When the Eagles and Raiders lined up for the opening kickoff at the appointed hour of 6 p.m. there was a strong feeling that Super Bowl XV was already into overtime.
NBC-TV, the appointed network, had been feeding the whole scene to viewers for three hours and 15 minutes before there was a liftoff of the first football. How the Raiders and Eagles got to New Orleans was reviewed, taped victory by taped victory. Bourbon Street was fully explored. (The average age of prostitutes was estimated by police at from 18 to 26, with seven arrested on camera.) Ticket scalping was shown on hidden cameras. And some poor devils confessed to Pete Axthelm that they were now in Gamblers Anonymous.
It was good stuff by NBC except for the overdose of pregame football history.And there was a sense that NBC does not read its own stuff, because on the same network at 1 p.m., in a one-hour reprise of the 1980 NFL season, they had on tape the same recognizable heroics shown again at 4 o'clock, when the official pregame show opened. An unpardonable overlap.
Too bad the network couldn't come up during the football game with a performance to compare with the good show that preceded it. This wasn't the fault of the Eagles and Raiders, who played their hearts out, no matter that it was a one-sided affair. For the three-plus hours of the contest, NBC-TV gets a generous B-minus.
The finger can be pointed directly at the two men in the booth, play-by-play man Dick Enberg and commentator Merlin Olsen, the naughty ones. A resentful squint could be directed, too, at some of those in the production department who might ask ABC how to televise a decently spectacular game in decently spectacular fashion.
The evident fact was that with the emotions of everybody else running high, neither Enberg nor Olsen were up for the game. There was a temptation early in the contest to shout at the screen, "Hey, fellows, this ain't the Cincinnati Bengals against the Jets in a meaningless nothing of a contest. This is the Super Bowl game. This is what the whole season is all about. Show some enthusiasm."
Both men were low-key to the point of being humdrum. They did not appear to make any technical mistakes, but when the big plays happened they lacked emphasis. Throughout the afternoon there were none of the exclamation points that a Super Bowl game calls for. There was no response to the hype of the whole afternoon.
The journalistic values seemed to be lost on both Enberg and Olsen. Not until the contest had ended was there any reference to the fact that this was a wild card team, the Raiders, the first one to win a Super Bowl game since the merger.
That ought to be fascinating.
The NBC production department, or whoever was in charge, also blew it in a couple of places. The viewers were left go guess how on earth the Raiders got the ball on their 16 in the first quarter when the Eagles had it in their territory when last seen. Seems that an Eagle punt had been preempted by a Coke commercial costing $550,000 per minute. Understandable is NBC's eagerness to pick up that kind of a score. But viewers deserved at least an explanation that the ball had been punted, or an apology.
And after the game, in the exciting locker room scenes, there was Dick Vermeil delivering some kind of passionate talk to his Eagles. But it was only for lip readers. No audio by NBC, which apparently had its lone microphone in the Raiders' clubhouse, awaiting the Pete Rozelle-Al Davis tryst. They got around to Vermeil a bit later, but that was a bit late and he was no longer emotional.
Olsen set a record for uttering the all time favorite bromide of color men. The Eagles were not controlling the line of scrimmage. It is very important to control the line of scrimmage.
Nor did NBC's men in the booth show an awareness that the Eagles were simply playing a bad, awful kind of ball game, which raised the question of how they happened to get to the Super Bowl. Never did the booth men say as much, perhaps out of concern for some feelings. And there was no strong emphasis on Ron Jaworski's witless passing into coverage, or the simple truth that Eagle hero Wilbert Montgomery was not much account yesterday.
Neither did they express any astonishment that the Raiders, with a two-touchdown lead in the final quarter, were not content to run the ball and eat up the clock, as most teams would. There they were, spitting in the eye of the Eagles by daring to throw passes with the clock in their favor, and damn the risk. This drew no comment from Enberg or Olsen.
On that big first-down play, a 26-yard pass by Plunkett in the second quarter, Enberg dutifully explained, "It was Herman Edwards on the tackle." He did not explain that the pass catcher, whose number was entirely obscured, was Cliff Branch.
There was comment by NBC's two ex-quarterbacks, John Brodie and Len Dawson, but not much that was scintillating or exceptionally informative. Brodie did point out that while Plunkett was getting throwing time, Jaworski was being pressured. True, but obvious.
There was never any suggestion by Enberg or Olsen that when the Raiders went in front, 21-3, early in the third quarter, this game could be over. There was almost a yearning for Howard Cosell, who would have pointed out things like that, in a shout.