ABC's Jackson bails out the bowls Veteran announcer adds to Big Game


ABC's telecast of the USF&G; Sugar Bowl last night opened with pyrotechnic guitars screaming over a series of greatest hits from the contestants, Miami and Alabama.

And then came the familiar drawl of Keith Jackson. Cue the slow-pickin', down-home blues.

The Sugar Bowl, college football's national championship game, was being played in that most modern of sports inventions, the domed stadium, but Jackson's presence provided a link to games past, when mud, not carpet dust, covered uniforms.

ABC's play-by-play man was the telecast's anchor. He's not one to fill with hyperbole, floating over the field like one of those ubiquitous New Year's Day blimps.

A viewer might like to see a little more personality in Jackson's partner, vanilla analyst Bob Griese, but let's not quibble with ABC's presentation last night.

ABC's cameras didn't miss much. We saw Miami linebacker Rohan Marley get flipped and then come right back for a second shot at a ball carrier. The network explained that seemingly inexplicable unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty that cost Alabama a likely touchdown in the first half -- an official called the Crimson Tide running back for spinning the ball on the field.

Neither Jackson nor Griese were making excuses for Miami's offense when the game failed to develop as might have been expected. Griese, in particular, was critical of poor decisions or throws by Hurricanes quarterback Gino Torretta.

As it turned out, the Sugar Bowl had an exciting lead-in, the best game of the day, the Rose Bowl -- also, as luck would have it, on ABC.

If the Rose Bowl wasn't "one for the ages," as Brent Musburger hopefully predicted it might become -- what an upset, a Musburger overstatement -- the 38-31 win by Michigan was entertaining.

Fortunately for viewers, Musburger's partner, Dick Vermeil, who went to the Joe Theismann School of Motormouth Broadcasting (you know, you've seen their ads on matchbook covers), didn't leave much room for the other guy in the booth, Bo Schembechler.

The former Michigan coach didn't have much to say even when calledupon. Most likely, he was stunned to see the Wolverines winning in the Rose Bowl.

Earlier yesterday, though, in fact, at only 11:21 a.m., less than a half-day into the new year, Theismann was giving out complicated directions.

Speaking of Tennessee's quarterback, Heath Shuler, Theismann said: "Write his name down and stick it in a drawer, because he's something special."

Come on, Joe, you're only doing the Hall of Fame Bowl. Seven bowls later, you think I'm going to remember which drawer I put Shuler's name in?

But, then, ESPN wasn't going to make this a smooth way to start the bowl day. On the sidelines, Dr. Jerry Punch was giving a free consultation on an injury -- something about a PCV valve, I think. Next thing you know, Punch was talking to Hulk Hogan. And it wasn't even noon.

Lots of stuff was happening down on the sidelines. At the Mobil Cotton Bowl, NBC's Hannah Storm was discoursing on Notre Dame's switch to bigger nubs on its cleats. At the IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl (one of the more charming bowl names, don't you think?), Beasley Reece was interviewing Kristi Yamaguchi, who managed to drop a couple of sponsors' names quicker than she can turn a double Axel.

At the Florida Citrus Bowl, ABC's Mark Jones was reporting about an Ohio State receiver who was so upset about being knocked out by an injury that the Buckeye tossed away his mouthpiece in disgust. And there was Jones, holding up the mouthpiece.

Ewww. Don't shake hands with Jones after the game, fellas.

Maybe the sidelines are just a sideshow, but all those other bowl games were something of an undercard (and the officiating crew fromthe WAC just has thrown a flag on this sentence -- 15 yards for a mixed metaphor) to last night's heavyweight title bout between Miami and Alabama.

Not that undercards can't have their moments, too:

* During halftime of the Hall of Fame Bowl, ESPN interviewed Tennessee president Joe Johnson and the football coach he fired this season, Johnny Majors. Johnson gave some vague reasons for dumping Majors. The coach wondered aloud just what Johnson was talking about.

* NBC and ABC reported the firing of USC coach Larry Smith.

* ABC's Rose Bowl pre-game show laid out the problems surrounding Washington's football program.

* During the IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl (I can't get that name out of my head), analyst Todd Christensen bemoaned the proliferation of those baggy, zebra-striped pants in team colors to play-by-play man Charlie Jones. Then Christensen stopped himself and said: "Look who I'm talking to, a guy with a Mickey Mouse tie."

Speaking of Mickey Mouse, there were these gems from behind the microphone:

* ABC's Tim Brant on Georgia's defense: "I'll tell you this: The 'Dog defense came to play today, too."

Brant probably made his fellow Maryland alums proud when he added later in the game, describing a big hit, "That's a slobber-knocker." He must have picked that one up in English Lit.

* CBS' Jim Nantz told the Blockbuster Bowl audience that Richie Anderson had chosen Penn State over USC because of the Nittany Lions' history of great tailbacks. Hmm, one supposes that Mike Garrett, O. J. Simpson and Charles White played for some other USC.

* ABC's Musburger captioned an aerial view from Pasadena by saying: "Like an old friend, the Rose Bowl is starting to fill up." Like one of those old friends you had over on New Year's Eve. You know, the one who fills up every year, but you keep inviting him anyway.

Finally, after a full day of watching bowl games, I have one question: Is there a player in America who doesn't dance, gyrate, strut or whip off his helmet after a big play?

Of course, if there were, he'd be so dull they'd make him play in a game named after a computer.

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