Like secondary, Fox slow getting back on TD pass; SUPER BOW XXXIII

The tale is often told in sports of a superior opponent who plays down to the level of inferior competition, sort of like what happened yesterday in the Maryland-Wake Forest basketball game.

But while Fox had no competition for coverage of last night's Super Bowl, the network seemed to play down to the rather bland nature of the game itself.


There was either too much, as in graphics, replays and all-around noise, or too little, as in reporting, time to breathe or even time between commercials -- as we saw in the second quarter when, coming out of a break, John Elway was nearly into his throwing motion, on the verge of delivering an 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith, the game's turning point.

That wasn't the only time it happened, but it was clearly the most egregious and play-by-play man Pat Summerall issued a partial apology, noting that the Atlanta defense also had been late.


Producer Robert Stenner and director Sandy Grossman hit viewers with a serious case of sensory overload, with multiple replays on seemingly meaningless short gains or graphics on what appeared to be every play.

After Atlanta's Tim Dwight ran back a fourth-quarter kickoff for a touchdown, we were watching two superfluous reaction shots of a Falcons coach and some other schmo, while there was a fight going on following the extra-point try.

The "virtual" introductions at the beginning of the game, as the marquee rose out of the field with the players on tape and smiling and moving as opposed to on some dull still picture, was a neat touch, however.

Then there's the sound. If you thought there were too many whooses and sweeping noises accompanying replays during the World Series, last night's game was the equivalent of sitting in a video arcade with three-quarters of the machines at full volume.

And granting that sponsors were paying $1.6 million for a 30-second commercial break, it just felt as though our friends at Fox were determined to wring every last commercial out of the telecast, come you know what or high water.

(By the way, way to go NFL, getting that Broncos merchandise spot on the air before the life had barely passed out of the Falcons season. This league has all the subtlety of a bad oompah band and none of the charm.)

Summerall, in his 15th Super Bowl telecast, seemed to be a bit off his usual steady game, stumbling over names early on, and coming in a tad late on identifying players on receptions and interceptions, but he got better as the game went along.

The evening's bright spot was John Madden, Summerall's partner, who once again showed evidence why he is the best analyst in television, as he dissected beautifully with more than enough wit to keep the telecast moving.


For instance, early in the second quarter, as the Falcons decided to go for a first down on a fourth-and-short, Madden said he was going to "first guess" that Atlanta should have gone for the field goal with the usually dependable Morten Andersen, and that the play would or should have been a play-action pass. Instead, Jamal Anderson was stopped for a loss, killing the Falcons' momentum.

Later in the quarter, as "Ally McBeal" star Calista Flockhart's visage was on screen, talking to a co-star, Madden cracked that she was telling her friend that the Falcons needed to open up their offense more and get quarterback Chris Chandler throwing. Sure enough, the next play was a pass, and Summerall noted how smart Flockhart seemed to be.

Madden later analogized Denver's failure to put the Falcons away early to "an old bologna sandwich" that kept hanging around and hanging around and eventually would "start to look good."

Said Summerall: "How many old bologna sandwiches did you eat?"

Said Madden: "A lot of them, when I was hungry."

As for the pre-game show, it's time for a critic's true confession: I didn't see most of the first three hours of the seven-hour extravaganza. Know why? I have a life, and it doesn't include watching three hours of advertiser-driven fluff for a football game or any other sporting event, for that matter.


It was bad enough that the main pre-game show was a two- or 2 1/2-hour program stretched to four hours. The first 90 minutes were largely useless, but things picked up around 3: 30, when Cris Collinsworth sat down with his former Cincinnati teammate, running back Stanley Wilson, to discuss Wilson's bouts with cocaine, including the one right before Super Bowl XXIII. It was solid television, as Collinsworth, the best of Fox's pre-game analysts, communicated first his anger and amazement with Wilson, then his empathy.

The tasteless moments of the day were brief, but offensive nonetheless.

During the intro to Keith Olbermann's rather juvenile behind-the-scenes show, viewers heard a sound clip from Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Later, in the opening montage to the main pre-game program, King was heard uttering the actual phrase.

How could someone be so insensitive to think that to use material from something so important to millions of people would be appropriate on such tripe as a Super Bowl preview show?

And, finally, for the record, I don't yahoo, I never have yahooed and the chances of my ever yahooing after all of those commercials yesterday are next to none.

Pub Date: 2/01/99