Fox Sports president David Hill was relaying an observation from "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening that two things are likely to happen when the next millennium rolls around: There will be a "Y3K" problem and the Super Bowl pre-game show will start a month before the game.
This year's effort is slightly shorter, coming in Sunday at a less-than-svelte seven hours. That's not a misprint, and hey, let's be grateful it's only that long.
Pre-game producer Scott Ackerson, otherwise known as the unluckiest man in America, said he could use another 30 minutes Sunday. And Hill said network officials originally thought about starting the festivities at 9 a.m., for a running time of an incomprehensible nine hours, with exercise and cooking segments mixed in.
Thankfully, saner heads prevailed, but no one at Fox is apologizing for a pre-game show that will likely run twice as long as the actual game.
"I'd rather worry about trying to cram it all in than trying to fill it," said Ackerson yesterday. "Anyone who might watch the entire seven-hour broadcast, and I think that will just be my mom and dad, won't have wasted their time. They'll get a really good sense of why the Super Bowl has become the event that it's become."
Said Hill: "There is nothing hyperbolic about what we're doing. We're just showing what's going on. We're mirroring the public's interest," said Hill.
To paraphrase a far more estimable media critic, the fault for Sunday's pre-game show lies not with the stars, meaning James Brown, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Cris Collinsworth, but with ourselves.
How so? If we, the American public, didn't wrap so much of our cultural identity into one January football game, the advertisers wouldn't clamor to peddle their wares on a telecast that has more demand for commercial time than spots available, thus creating the "need" for longer and longer pre-game shows.
And you can hardly fault Fox, which laid out $550 million for NFL rights this year, for trying to take advantage of the situation.
The network had just three prime-time programs in the Top 40 two weeks ago, and only one, "Ally McBeal," in the Top 20. Most of its shows perform in the 5-8 rating range, so if Sunday's pre-game deluge can deliver in that area or higher, the network makes out like bandits.
Of course, the Fox people are quick to note, and quite accurately we might add, that many American newspapers run special Super Bowl sections to try to get a share of Sunday's booty.
What we've come to know as "Fox NFL Sunday" actually won't start until 2 p.m. Before that, the cast and other Fox announcers will reminisce about their Super Bowl experiences at 11 a.m., followed by a special edition of "Hardcore Football," the X's and O's show normally seen on Fox Sports Net.
Then, Keith Olbermann will make his first broadcast appearance, narrating a backstage look at how Fox will present the grand spectacular just ahead of John Madden's "All-Madden, All-Millennium Team" in which the former Oakland Raiders coach picks the greatest players of all time, electronically eavesdrops on coaching legend Vince Lombardi, then watches as his "All-Millennium" team plays his "All-Madden" team. Confused? Join the club.
Then the actual "pre-game show" begins, and throughout the four hours, the producers will purport to bring viewers inside the Super Bowl they don't get at home, including players' diary segments and a chat between Collinsworth and former Cincinnati teammate Stanley Wilson, whose cocaine overdose just before Super Bowl XXIII cost him a chance to play in the big game as well as his career.
Later, Bradshaw will talk with former Dallas linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, the man who, before the Steelers and Cowboys met in Super XIII, said Bradshaw was so stupid that he couldn't spell "cat" if you spotted him the "C" and the "T".
Before we reach kickoff, rappers Ice Cube and Mack 10 will perform, as well as the Black Crowes rock group. And finally, to place a punctuation of sorts on the day, the rock fossil group Kiss will perform "Rock 'N Roll All Night."
Chances are, if you're still awake by that point, you'll feel as if you partied every day.
The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore during the past week (R-Rating; S-Share):
Event Day Ch. R/S
Figure skating Fri. 11 12.1/19
Figure skating Sat. 11 9.7/16
Md.-Clemson Sun. 54 6.7/13
NBA Inside Stuff Sat. 11 4.1/11
Bob Hope Classic Sat. 2 3.0/6
Gymnastics Sun. 11 3.0/6
All-Madden Team Sun. 45 2.9/6
Va.-N. Carolina Thu. 54 2.9/4
NBA Special Sun. 11 2.6/5
NHL pre-game Sun. 45 2.5/5
Pub Date: 1/28/99