By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
8:25 AM EST, February 3, 2014
Given the relentless hype, we have come to expect game coverage of each Super Bowl to be better than the last.
Fox did better Sunday in covering the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos than CBS did last year with the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, but that's not saying much. CBS set the bar about as low as you can go last year when the lights went out in New Orleans.
The play-by-play from Joe Buck was below average, while the production values and analysis by Troy Aikman were average at best. And I am reviewing only the game here -- not the pregame show, the halftime production or anything else -- just the game.
I usually like Buck, but if he wasn't shilling for the NFL on Sunday, he was going big-game pretentious, acting as though he knew stuff when he didn't have a clue.
The shill started right out of the box when he told viewers, "You can call it a quote-unquote corporate crowd," and then proceeded to say how impressed he was with the enthusiasm and noise of the crowd.
Well, if it really were so loud and enthusiastic and Fox's production crew were doing its job, he wouldn't have to convince us it was one of the most intense crowds he'd ever heard, would he?
Pretentious and shilling? After soprano Renee Fleming sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," Buck announced: "Never heard it sung better. American soprano Renee Fleming."
I admire Fleming, but I've heard it sung better, really. And I'll bet Buck has been to a lot more games than I have. Ever heard Ray Charles do it?
In terms of the production values, you tell me how the director missed a late hit and penalty by Seattle's Ricardo Lockette on a kickoff with 8:30 left in the first quarter. This is the Super Bowl, after all, and the TV director has more cameras than you can count trained on that field. There's no excuse for that.
The worst aspect of the production was that the replay never seemed in sync with Aikman's analysis. Usually when the director, the replay editors and the analysts are cooking, you see things that you missed during the live action instantly displayed and explained by the broadcast team.
There was almost none of that Sunday. And I don't think it was Aikman's fault. He wasn't great Sunday, but he was fast, clear and authoritative in the calls he did make.
With 11:59 left in the half, Buck asked him what he thought the dominant storyline for the first half at that point had been.
"The Seattle defense is just playing at a faster clip," he said. "It's just playing at a much faster level."
No attitude, no hot-dogging, just clear-eyed analysis. That's the best part of Aikman -- the part I like so much.
And he was absolutely right at that point: Seattle's defense was "flying around the ball," while every one of the Broncos, from quarterback Peyton Manning to his offensive linemen, appeared to be moving at half-speed by comparison.
On the other hand, Aikman did almost nothing Sunday night to take viewers inside the game.
In the first half, he failed to explain why the Seahawks were able to put so much pressure on Manning. Being faster at several positions certainly helps, but there had to be more to it than that, especially in terms of interior line play.
And what about Manning? If Manning is half as good as the consensus says he is, why did he look so bad in the first half? Even when he had time, his passes lacked zip -- and he seemed absolutely missing in action down the field. Aikman offered no explanation or analysis of Manning's failings in the first half -- and since he was a pretty good quarterback, that should have been the easiest part of his job in the booth.
And only once in the entire first half did I hear Aikman say anything specific about what the Seattle defense was doing beyond exercising its superior speed. That one time involved the Seahawks playing with two safeties deep near the end of the half.
As for Denver's defense, it wasn't until late in the game that Aikman started to call the team out for its poor tackling.
Fox did make some effort to raise its game for the Super Bowl with such features as a live microphone on Seahawks cornerback Earl Thomas. But it didn't take viewers one bit inside the game either. You heard Thomas compliment a teammate by calling him a "beast" for a hit he put on one of the Broncos, but big deal. This is as imaginative as you can get as a producer given all the new digital technology at your disposal -- putting a microphone on a player?
Maybe Aikman, Buck and the massive Fox production apparatus were as stunned by the Seahawks' early dominance as the Broncos seemed to be.
It's not easy making a lopsided game into a compelling telecast. I get that.
But I expected more -- lots more -- from a Super Bowl broadcast team than I saw Sunday on Fox.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun