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2 Networks Carried the First Super Bowl Game 21 Years Ago

January 31, 1988|RANDY MINKOFF | United Press International

CHICAGO — The telecast of the first Super Bowl 21 years ago was filled with intrigue, drama, chicanery and hijinks. Not between the participating teams -- Green Bay and Oakland -- but between the networks.

Both NBC and CBS televised what was then billed as the World Championship of Pro Football (Super Bowl would be two years away). The two networks both got a crack at televising the game from Los Angeles as part of the merger agreement between the NFL and the AFL.

NBC had been the primary carrier of the AFL and CBS the NFL, much the same way as NBC now primarily does AFC telecasts and CBS handles the NFC.

Charlie Jones, who had done play-by-play for NBC on early AFL games, was a sideline commentator for NBC for the first game in 1967.

"There was a great rivalry between the networks, even back then," Jones recalls. "We had joint production meetings each week. We wanted to figure out a way how we could really mess the other guy up going into the broadcast."

CBS provided a pool feed of the game with its cameras and its technicians. What viewers saw on both CBS and NBC was the exact same shot except when cameras went into the booth to give headshots of the announcers.

NBC went with Curt Gowdy and Paul Chrisman. CBS with Ray Scott. A fellow by the name of Frank Gifford, who will again be in the booth with ABC's team of Al Michaels and Dan Dierdorf, was working with CBS at the time.

"I don't remember it so much as pure hatred but it was extremely competitive," Gifford recalls. "It was unique in that both networks were doing the same game. It was more than just the AFL vs. NFL."

Jones says the talent involved in the booth was the key.

"So much was placed on the quality of the announcers and what we were going to say because the pictures were the same," Jones says. "We billed it that way."

NBC tried to throw CBS a curve by bringing it what they called the "X-Camera". What NBC was trying to do was circumvent the CBS shots by showing a "tighter" shot of the players' action on the field.

"CBS didn't know about it and it wasn't supposed to be there," Jones smiles. "Actually, it didn't work out so great, but it did cause a lot of confusion."

CBS had a coup of its own. Because Gifford was a good friend of Packers' Coach Vince Lombardi, who had been a line coach with the Giants, Gifford arranged to interview the coach before the start of the game.

"It was a big deal and we promoted it," Gifford says. "When it came time for me to go down to the field for the interview, Vince had decided he didn't want to do it any more. I literally droppd the microphone down on the ground and grabbed Vince. I literally put my arm around him during the entire interview so he wouldn't run away."

When NBC saw that Lombardi had given CBS an exlusive, it rushed to get a microphone over to record the coach's comments.

"If there is a film or tape of it available, and I doubt that there is, you'd see me, Lombardi, and this microphone sticking up out of nowhere," Gifford laughs.

NBC also tried to get back at their rivals at the halftime show. The two networks were free to do whatever production they wanted to do between halves of what would be a boring 35-10 victory by Green Bay.

"We had secretly lined up Bob Hope to be on our halftime show and I was to interview him," Jones says. "The trouble with that philosophy was that we didn't promo or give advance word to our stations that Hope would be on. What good was it to have an entertainer of that magnitude if no one knew that he would be on?"

Both networks were relatively unfamiliar with the opposition in those days. CBS announcers who worked on Sundays seldom got a chance to ever view an AFC game, likewise for NBC announcers who were concentrating on AFL assignments on Sundays.

"You've got to remember, this was before Monday Night Football, even before videotape was commonplace. There was tape but it was the two-inch variety and unless you had one of those big, bulky, extremely expensive machines in your home -- and none of us did or could afford them -- you didn't know about the other league," Jones recalls. "Much of the week leading up to the game was spent boning up on the other team. We knew about the Green Bay mystique but knew virtually nothing about the players involved."

The announcers didn't have an idea how big the first game would be at the time.

"The game didn't sell out, remember, and we just didn't know what we were getting involved with," Jones says.

"Did we know or think it would be as big as it wound up being? There was no way to tell. The game wasn't very good, but then again, few of them have been any good," Gifford notes.

Ironically, Jones will be one of the busiest announcers in the country on Super Bowl Sunday, even though he won't be doing any of the Super Bowl. Jones will have done a voice over for taped coverage of world figure skating championships and live coverage of the "Senior Skins" golf match for NBC.

"I guess I'm going to be on more than four hours. ABC also interviewed me for a segment they have on the first telecast," Jones says. "It's kinda like the first telecast. Actually, I should figure out a way to get on CBS that day."

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