If you've been cruising these last few weeks along CBS' "Road to Albuquerque"--a highway of fast lanes and frequent billboards that ends in Monday's prime-time NCAA tournament final--perhaps you noticed one small traffic fatality.
The name: Joe Restraint.
Nature of injury: initially flattened by abrupt landings of Brent Musburger's cliche-powered spaceship set. Driven to coma during fawning postgame interviews, notably Dick Stockton's and Billy Packer's softshoe routine with Virginia Coach Terry Holland after the Cavaliers eliminated Boston College.
Ultimate cause of death: Frank Glieber.
"The biggest upset in NCAA history!" shouted play-by-play veteran Glieber after Georgia surprised defending champion North Carolina last weekend and gained final four status in its first tournament appearance ever. An upset, yes. A big upset, certainly. But the biggest ever? This year? When anybody can beat anybody, except maybe Houston?
Let me make something clear.
Enthusiasm is good. We've seen a lot of terrific basketball these last three weeks--and recent ratings reflect that, as tournament play has consistently outdrawn even spring football, God's own sport. But too much enthusiasm--more specifically, ardor substituted on the fly for analysis--detracts from the performance.
Somehow, CBS commentators just don't indulge as palatably in the game of gush as, say, the dean of sideline pyrotechnics, NBC's Al McGuire.
Maybe it's because so many people saw McGuire cry when his Marquette team won the NCAA tournament in 1977, I don't know. But McGuire just comes across as ultimately sincere in his fervor, yet he's full of the kind of perspective you need at a time when a lot of people believe college hoops is perilously close to televised overexposure.
"You gotta foul, you gotta foul, you gotta foul!" he shouted in the final seconds of the Virginia-N.C. State ACC final, NBC's last college basketball broadcast of the season. Partner Dick Enberg laughingly suggested that it was only a game, Al, so calm down.
"That's right, what am I getting so excited about?" McGuire said. "I must want to renegotiate my contract."
CBS comes closest to ideal commentary with Packer. Packer was McGuire's steady foil when the two called NBC's historically near-exclusive schedule of college basketball games until CBS spirited Packer--and the NCAA tournament--away in 1981.
Packer, like McGuire, can get excited and precise at the same time, as in the BC-Virginia contest, in which Virginia's confusing last-minute strategy, or lack thereof, almost gave the game to the Eagles.
"Why is Virginia's Othell Wilson continuing to go up for the shot," Gary Bender asked in the final minute, "when all he has to do is throw it out and use up the clock?"
" . . . or dribble it back outside!" added Packer, his thin voice bolstered by incredulity. "I can't believe that he's going up there and getting his shots blocked!"
Packer had been predicting officials' calls valiantly, but incorrectly, all afternoon. "Yep," he said of himself at one point. "Often wrong, never in doubt."
But when Stockton and analyst Steve Grote called the regional final between N.C. State and Virginia--and State resorted to the same aggressive zone defense that helped beat Virginia late in the ACC final--we had to wait until after the game ended to hear about anything other than what a player Ralph Sampson has been, and what a Southern gentleman Holland is, etc.
Lorenzo Charles? Who's he? Isn't he the guy making those game-clinching free throws in the background while the camera follows Sampson around?
In the ACC final, on the other hand, NBC had N.C. State's trickery covered, first with director Harry Coyle's fantastic at-the-bench closeups, with sound, in which State Coach Jim Valvano was seen describing the "1-3 with a chaser on Othell Wilson, and don't foul . . . " And McGuire saying: "This means if Othell Wilson goes to get a drink of water, (N.C. State's) Terry Gannon will turn on the faucet."
CBS' NCAA tournament ratings are well above ABC's USFL ratings--Sunday, Georgia-North Carolina earned a 12.2 rating at noon, Houston-Villanova a 12.4 at 2:30, compared to the USFL's 6.4 average at 1:30.
In terms of ratings, the NCAA tournament may have benefited ESPN, the cable sports network, more than any other network. For the week ending March 27, during which it covered four live NCAA games Thursday and Friday nights, ESPN recorded its highest prime-time average rating ever--a 4.1 percentage of its 25 million available subscribers.
All of CBS Sports--including Musburger, minus the spaceship, plus Bender and Packer, director Bob Fishman and producer Rick Sharp; the A Team--is now in Albuquerque to bring America the final four. I don't want to invoke the ghost of Restraint again, but I do have one wish:
Now that they've taken it--the Road to You Know Where--I hope CBS doesn't have to mention it anymore. College basketball doesn't risk overexposure. College basketball hype does.