For the annual New Year's Day college bowlarama, CBS looked the prettiest, NBC worked the hardest and, surprise! ABC gets most of the credit.
Of five bowl games spanning nearly 12 hours Saturday, ABC, as expected, had the hands-down winner: the knock-down national championship between No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, and covered it with good pictures, smart isolation replays and two guys in the booth whose balanced attack rivaled the one constructed by Joe Paterno.
And never was it clearer how well Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles work together for ABC's college football machine than on one first-down play in the third quarter when Broyles had to do the play-by-play himself, Jackson being "momentarily disposed," as Broyles put it.
Coach Frank, who is hard on vowels and soft on the NCAA but can talk tactics better than most, was a fast failure in the play-by-play category. No presence, no rhythm. Yechh. Luckily, Jackson returned before ball-carrier Curt Warner got up off the ground, and the world was all right again.
Jackson is a regular trombone. "Lastinger throws for his life," he blatted at one point, skirting an octave, "into the endzoooooooOOOOOOONE-NOOO!" And though he tends toward cliche--"Plenty o' leg on that one"--he also knows enough to shut up on occasion.
Not counting those of us who sprained several fingers on our digital remote-control units, NBC had by far the longest day. The network, which doesn't cover regular-season games, unlike CBS and 21-year veteran ABC, started things in Arizona with the Fiesta Bowl, opposite CBS' Cotton Bowl, then hit its stride with A team Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen at the Rose Bowl, alone on the tube at suppertime.
NBC closed the day against ABC in prime time with the Orange Bowl. Wisely, it hyped the halftime show instead of the importance of the contest.
It may be because it logged the most hours on the air, but it seemed NBC came away with the largest share of periphery shots: the Goodyear blimp, low angles of cheerleaders, low angles of cheerleaders with the Goodyear blimp in the background, homemade banners incorporating the requisite peacock.
Staffing three college games Saturday and a full NFL schedule yesterday may also explain why NBC's pictures were not up to par, particularly for the Fiesta coverage, when cameramen were fooled by Oklahoma's option more often than the Sun Devils.
NBC also tried something new and silly called "Instant Preplays." Sounds fascinating. In fact, Don Criqui even called it an "innovation" during the Orange Bowl. But instant preplays are just isolated-camera replays the announcers tell you about before they're carried out.
Seems dumb to tell the viewers you're going to isolate a camera on a Michigan defensive back and then be obligated to play it back, whether the guy is a part of the play or not. Why not do what ABC's Chuck Howard and Andy Sidaris did in the Sugar Bowl--pick the isos privately, and wisely, and show them if they mean something.
We did get to see some excellent secondary and interior-line passion not normally visible, but except during the Rose Bowl--smooth-talking Enberg and Olsen could probably make a turkey shoot sound like decent football--NBC's "innovation" proved cumbersome and unnecessary.
NBC's use of a high, wide replay shot to analyze pass coverage, however, is an innovation everybody should use, and frequently. Occasional faces are fine, be they pretty or perspiring, but faces hardly ever tell us who's getting beat in the secondary and why. Knew those blimps were good for something.
The best-paced, most dramatic pictures of the day were punched up by director Bob Fishman and producer Ric LaCivita for CBS' Cotton Bowl, particularly those that documented the slowly sagging shoulders of Pitt Coach Foge Fazio, and some memorable posttackle zoom-ins on SMU tailback Eric Dickerson, quarterback Lance McIlhenny and Pitt's Joe McCall.
Unfortunately, CBS' booth, populated by veteran Lindsey Nelson and Pat Haden, is not yet up to par with either its pictures or ABC's announcing. Haden should do in front of a microphone what Nelson should do in the morning when he decides what to wear: slow down.
And Nelson might have helped Fazio figure out the SMU option, had Fazio been connected to CBS' audio. It took a while to decode, but after sufficient repetition, it was easy.
It goes like this:
If Nelson shouts "McIlhenny!" once, it means the quarterback has passed up the pitchout. A second "McIlhenny!" means he's set to pass. A third, more pronounced "McIlhenny!" means nobody's open--he's going to run for it.
Alas, Pittsburgh had no way of knowing this, and besides, that pair of three-Dickerson! plays in the fourth quarter killed them.