Up to the moment

The Baltimore Sun

Shortly before the Super Bowl, The Wall Street Journal published a piece detailing some mistakes in fact committed by John Madden this season. The implication was clear: NBC's veteran commentator had lost a few steps.

If that had been the case, however, Madden must have gotten them back before last night's telecast, because he was definitely on his game in what was an NBC presentation up to the standards of what turned out to be a wonderfully entertaining Super Bowl.

The same can always be said of his play-by-play partner, Al Michaels. No matter how many years the two of them have been at this, you don't ever detect any loss of enthusiasm.

Madden's observations were never more spot on than just before the Arizona Cardinals scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. As the ball was about to be snapped, he noted how the Pittsburgh Steelers' safeties were 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. Kurt Warner obviously saw the same thing, as the Arizona quarterback zipped a pass underneath in the middle that Larry Fitzgerald took in for the score.

Madden didn't mince any words, either, when a replay caught Steelers defensive star James Harrison smacking around one of the Cardinals on a punt. "He ought to be thrown out for that," Madden said.

Did you want a lesson on offensive line technique? When Arizona's Mike Gandy was called for holding on Harrison, Madden said: "When your feet get out of position as a tackle, you use your hands."

Or how about an explanation on why Warner kept stumbling when pulling away from center? Madden's words perfectly matched the footage NBC presented.

And speaking of pictures, perhaps the best ones were the angles on Harrison's interception return for a touchdown right before halftime. The cameras caught the linebacker faking a blitz and then backing up into pass coverage to pick off Warner.

The overhead angles NBC used throughout provided terrific views as well. It would be great to see that become a standard on football games.

Some other observations from your reporter who was embedded on the couch:

* If there was a major gap in the coverage, it was the lack of anything illustrating how the Steelers took Fitzgerald out of the game for three quarters. It would have been illuminating to see isolation replays on the Cardinals' big-play receiver running routes when he wasn't getting the ball.

* Madden praised Warner for a perfect pass on Arizona's second-quarter touchdown - which it certainly was - but that ignored a fine catch by tight end Ben Patrick.

* Michaels mentioned how Steelers center Justin Hartwig "escorted" Ben Roethlisberger into an apparent touchdown in the first quarter - it was overturned on review - but couldn't he or Madden have been more forceful in saying Hartwig was pulling his quarterback toward the goal line? That is illegal, right?

* You don't expect any glitches during the most important telecast of the year, but the pre-game had a few. During the Road to the Super Bowl segment that opened the programming, commercial breaks twice interrupted the show and then the return came with it still in progress. And three times during the pre-game, NBC briefly lost audio, most notably during Matt Lauer's interview with President Barack Obama.

* And what was the biggest "arrrgghh" moment of the whole telecast? Channel 11's Maryland Lottery time. Smack in the middle of Bruce Springsteen's "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the Boss and the E Street Band were shrunk to share the screen with the evening lottery drawing.

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