The TV Repairman:
However, almost as sparkling as the play on the field on Conference Championship Sunday was the work of the guys calling the games in the booth and those ordering up the pictures a viewing audience of about 50 million enjoyed.
Of course, CBS and NBC had a lot to work with, what with the two best teams in the NFL, Dallas and San Francisco, colliding and Miami performing so dreadfully in one of the biggest games of the year.
How bad were the Dolphins while being pummeled by the Bills, 29-10?
Analyst Bob Trumpy covered it perfectly when he said: "Never in a pro game do you see an offensive game plan built around screen pass plays. One reason is they're so tough to sell. But Buffalo must have run a half-dozen of them and they all worked."
In other words, what Trumpy was saying is that the Bills had it easy. To emphasize the point, NBC trained one of its cameras on a bare-chested South Florida tubby sound asleep in the stands with a full quarter left in the game. Truly this was a picture worth a thousand words (or a quick ad for Jenny Craig).
Throughout, both Trumpy and partner Dick Enberg maintained enthusiasm and injected interesting points to ponder, no easy trick when one can feel millions are praying for a quick end to the slaughter so the second game could start.
Together with the quirky information and off-the-wall insight that is Madden's forte, the two were on the plays that needed explaining or discussion quicker than Emmitt Smith could make a cut at the line of scrimmage and explode into the Frisco secondary.
The play that started out looking as if it would provide the turning point of the contest occurred with the 49ers apparently stopping the Cowboys at their 10-yard line on a third-down play. The home team was called for defensive holding, though, Dallas got a touchdown for a 10-7 lead, instead of a field goal and a 7-6 deficit, and the play certainly qualified as a controversial call.
Madden, with benefit of replay, was quick to point out Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman had faked a running play to Smith, so the subsequent tackle by 49ers lineman Pierce Holt maybe shouldn't be considered holding since "defensive linemen can't see, they don't know it's a fake, they're just tackling."
It was a huge call (at the time) and it had a definite impact. But, as Madden later reminded, "The 49ers are probably going to make reference to that play, but when you're in a championship game, you have to get over those calls."
Frisco did, climbing into a 10-10 tie at halftime before nearly getting buried under two length-of-the-field drives by the Cowboys, consuming just about the third quarter, for what looked like a comfortable 24-10 advantage.
While servicing the plays that needed it -- this one and a play in which a 49ers lineman jumped offside and almost everyone came to a dead stop as a Dallas player rushed in for a touchdown -- the usual Madden-Summerall banter was a delight.
A quick shot of a woman in the crowd who appeared to be trying to smoke something by jamming it up her nose (remember, this was San Francisco), drew this from Pat: "I'm not sure what that is or if we want to comment on it."
When 49ers quarterback Steve Young had his helmet knocked off, Madden commented, "Young is one of those guys who doesn't comb his hair, so it's not as effective when you knock his helmet off [since he's not hung up on his appearance]."
Other Madden gems, which in no way proved a distraction but served to increase audience enjoyment, included a shot of the Goodyear blimp and John, the ardent landlubber, saying, "One thing I like about blimps is they never got faster over the last 68 years."
And, in discussion of a muddy field, he said: "I used to judge a guy's speed by how far he kicked mud up his back. [Receiver] Cliff Branch used to have it up to his shoulder pads; [Hall of Fame tackle Art] Shell use to have mud to the top of his socks. He'd put his foot down and there it would stay."
Also aiding and abetting the CBS telecast, which included just enough replays to answer any questions, was a series of graphics that were timely and meaty (for a change).
For instance, when it became apparent Dallas was headed for the Super Bowl in two weeks, up on the screen flashed the tidbit, "No team has ever made it to the Super Bowl with the league's leading rusher." Emmitt Smith of the Cowboys led the NFL this season.
And this one: "Only one NFC [title-winning] team has trailed after three periods and won." Translation: So long, 49ers.
Besides Trumpy's expert analysis, delivered in an unusually pleasing manner (for him), NBC's strength covering the Bills and Dolphins was in its ample use of isolated shots to show what was happening in the line. Buffalo held a huge advantage, whether or not it had the ball in this department, and it showed up on the scoreboard.
Comparing the overall quality of play in the two games, one looked at the NFC matchup and gasped, "Just look at these guys, wow!"
Although the Bills looked sharp, they'll start out a touchdown underdog against Dallas. Still, more and more they're taking on the appearance of their NFC brethren -- strong defense with good running and the ability to control the tempo of the game -- so they could surprise in their third straight Super Bowl appearance.
NBC has the assignment, so you haven't seen the last of Todd Christensen's weird haircut and vocabulary yet.