Shooting from the lip
Looking back at the best and worst of televised sports over the weekend, which, of course, was dominated by Super Bowl XLII
Yes, the Super Bowl is a very big deal and it's an event more for everybody, not just football fans. And that's what it is, really: an event. But for real fans, it's a hard game to watch. Too much hype. Too many commercials. Too much time trying to build drama. Too many little films shot in black and white with hokey closeups and slow motion and the tug-at-your-heart music. Why manufacture drama instead of letting the championship between the two best teams in the league play out on its own?
Fox covers sporting events about as well as any network, and it didn't cover the game the way it can because of all the other stuff. And you almost can't blame it. Over the past decade or so, the Super Bowl has evolved into this larger-than-life spectacle. Covering it like a normal game is not expected or even wanted by the casual viewer, which makes up the bulk of people watching.
But Fox was at its best when there were long stretches where there were no timeouts or breaks, the times when it had no choice but to cover the game instead of pandering to all the hyperbole. In fact, only in the final five minutes, when there were few breaks and it was nothing but football, did the game and the coverage become compelling. Doesn't that prove that the football can speak for itself? The bottom line: True football fans have lost the Super Bowl. It isn't for us anymore. It hasn't been in years. It's for everyone else, the people who watch once a year. And, when you think about it, that's a shame.
We know ads drive the Super Bowl, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the game itself. For example, this line came out of announcer Joe Buck's mouth in the first quarter: "Two players down for the Patriots. We’ll take a break.''
Whaat? Which two players?!
We had to sit through four commercials then Buck talking about the city of Phoenix before we learned that key players Rodney Harrison and Randall Gay were banged up. Gay, in fact, missed a good bit of the first half.
Troy Aikman, right before the Giants kicked a field goal on the opening drive, said, "'To hold them to three points was a win for them (the Patriots).'' No, a win would've been holding the Giants to three-and-out. Allowing a 16-play drive that chewed up nearly 10 minutes and resulted in a 3-0 Giants lead is not a "win.''
Overall, however, Aikman and partner Joe Buck turned in their usual solid performance, showing why they rival NBC's Al Michaels and John Madden as the best NFL announcing crew. Aikman, in particular, treated it like another game — and that’s the right approach.
So the talk before the Super Bowl was how viewers were turned off by violence and sex in commercials in recent seasons and how this year we were going to have "kindler and gentler'' commercials.
Then, bam, right out of the box, the first two commercials were a Bud Light ad when a guy nearly burns down his girlfriend's apartment and an Audi ad that recreates the horse's head in the bed scene from The Godfather.
Leave it to Coke with two classy ads to win the day. The spot with two parade floats (Underdog and Stewie from Family Guy) chasing after a float of a Coke bottle kept me mesmerized then completely won me over when the Coke ended up in the hands of … Charlie Brown. What made the commercial special was the shot of a little girl watching it all, a little girl holding a football who looked just like Lucy. Brilliant. Then the Bill Frist/James Carville ad was another winner. Both ads showed you don't need violence or sex or the sense of humor of a 13-year-old to make a good commercial.
Other favorite commercials
Any ad that references The Godfather is a winner, such as the Audi commercial where a man wakes up with a part of a car and motor oil all over his bed. But you have to wonder how many people under the age of 25 actually got the spoof.
Other big winners were the Budweiser commercial with the horse training to Rocky music and the Justin Timberlake Pepsi commercial. It's always fun to see a megastar such as Timberlake not taking himself seriously — though, once again, the "kindler, gentler'' approach didn't ring true when Timberlake was mashed in the groin several times. But it does go to prove the age-old theory: Groin shots are funny.
Also a thumbs-up to the Pepsi Max ad with the head-bobbing reference to the old Saturday Night Live "What is Love?'' skit. And to the Vitamin Water spot with Shaq as a jockey — another with the aforementioned groin shot. And to the Chester Pitts bagboy-to-NFL-star commercial for NFL.com. And to Ben Roethlisberger singing Escape (The Pina Colada Song) to promote American Idol.
The very first ad -- the Bud Light spot with the guy breathing fire -- wasn't only not funny, it was stupid. Does anybody think it would be cool to breathe fire in the first place? Another Bud Light ad had a guy flying then getting sucked into a plane. Not funny, either. Oh, since we're talking about Bud Light, raise your hands if you think foreigners in exaggerated accents mangling the English language is funny. (My hand is not raised.) And did SalesGenie.com really use cartoons, including one with panda bears using an awful stereotypical Chinese accent?
Best idea turned bad
GoDaddy.com poked fun at itself and showed some ingenuity by teasing us with a commercial starring Danica Patrick unzipping her jacket that was rejected by the NFL then directing us their Web site to view the commercial in its entirety. If you went to the Web site, as I did, you saw a commercial that wasn't sexy (nope, Patrick doesn't unzip her jacket) and not all that funny, unless you think juvenile names for a female body part is funny.
Best pregame feature
Fox had four hours of pregame coverage. Four! It wasn't a pregame show as much as it was a survival test. You would've been better off watching NBC’s excellent hockey coverage of Sunday’s Rangers-Canadiens game for half that time. Anyway, if you saw Pam Oliver's interview with the new and nicer Giants coach Tom Coughlin, then you saw the best that a pretty good Fox pregame show had to offer.
Final super thought
When you're putting together your list of the greatest teams in NFL in the Super Bowl era, the 2007 Patriots cannot be higher than 43rd. The top 42 are reserved for teams that won Super Bowls.
The Super Bowl wasn't the only thing going on over the weekend. Here's a quick glance at some of the other events.
Biggest dropped ball
The key play in Saturday's Lightning loss was a rare closing-the-hand-on-the-puck penalty on defenseman Dan Boyle. The ensuing Florida power play tied the score then the Panthers won it with a goal a few minutes later. It would've been nice to see a replay of the rare call, yet Sun Sports never showed one. How can you not show a replay of the most critical moment of the game?
It seems silly that Congress is interested into checking out the Patriots' SpyGate mess, but Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) convinced me otherwise during Sunday’s Outside the Lines on ESPN. "We're not neglecting the stimulus package or Iraq or judicial confirmations here,'' Specter said. "But the integrity of the game is very important. These players set the role model for America.''
Oh, and one more thing: Why on earth would the NFL destroy the evidence from SpyGate?
Best hoops team
It's starting to look as if Memphis might not lose. The Tigers went 1-for-17 from 3-point land and missed 20 free throws and still beat UTEP on Saturday to run their record to 21-0. "If someone was going to catch Memphis, this might have been the game,'' ESPN's Jay Bilas said. "Now they might run the table the rest of the regular season and maybe to the Final Four.''