By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
10:33 AM EST, January 21, 2013
It almost seems wrong to complain about the telecast of a game that ended as happily as Sunday’s AFC championship victory by the Baltimore Ravens 28-13 over the New England Patriots.
But CBS Sports once again failed to deliver the goods on a Ravens game. And just because I’m euphoric over the Ravens’ victory doesn’t mean I should soft pedal how much I hated the telecast.
Last week, CBS Sports brass boasted about the Super-Bowl cameras and technology they were going to have on hand for the game. It sounded promising, and they did get some memorable images. But they mainly used all those cameras and technology for corporate promotion of the NFL and CBS – not to enrich the viewing experience.
Typical was the camera shot after a New England touchdown that put New England up by three points in the first half. Instead of giving viewers a look at the players on the field or a sense of what was happening in the stands, the shot we were given was of the New England owner’s box where Les Moonves, the chairman of CBS, was sitting. Yeah, geez, that’s what I want to see, how the fat cats feel. Or was it a matter of let’s suck up to the bosses?
Even the Nationwide Skycam shots didn’t give us anything more than a cursory, passing look at the crowd. The real point seemed to be the commercial mention of Nationwide Insurance. I had no sense of what it felt like in that stadium Sunday, and that’s an outrageous failure.
And, oh my God, how many promotions for CBS can you cram into a telecast already filled with a surfeit of legitimate ads, before a great sporting event is cheapened to the point of becoming a video billboard?
Really, CBS, do you think showing those "Hawaii Five-O" promos over and over is going to do anything but make viewers want to tune you out the second the championship trophy was awarded?
And worse, most of the in-house promotions are worded to mislead or are flat out false. "NCIS" is not "TV’s Number One show" as the promos said last night.
"NBC Sunday Night Football" is TV’s Number One show, which would also make the statements about how CBS has the most watched NFL coverage questionable or misleading as well.
But here’s what really made me angry about the CBS telecast Sunday. From the pre-game show through the first half, everyone connected with the telecast was certain New England was going to win and didn’t even try to hide it.
And hand in glove with that was the storyline this week of Tom-Brady-is-Perfect instead of Peyton-Manning-is-God. I guess it’s anybody but Joe Flacco -- who again outgunned the “God” quarterback and won the game with his play in the second half.
In the pre-game show, Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe and Dan Marino all picked New England. It was impossible to be sure what Bill Cowher was trying to say, but he didn’t pick Baltimore.
During the first half, the team in the booth of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms said how “happy” the Ravens have to be only trailing by three points.
Hey, Jim and Phil, here’s a shocking thought: Maybe the Ravens weren’t all that happy to be trailing period. Maybe they didn’t think Brady was perfect, and just staying close to his greatness was not some kind of victory.
Perhaps most indicative of the Tom-Brady-is-Perfect storyline CBS stayed wedded to far too long came just before the end of the first half when Brady slid feet first to avoid a hit and kicked his leg straight up so that his cleats hit Ed Reed in the leg as the Ravens veteran safety tried to avoid landing on Brady.
The quarterback probably should have been penalized, and while the CBS cameras did show Harbaugh screaming, "He kicked him," Simms saw it from a very different point of view.
"You have to be careful," Simms said. "That’s when you’ll get hurt extending your leg that way."
How about the player who might get injured by your dirty act?
OK, let me say some nice things about CBS, because outside of the commercial junkifaction of the telecast, the conviction by everyone at CBS that New England would win and the worship of Brady, some good things were done.
Overall, Simms provided energized, focused and generally sound analysis throughout the game. In fact, he carried the telecast, giving it whatever verbal life it had.
Jim Nantz's somnambulant play by play was peppered with trivia like the fact that someone on the Patriots team had a father who was drafted the same year as Simms. Think about that. This from a supposed play-by-play announcer. I can't remember ever hearing Nantz as lifeless as he was in the fourth quarter. I don't know if he was tired or disappointed in the way the game was going.
One other thing about Simms. Even though he bought into the Tom-Brady-is-Perfect storyline as big as anyone Sunday, he has been one of Flacco’s biggest supporters all season long. In a teleconference last week, he sang Flacco’s praises. He just couldn’t quite see him as a peer of Brady Sunday.
I loved some of the pre-game images – like those of Harbaugh standing with his arm around his daughter and Ray Lewis in tears during the National Anthem. Even though it is pretty much a no-brainer, I still give CBS credit for sticking a camera on Lewis and giving us him on the sideline as victory was sealed and on his knees on the field after the game ended.
And, unlike the regular season Ravens telecast, CBS was all over the injuries with two sideline reporters and cameras showing the players going to the locker room and either returning to the field or sitting or standing on the sideline after their return. Every injury was updated with information from the team. Again, I don’t know why we couldn’t have that during the season.
But the best thing anyone at CBS Sports did Sunday was Shannon Sharpe denouncing Bill Belicheck, the NFL’s best dressed gnome, for refusing to grant a post-game interview. Sharpe called Belicheck’s action “unacceptable” and tore into him for it in no uncertain terms for being a "poor loser... every time he loses." You almost want to forgive Sharpe for picking the Patriots to win.
Working in the sports division of a network with a culture that sucks up to the boss in the owner’s box, what Sharpe did took some actual courage. And I applaud him for it. I hope his bosses will applaud him as well – and maybe even learn something from him about thinking of the viewers first.
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