not control its lust for the sidelines. I counted 97 shots of the sidelines. CBS required 53 shots to prove, without a doubt, that Giants Coach Bill Parcells rarely changes expressions.

Then, too, CBS used too many instant replays (when the replays far outnumber the original plays, you know you've gone too far), and it took Summerall and Madden almost three quarters to note that neither team had made a turnover to that point. Also, no one pointed out the Broncos' curious decision to kick a field goal instead of going for a touchdown while trailing 33-10 in the fourth quarter.

Summerall and Madden are forgiven for, by that time in the game, they probably had their game faces on.

Of course, the day's highlights came during the CBS pregame show. For starters, Cross located Bronco Vance Johnson's sister in the stadium.

"Did you see Vance this morning?" Cross asked.

"Yes," she replied.

"What did he say?" Cross asked.

I really wanted to hear what Johnson said. So boy was I mad when I fell asleep before his sister could answer.

An even bigger moment was coming, though. Yes . . . yes, it was time for the viewing audience to try to "Beat the Greek." Was this a challenge or what? Beating Jimmy the Greek at predicting the winner of a football game? That's about like beating a whale in a 100-yard dash. Or beating out Quasimodo for best posture.

For 50 cents, viewers could dial a special number and agree or disagree with the Greek's forecast that the Giants would win 24-20. As it turned out, he got the winner right, even if he was a bit off on the score. He was on a roll. A string of one.

Meanwhile, the grass continued to grow.

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