Don't worry about missing anything by staying home today. At any given time, there will be two fewer players on duty in Pasadena than NBC cameramen.
NBC, which wasn't even sure there would be a Super Bowl this January, is covering the one that almost got away with 24 cameras--including those in the locker rooms, booth and blimp--11 tape-replay machines, two directors in separate control-room trucks and, above the din, two lyrical guys named Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen.
It's not just Redskins and Dolphins who want to end a strange season on a respectable note; the Peacock team is just as hopeful. Consequently, NBC will accord the Super Bowl its best shot--and charge $400,000 a shot for 30-second commercials, to boot. In the words of Ted Nathanson, NBC's coordinating producer and director of today's telecast: "Sure it's an asterisk season, but the Super Bowl's the Super Bowl." Everybody watches, he said.
Well, not everybody. That was last year, for the 49ers-Bengals matchup on CBS, when the Super Bowl recorded a record-breaking 49.1 rating, making it the most-watched live program in history.
A similar performance by NBC this year might be expecting a little much, considering how the strike encroached on playing time in general and a week's worth of NBC promotion/hype time in particular. Also, we should mention how certain ratings-watchers at NBC secretly rooted for a Super Bowl matchup of teams that shall remain nameless (i.e., America's Team and the Major-Market Jets.) For shame.
This year, NBC is playing it relatively close to the vest, keeping technological innovations to a minimum and hopes to a maximum.
The best viewers can hope for is an on-the-field performance at least equal to last year's season-ender, and an on-the-air performance equal to last week's Dolphins-Jets playoff, which Nathanson and Company treated as a dress rehearsal for Pasadena. In pictures, the game was as compelling as any telecast all season.
Nathanson covered the game the way it was played--painfully close to the ground. The coverage was distinguished by its tight shots, by the cutting of sideline pictures to match perfectly the comments of Enberg and Olsen, and by Nathanson's decisions to use close, ground-level, coverage of plays from scrimmage where such decisions were called for--namely, on crunching running plays.
"You must be kidding me," said Olsen after referees decided Mark Gastineau had not made a tide-turning fumble recovery, but instead picked up a dead ball. Nathanson cut to a shot of an incredulous Jets coach. "And that's just the look on Walt Michaels' face," said Enberg.
For the Super Bowl, NBC will use the two-truck system--one headed by Nathanson for game coverage, the other by George Finkel, who will guide half of those 11 replay units to keep an eye on individual players, mostly defenders, not singled out by Nathanson's crew. The replay crew will also work on putting together "packages" of replays to illustrate situations.
This was also the drill in Miami last week, although there were two-thirds as many replay machines in use. It would be nice--considering the couple of times we missed the snap because the replay crew was showing us, say, exactly how Wesley Walker was being shut down--if NBC would be two-thirds less enthusiastic with its "packages" today.
It seems NBC will be less enthusiastic this year with innovations--skipping breakthroughs of the past such as the Louma, the camera-on-a-stick that sneaks up from behind someone and gapes back at him, and a similar concept Nathanson planned to test in Miami--and nixed--involving a sideline camera mounted on a pole to overcome tall players and NFL rules that keep the cameras on the far side of the 30-yard lines. It was called the "baby boom."
NBC will make do with a device tested at the Bob Hope golf tournament in Palm Springs that electronically steadies the image sent from the Goodyear blimp, thus making possible zoom-ins for play coverage; with a telestrator, wherein Olsen will instruct with an electronic crayon a la John Madden and the CBS Chalkboard, and with a boom-mounted microphone designed for NBC and the Super Bowl by Hollywood Sound to pick up on-the-field sound and screen out the crowds.
Don't worry--the crowds will come in through other microphones. On cue, too.