Predictably, CBS-TV's orgiastic coverage of Super Bowl 12, the National Football League's annual rite of wretched excess, turned out to be wretchedly excessive.
Including the labored pregame hoopla and postgame analyses typically bereft of anything resembling probing or incisive analysis, the long day's journey into prime time consumed five hours, 45 minutes.
It might not have seemed like the Longest Day if the game itself had been decent. But the Dallas Cowboys' 27-10 rout of the Denver Broncos, which just as easily could have been 45-10, was another Super Bore. Consequently, it proved far less tantalizing to experience than it had been to anticipate. Like most orgies, I'm told.
The most telling comment was a slip of the tonque by Pat Summerall with a little less than five minutes remaining, as the scoreboard flashed on the screen. "That," he said, "tells the whole story of Super Bowl 12."
Of course, it was not CBS' fault that the game was awful. In fact, the coverage from opening kickoff to final gun was excellent. It was primarily the pregame, halftime and postgame shows -- full, as they were, of vapid chitchat and frivolousness -- that made the entire presentation seem interminable.
Even those who wisely waited until the announced 6 p.m. starting time to tune in could not escape. The game actually did not begin until nearly 6:30. The team introductions were endless. Even the simple coin toss was cluttered. Joining officials and team representatives were Red Grange, the erstwhile Galloping Ghost, looking more ghastly than ghostly, and Miss America -- much more photogenic but just as unnecessary.
A man from NBC, which televises the Super Bowl on alternate years, said last week that this is the occasion for network sports types to demonstrate how they would have covered the Normandy Invasion live. "They had 28 cameras in New Orleans, trying to outdo what we did last year," the NBC fellow said, "and there's no way in the world any human director can handle that much hardware."
CBS' Tony Verna did his noble best, however. With the exception of a replay of Tony Dorsett's early fumble, which didn't catch it, the camerawork was flawless. Two replays of a Morton interception -- one isolated on the quarterback as he was hit by blitzing safety Charlie Waters, the other a panoramic shot as Aaron Kyle made the grab -- set a high standard which was maintained thereafter.
The futuristic "bird's-eye" shots from 100 feet up near the Superdome roof were striking, and sensibly used to show key plays as they might have been designed on a chalkboard. Closeups, like that of Upchurch in a prolonged tantrum of frustration, were held just long enough to be worth a million words. Visually, the presentation was exciting.
When Roger Staubach unexpectedly went to the dressing room for quick treatment of a damaged throwing hand, the camera followed him from the moment he summoned a doctor on the sidelines until he disappeared behind closed doors. It caught him re-emerging and jogging back to the Dallas bench five plays later, and that was characteristic of how well the director and his associates were on top of the game.
Periodic reports from Paul Hornung and Nick Buoniconti on the sidelines supplied no information or insights that couldn't just as easily have been relayed to the game commentators (Summerall and Tom Brookshier) in the booth, but as far as visual coverage of the game unfolding, CBS missed nothing.
Some people undoubtedly found the rapid succession of live action, replays, sideline comments, cheerleader and crowd shots, and LeRoy Neiman sketches blending into a mind-boggling blur, but I found most of it well done. Unfortunately, it was the pregame, halftime, and postgame lulls before the lull that magnified the tedium.
Brent Musburger, Phyllis George, and Cross, the "NFL Today" on-air triumvirate which CBS lauds for their "good chemistry," carry the notion of "Happy News dialogue to ludicrous extremes. Phyllis is lovely but has nothing to say, Irv is a shameless shill, and Brent has somehow misplaced the journalistic instincts that were his biggest asset.
They would have done well to listen to Walter Cronkite's pregame, off-the-cuff remark that the Super Bowl is "a great American event . . . a chance for America to come together once a year for an event that has no significance whatsoever." Instead they weaved a pretentious thread through the whole teleorgy, and at times seemed as artificial as staged crowd shots. ("Honey shots" and glimpses of crowd going - on are fine, but when blatantly contrived -- the Bronco cheerleader bleating "hi, mom" for the camera, for example -- they become annoying.)
Nor could two fine music pieces -- a halftime retrospective of Super Bowls past to Barbara Streisand's "The Way We Were" and a beautifully done montage of game clips as Frank Sinatra sang "Here's to the Winners" --tentioned but clumsy tribute to the late Hubert Humphrey, or Cross' insistance against all evidence and logic that we had seen a terrific football game.
In fact, one is tempted to sentence Dishonest Irv to an off-season of watching replays of this game. But not even the ultimate apologist for the NFL, CBS, and the party line deserves that. The punishment, like the crime, would be wretched excess.