Jones: Fox's Super Bowl game coverage earns an easy A grade

Tampa Bay Times
Published Feb. 6, 2017

Great game? Well, that likely depends on who you were rooting for Sunday. Great broadcast? You bet. The Super Bowl likely was viewed by more than 100 million people. That will make it the most-watched TV show of the year. And though we won't all agree on how Fox did with its broadcast, here's one opinion.

The game broadcast

Though there are many pieces to a broadcast, it all hinges on the broadcasters. When you have two of the best in the business, as Fox does with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, you're already ahead of the game.

Fox's game coverage was excellent, and it started with the near-flawless call by Buck and Aikman. Buck isn't universally loved, and I'm not sure why. He's professional, yet can be irreverent at times, and his calls always have just the right amount of emotion. He showed that Sunday by not making every play the biggest one in the history of the sport, raising his voice at the appropriate times.

Meantime, Aikman was super smooth, as always, and that's his strength. He called the game like it was just another football game, which ultimately is what it is. The Super Bowl is the biggest game of the year, and most viewers are not diehard football fans. But the one person in the world who must treat it like just another game is the color analyst, and that's what Aikman did, breaking the game down the way it's supposed to be broken down.

Fox's referee in the booth, Mike Pereira, deserves kudos for saying game officials messed up a call on what should have been a blocked extra point by the Patriots after the Falcons' second touchdown. Instead, Atlanta got to kick again and had a 14-0 lead instead of 13-0.

The production and direction were top-notch. All the story lines were covered, but the game drove the broadcast. There were just enough replays; they weren't overdone. The gadgets were great but not overused. The "Be the Player" replays that showed replays through the players' eyes was stunning technology.

Fox's grade for the game? An easy A.

Best and worst of the pregame

A four-hour pregame show seems like a nightmare to produce. You have to keep the show moving to keep viewers interested, but you can't bounce around too quickly because you have four hours to kill. Fox's pregame was a mixed bag.

The best part was the taped features and interviews. Standout moments included Erin Andrews' interview with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a feature on the cancer-stricken 4-year-old daughter of Texans defensive end Devon Still, Pam Oliver's piece on what football means in Texas and, best of all, Fox analyst Howie Long's feature on his son Chris, who plays for the Pats. The Long feature could have been too sappy or self-promotional, but it was handled with just the right touch to make it touching and inspirational.

Oddly, the worst part of the pregame show was when the usual Fox crew was on. When host Curt Menefee and analysts Long, Terry Bradshaw, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson were talking, the show felt stale and mailed in. It should have been the show's strongest part; it turned out to be the worst. It felt like the plan was, "Hey, fellas, we're going to turn on the cameras and you guys just talk about whatever."

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What else didn't work? Katie Nolan seemed wasted as a social media reporter. Johnson's interview with Pats coach Bill Belichick was more sizzle than steak. And how in the world do you interview Tom Brady and not ask about Deflategate? And for the interviewer, Bradshaw, to go out of his way to tell Brady that he didn't ask about Deflategate made it all the more inexcusable.

Oh, and the piece on the American flag, meant to tug at the heartstrings, came off as hackneyed.

Best pregame feature

By far, the best and most important piece Fox did was about all that has happened in the wake of Colin Kaepernick's protest of the national anthem. Announcer Joe Buck put it perfectly when he said, "This is indisputable: Like him or not, agree with him or not, Colin Kaepernick has done one thing. He has started a real conversation on this topic (of race relations in the country), something that is much needed, and for that, he gets a lot of credit."

Best interview

Many don't like mixing politics with Super Bowl Sunday and have always disagreed with the president being interviewed during the pregame show, whether that president is Barack Obama or Donald Trump. But with more than 100 million people from all over the world tuning in, devoting 10 minutes during a four-hour pregame show to a presidential interview seems reasonable. If you don't like it, there are, like, 300 other channels that are a click away.

You can decide how President Trump did in his interview Sunday, and that almost certainly depends on how you voted in November. But from a media standpoint, Fox's Bill O'Reilly did a respectable job with the interview. Everyone knows the political leanings of Fox, and O'Reilly in particular. But the talk-show host conducted a strong interview, asking Trump tough questions about Russia, Iran and whether he can back up some of the things he says with proof.

Mind you, only a portion of the interview was shown. The rest of it will be seen on O'Reilly's show this week. With a limited amount of time Sunday and many topics to get through, O'Reilly can't be faulted for not getting into extensive followup questions.

Strangest broadcaster

Seeing Cooper Manning, the nonfamous brother of Peyton and Eli, co-host on the red carpet was just … strange, wasn't it? But strangely mesmerizing. The guy was really good. The best moment was when he asked actor Mark Wahlberg, a Boston native and huge Patriots fan, "Are the Falcons going to do it today?"

Wahlberg just gave him the death stare. "Things are off to a good start here," Cooper cracked.

Best commercial

Terry Bradshaw having a stain on his shirt was a setup for a Tide ad. That was ingenious.

Worst commercial

Justin Bieber in the T-Mobile ad was fine, but Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski in the same ad was creepy. Put a shirt on, dude.

tom jones' two cents