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Proud as a Peacock at the Super End of a Television Era

January 26, 1998|LARRY STEWART

SAN DIEGO — What a closing night!

NBC said goodbye to the NFL in style. Great game, great telecast, that was Super Bowl XXXII.

It couldn't have been scripted better, unless you're a Green Bay Packer fan. The underdog hangs on to win, the star quarterback gets the ring that has eluded him, the hometown kid gets the MVP and NBC goes out with a bang--and with class.

NBC wisely didn't get in the way of the big story. It got the headlines last week when it lost NFL's American Football Conference package to CBS. On this day, the headlines belonged to John Elway, Terrell Davis and the Denver Broncos.

All Dick Enberg did at the end of the telecast was say, "For NBC Sports, Super Bowl XXXII is the end of our 32 years of covering AFL-NFL action.

"NBC has been there from the start, from Joe Namath all the way to John Elway, from Curt Gowdy to those of us who had the honor of working this game. And on behalf of the crew, all the men and women who brought you sights and sounds of NFL football here on NBC since 1960, we want to thank those of you who have watched."

Enberg congratulated the Broncos and that was it.

No maudlin speeches. Just a nice clean break.

Then came the only bad part of the day for NBC, and that was the entertainment division's fault. In an ill-advised and foolish promo, actor John Lithgow made a fool of himself as a lead-in to "3rd Rock From the Sun," which followed the Super Bowl telecast.

Otherwise, it was a glorious night for NBC, and there were only smiles around the network complex after the game.

"You know, we were like the Bronco offensive line," commentator Paul Maguire said after the telecast. "We wanted to have a better telecast than anyone thought we could do, and we had the best telecast we've ever had.

"Of course it was nice of Green Bay and Denver to help us out."

Enberg said he never gave much thought to how he was going to sign off.

"I was too absorbed in the game to think about anything else," he said.

"This really was a dream game. An announcer can't ask for a better event than when the underdog establishes itself early and then hangs on to win."

When the Packers' Eugene Robinson intercepted an Elway pass in the end zone, preventing the Broncos from delivering a knockout punch and taking a 31-17 lead, Enberg began to think, "Oh no, here we go again."

A big run by the Packers could have killed NBC's mood. The crew, to a man, was rooting for a thriller at least, an AFC upset at best.

"There were some pep talks Saturday," Tom Roy, the executive producer, said. "We were pretty fired up for this one. We got what we wanted, and we're feeling pretty good.

"Maybe there will be some emotion at the party tonight, but we're just basking in this right now."

Phil Simms was as sharp in the booth calling a Bronco victory as he had been on the field carving up Denver in Super Bowl XXI, the one the New York Giants won, 39-20, behind Simms' 22-of-25 passing.

Simms pointed out the key of Sunday's game: the Bronco offensive line wearing down the heavier Packer defensive line. The Bronco offensive line got Simms' MVP vote.

Simms is moving on to become CBS' lead NFL commentator next season. But he'll miss his friends at NBC.

"You know what I'm going to miss most?" he said as he sat next to Maguire in a production trailer. "I'm going to miss slapping Paul on the back of his head.

"You see this flat spot on the back of his head," he said, pointing to Maguire's bald spot and demonstrating a slap on it. "It's perfect for slapping."

The three announcers were soon off to an NBC party. Donna Summer was going to be there to sing "Last Dance."

And surely there would be talk about the fate of NBC's football announcers.

"It's been a stressful couple of weeks," Enberg said.

Sunday offered a nice reprieve, to say the least. There was hardly any mention of NBC's losing the NFL.

There was a hint that this was NBC's swan song about one hour into the pregame show when Greg Gumbel introduced Enberg by noting this was his eighth Super as the play-by-play announcer.

"Apparently, eight is enough," Enberg said.

But NBC's plight wasn't mentioned again until Enberg signed off.

NBC's day started off with as good a pregame show as could be expected for one that lasted 2 1/2 hours. The features were well done and pertinent and the analysis was crisp.

It had a good mix of emotion, insight, humor and good, solid reporting.

NBC, the peacock network, did itself proud, from start to finish.

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