When CBS and NBC completed their NFL coverage for the season last week with telecasts of the conference championships, it could be viewed as a battle of the networks' No. 1 broadcasting teams.
You could flip a coin on the production quality of the telecasts -- excellent camera work and direction with entertaining shots of the coaches on the sidelines. NBC did a slightly better job on replays, although sometimes you get the feeling they're showing so many just to let us know how many cameras they have working that day.
NBC also gets the nod on a couple of other counts. Both games were routs, and director Ted Nathanson demonstrated the most innovation by showing us four straight plays from the goal post camera in the fourth quarter when Pittsburgh had the ball deep in its own territory. It was a refreshing and revealing angle, one which Nathanson might not have stuck with in a tight game.
Also, even though CBS used its chalkboard better than NBC all season, NBC won the final battle by using yellow chalk. Colored chalk could revolutionize the whole business of diagramming plays, especially since, according to my spot check of local drug stores, it doesn't cost any more than white chalk. At 62 cents for a 12-stick box, I envision the day they use one color for the offense and another for the defense.
As for the broadcasters, we had a surprising mismatch. NBC ought to seriously reevaluate its overrated No. 1 team, Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen. And CBS ought to do everything in its power to keep intact its Pat Summerall/John Madden duo, which means persuading Madden not to wander off to ABC's "Monday Night Football" when his contract expires in another year.
Enberg, widely respected in the industry, can indeed bring life to a lackluster game. But he brings hysteria to an exciting game. He is guilty of shouting, "Fire!" in a crowded theater once too often. His emotional pitch rises to the point where every touchdown sounds like another fantastic finish from Alcoa, and every fantastic finish sounds like Armageddon.
Olsen is more of a problem. When the Dolphins tried a gimmick pass to quarterback Dan Marino, he told us, "Don Shula always enjoys having a few trick plays in his bag of tricks." Forget the redundancy, forget that Olsen didn't comment on the risk of using Marino as a receiver; instead, concentrate on that statement as indicative of Olsen's style of empty, after-the-fact analysis.
If the Dolphins recover a fumble, Olsen will tell us they like to force turnovers. If they score on a 60-yard pass, he'll tell us they like to go for the big play. If Olsen were a 15th Century color man commenting on the discovery of the New World, he'd tell us Columbus was a high-seas explorer who liked long voyages.
Over at CBS, Summerall and Madden provide the proper balance of low-key, efficient play by play and exuberant, insightful analysis.
Many folks, including myself, make a habit of shouting at the TV during games, screaming down the broadcaster when he says something idiotic or erroneous. When Summerall does a game, I'm reduced to shouting at the commercials. He's so good you almost don't know he's there.
Ever since George Allen's glory days in Washington, Summerall, first with Tom Brookshier and now with Madden, has called CBS' top football games. It's hard to imagine Redskins-Cowboys showdowns or NFC title games without the cool, dispassionate direction of Summerall's play by play.
In the fourth quarter Sunday, when Bears quarterback Steve Fuller fumbled the ball out of bounds with his team trailing by 20-0, Summerall said simply, "The Bears will retain possession. They may not want it." And just like that, Summerall captured Chicago's game-long frustration against San Francisco.
His style complements Madden's controlled rage. When dissecting a play, Madden often sounds as if he's going to jump right through the screen at you, just like he bursts through the wall in his beer commercials.
Madden is your next-door neighbor who comes over with a six-pack to watch the big game. He reduces the game to its fundamental aspects -- running, blocking and tackling -- and emphasizes the human side to it all. And unlike Olsen, he analyzes plays before they happen, as when he forecast that 49ers Coach Bill Walsh would use the lineman-in-the-backfield play later in the game.
Jon Miller, the talented play-by-play man on the Baltimore Orioles' radio network, was told recently that many listeners don't think his Washington Bullets play-by-play work on Home Team Sports is as good.
"I agree with them all the way," said Miller, who just re-signed with WFBR in Baltimore to do Orioles games through the 1986 season. "I do baseball better. Radio completely belongs to you. TV is a collaborative effort. I had quite a bit of learning to do about the Bullets. I'm still learning.
"In basketball, the fewer notes I bring to a game the better. The game is happening all the time. Baseball's a whole different thing. You've got rain delays. A batter can be up for five minutes with no one on base; you can tell two stories while he's up."
If you flipped on WJLA-TV-7 last Saturday afternoon hoping to see Mark Breland's second professional fight on ABC's "Wide World of Sports," you were out of luck. Instead, you got Duke-Virginia ACC basketball. And that's the way it'll be for most of the winter. For five of the next seven Saturdays, Channel 7 will preempt "Wide World" in favor of ACC games starting at 3:30 p.m. . . .
Pat O'Brien will replace Brent Musburger as studio host of CBS' "Sports Saturday" and "Sports Sunday." CBS should make the announcement in the next week or so.