Shooting from the lip
Recently I was watching a clip on YouTube of CBS's coverage of Super Bowl X between the Steelers and Cowboys in 1976. With about four minutes left, announcer Pat Summerall informed viewers that broadcast partner Tom Brookshier was heading to the locker rooms for postgame interviews. My goodness, can you imagine?
Sunday, NBC had more than a dozen on-air personalities for the Super Bowl, including two who stood outside the team hotels and told us what time each team had breakfast. Yes, things have changed. But ultimately, the high-definition cameras, state-of-the-art graphics, cast of thousands and other bells and whistles don’t mean much if the game is a dud.
A bad broadcast can get in the way of a good game, but a great broadcast can’t spice up a boring game. NBC covers the NFL better than any network, but even it was limited by Sunday's game, which was close but not necessarily dramatic or memorable for much of the evening.
Here's a look at Sunday's Super Bowl coverage, as well as the rest of the weekend in televised sports ...
The last time the Super Bowl was in Tampa was 2009, which also was the last time before Sunday that NBC had the broadcast. That was the Steelers-Cardinals game, which was the last game of John Madden as a broadcaster and is generally considered the gold standard of Super Bowl broadcasts.
Sunday's broadcast couldn't match that day's, but don't blame the announcers. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are the best in the business, and the only reason Sunday's game couldn't compare to that Tampa Super Bowl was because the game wasn't as exciting. Michaels and Collinsworth did the best they could with a game that was dull for a good chunk of the night despite the close score. Give the two credit for not overhyping the action. Still, give me Michaels and Collinsworth any time. Sunday night proved again why they are so good. They educate the casual football fan while never insulting the diehard. The more I think about it, the more I'm starting to believe Michaels might be the greatest play-by-play announcer of all time.
Wow, was Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers good on NBC's Super Bowl pregame show. His performance guaranteed that if he wants, he can be a broadcaster in his post-playing days.
What's stunning is how much faith NBC put in him. Even though Rodgers has never been a broadcaster, NBC's plan all along was to give him significant air time. It didn't hurt that Bob Costas, the best sports host who has ever lived, was there to lead Rodgers throughout the show. Still, NBC took quite the gamble, seeing as how this was its biggest sports day of the year. It's not the type of stage on which you just throw people on the air. Yet that's what NBC did with Rodgers and Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward.
Ward was solid, too, but Rodgers was the breakout star of the day. He was smooth, calm and insightful, and he sounded like a broadcasting veteran. It was surprising how good he was.
Everyone -- every single person -- on NBC's Super Bowl pregame coverage brought his A game. But the star was Rodney Harrison. I've always thought the former defensive back was a good, not great, analyst. But Sunday he was great. His finest moment was talking about how devastated he was (and is) about losing the Super Bowl to the Giants while with the Patriots in 2008. In that game, Giants receiver David Tyree made a game-saving catch against Harrison, and Harrison made his comments Sunday while sitting next to Tyree. It was the best segment in any of the pregame shows. That wasn't Harrison’s only good work. His performance throughout the day made him the MVP of NBC's pregame coverage.
It should be pointed out, too, that Harrison said two weeks ago on the air that, in crunch time, he would trust Giants QB Eli Manning more right now than his former teammate, Pats QB Tom Brady. Boy, was he right on Sunday or what?
The other guys
By hosting the Super Bowl, NBC was the featured network Sunday, but ESPN and the NFL Network had good days as well. It's impressive the NFL Network was able to produce 8 1/2 hours of pregame coverage and never have the coverage get stale. Same goes for ESPN and its four hours.
ESPN's coverage was highlighted by Bill Parcells, Mike Ditka and Jon Gruden, Super Bowl-winning coaches who turned their experiences into first-rate analysis. Any time any of them was on camera, ESPN's broadcast soared. Meantime, the NFL Network's coverage picked up in taped features, such as a piece on Patriots owner Robert Kraft and a look at the family of Giants QB Eli Manning.
Most useless commentary
It was hard to listen to ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi on Sunday and take anything he said seriously knowing that two weeks ago, in the AFC Championship Game, the former Patriots linebacker was sitting in the box of Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Earlier this season he lit into Patriots receiver Chad Ochocinco about comments Ochocinco made praising quarterback Tom Brady. Bruschi can be a Patriots shill or an NFL analyst. He can't be both. Until he makes up his mind, ESPN needs to make up his mind for him.
On ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, it was interesting (and fun) to see Mike Ditka and former Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson admit that their primary thought as players on Super Bowl Sunday wasn't that they wanted to be the hero but they were scared to death of being the goat.
ESPN's Tom Jackson is an excellent broadcaster, and it's admirable that he was sticking up for a colleague. But his comments Sunday about broadcast partner Cris Carter not being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame felt inappropriate, especially because ESPN's Super Bowl pregame show was less than five minutes old. Jackson immediately hijacked one of ESPN's biggest shows of the year for selfish reasons.
He now wants the entire Hall of Fame process torn up because Carter and Bill Parcells, another ESPN analyst, did not get in Saturday. Maybe Jackson's complaints would have carried more weight had he also mentioned those who did not get in who also happen to not work for ESPN. What, no non-ESPN employees were given a raw deal?
Jackson said he has no idea how the voting should be fixed, nor did he suggest who should not have been elected to make room for his colleague. Jackson has a right to his opinion, but he should have known it would come off more as sour grapes than a legitimate complaint. And I also believe Carter is a Hall of Famer.
Here's a big part of the problem: For the past couple of years, ESPN’s commentators, on the air and in front of Carter, have made a big deal about Carter possibly getting into the Hall of Fame, going as far as to suggest he is a lock. When he hasn't been elected, it becomes so awkward that ESPN can't ignore it. Carter's letdown can be pinned on his partners as much as those who did not vote him into the Hall.
Saturday night's Kansas-Missouri game was the latest chapter in one of college basketball's best rivalries. And as ESPN's Dick Vitale pointed out, it might have been one of the last chapters in the rivalry as Missouri heads to the SEC. That possibility sent Vitale into a rant.
"I think it's a shame what has happened to college athletics,'' said Vitale, talking about all the conference realignment that might benefit football but could ultimately hurt basketball. Vitale also was right when he pointed out how strange it will be to see Syracuse and Pitt basketball in the ACC instead of the Big East, and how strange it will be to see Missouri compete in the SEC in any sport.
Three things that popped into my head
1. How fun would it be to see Florida and FSU play for a spot in the Final Four this March? The way these teams are playing, it could happen.
2. Looking at the past few seasons and doing a little rough math, it's my guess that the Lightning needs to win something close to 21 of its final 31 to make the playoffs. That seems like a tough task.
3. Speaking of the Lightning, nice work by analyst Chris Dingman, who pulled double duty over the weekend. He took his usual spot on the pregame, postgame and intermission desk on Sun Sports with Paul Kennedy and filled in admirably on the radio for Phil Esposito, whose daughter passed away last week.