Not so light, but a good Monday night game


That was a pretty good "Monday Night Football" game, huh?

During much of last night's Super Bowl telecast on ABC, such was the thought that kept running through my head. This game felt like another of ABC's "Monday Night" telecasts.

There was the "MNF" announcing crew of Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford. There was the telling camera work. There was illustrative use of the telestrator. There was even Hank Williams Jr. singing to open the game.

ABC covered the game little differently from a normal National Football League telecast. Whether that was because of the sobering circumstances in the Persian Gulf or because the game was compelling enough to carry a broadcast, ABC's coverage worked quite well.

One thing was missing, however: the normal, Monday night frivolity in the booth. And that, too, was as it should be.

As for how it shouldn't be, consider that flyover of fighter jets after the national anthem. While Whitney Houston was delivering a stirring "Star-Spangled Banner" on ABC, CBS was showing footage of similar jets taking off in the Persian Gulf. It was a jarring juxtaposition, one that ABC had nothing to do with -- and certainly one that few people observed -- but it pointed up the wrongheadedness of the flyover in Tampa, Fla.

Thankfully, little martial terminology creeped into the commentary, even though the coverage got off to a bad start. During a season-highlight montage, a coach was heard telling his huddled players they should be ready to "die out on that field if that's what it takes." An alert editor would have blue-penciled that quote long before air time.

But the slips were few. In the second quarter, Gifford talked about New York Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson having Buffalo Bills receiver Andre Reed "right in his sights," and Dierdorf said, "You can see it's not a mobile Jim Kelly that's going to kill you." In the post-game show, Brent Musburger told the Giants they were "especially lethal."

Four instances in nearly 6 hours, 15 minutes of Super Bowl programming, though, isn't so bad.

And the story of ABC's telecast wasn't the commentary, it was the pictures.

The Bills' no-huddle offense sometimes forced ABC to squeeze in its replays, but we weren't cheated by the camera work. Did the network get faked out even once?

In the second quarter, an overhead shot demonstrated why a confused Giants defense had to call a timeout -- the New York defenders were scrambling just to get on the right side of the ball.

Dierdorf took telestrator in hand to scribble out a Bills defensive-line stunt that sent Leon Seals in alone on Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler. As Buffalo's Bruce Smith broke inside, seemingly half the offensive line went with him, leaving no one to block Seals.

The best shots, however, came on the Bills' safety in the second quarter. The cameras caught Hostetler tripping over running back Ottis Anderson's feet, then showed two heads-up plays -- Smith trying to rip the ball from Hostetler's hand as the quarterback stumbled and Hostetler tucking the ball away, possibly saving five points.

Bills place-kicker Scott Norwood wasn't the only one to misfire:

* Sure, he works for ABC now, but Dick Vermeil shouldn't have been allowed to gloss over his Super Bowl experience in the pre-game show. Many reports had Vermeil and his Philadelphia Eagles so tight in 1981 that you couldn't have pulled a needle from between his teeth with a tractor.

* I wondered what M.C. Hammer had to do with the Super Bowl, and his pre-game appearance answered my question. Hammer is on the "American Music Awards" tonight, televised by guess which network?

* No wonder the Giants failed on a fourth-and-two in the third quarter, a big ABC graphic was clogging the hole.

* How many times did we hear someone -- principally Gifford -- talk about the "athletic" moves by the Bills' Smith? As opposed to what, the sedentary moves most defensive linemen make?

* I realize the Bills' no-huddle cut back on the explanation time, but didn't we need to hear and see more about the Giants' tactic of using just two down linemen on defense? And how about more on the way New York neutralized the Bills' pass rush?

But you take the bad with the good:

* Jack Whitaker -- he's nearly too literate for television -- summarizing the emotions leading up to the game: "It's been a split-screen week."

* Dierdorf characterizing the two offenses: "The Bills act like they're going to be cheated," and "The Giants are running out the clock from the beginning of the game."

* Michaels recalling that Hostetler had picked Mark Ingram as his favorite receiver because "he works harder for me," after Ingram had done just that by slipping through several Bills for a first down.

For the record, ABC broke for five updates on the Persian Gulf, including one lasting nearly 15 minutes at halftime. And, for what it's worth, there were six "Davis Rules" promos and seven "Bud Bowl" commercials.

Unfortunately, the worst loss of perspective came from the winning coach, Bill Parcells, who told Musburger after the game: realized a long time ago that God's playing in some of these games. He was on our side today."

L For some people, apparently, it's never a split-screen week.

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