It was as intense a 40 minutes of basketball as you're ever likely to see, the type of action that makes an NBA regular-season game look like a beach-ball party. And CBS Sports, in chronicling Monday's NCAA title game, concentrated its dependable cameras on the court, letting the game speak for itself.
It's reached the point where you can trust CBS with a big game much the same way you might trust an older brother with a big secret. As with its fine National Football League coverage, CBS ignored most of the off-the-court hoopla to give us a clean, uncluttered view of the action.
Basketball, in many ways, has become the most overproduced sport on television. We're shown popcorn vendors when the ball is in play, we're shown replays after live action has resumed and we're shown closeups of foul shooters while their foul shots are in flight.
Given the choice between seeing a meaningless crowd shot or a meaningless inbounds pass, I'll take the pass every time. There's no reason to miss even a second of the game, and every once in a while, something significant happens while we're watching people spill beer on each other.
CBS understands this, and during the Georgetown-Villanova game, we barely missed a dribble. When CBS' eye did wander, it almost always occurred in dead-ball situations and almost always centered on the theatrics of Wildcats Coach Rollie Massimino, a man whose face and body should be donated to the Smithsonian Institution.
In line with CBS' sensible direction was the low-key style of broadcasters Brent Musburger and Billy Packer. They stick to business and they keep us abreast of what's important. Packer remains one of the best "jock" analysts around because he thinks along with the coaches.
Most importantly, Musburger and Packer don't scream, which is good because basketball announcers should refrain from losing their voices over such trivial details as slam dunks. Granted, there are times you'll want to scream at them. When Musburger says, "The first half of this game was as good a half of college basketball as I've ever seen," you might wonder how many games he has seen. When Packer insists, "There's no way that kid's leaving the game," moments after a player crashes to the floor, you might wonder about his medical degree. And when Musburger shills, "These schools did not cheat to get here tonight," you might wonder if two schools had cheated to get there, whether he would tell us.
Still, Musburger and Packer, in their one season together, have established themselves as one of the network's better broadcasting pairs. They could be more lighthearted -- Packer treats a 1-3-1 half-court zone trap with more reverence than President Reagan does the budget -- but they work hard to keep on top of a game's developments.
That they work hard became evident Monday during one of CBS' production foulups. Late in the first half, during a commerical timeout in which CBS forgot to go to a commercial, we could hear Musburger, Packer and director Bob Fishman discussing what they wanted to do next.
CBS also experienced another brief technical problem. At the 8:44 mark of the first half, the network had video woes. The picture kept breaking with those stop-and-go freeze frames, producing the sort of effect you get in a crowded discotheque featuring a flashing light show.
On the whole, however, CBS' coverage equaled the quality of the game. Fishman opted occasionally for the end-zone camera shot to better show the Hoyas' full-court defensive pressure. Perhaps in the future, CBS will gamble with more varied camera angles, much as Home Team Sports cable network does here in Washington.
In the end, CBS used network television's new and improved less-is-more approach. Last autumn, NBC let its cameras pan the scene silently for several minutes after the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. CBS did the same. It's the network's version of the "let-your-fingers-do-the-walking" credo: let the cameras do the talking.
In the postgame coverage, there were two interesting developments. Villanova's Dwayne McClain, asked one question by Musburger, virtually ensured that he'll never do another CBS interview by somehow managing to mention ESPN.
And on WDVM-TV-9's "Eyewitness News," reporter Cindy DiBiasi was doing one of those forgettable scene stories that TV stations and newspapers insist on feeding us. There she was, interviewing a "loyal Hoyas fan" in a Georgetown bar, who, when asked what she thought about the game, spoke eloquently for a lost generation of youth:
"I don't know what to think, I'm just here to party. Whether they win or lose, it doesn't matter to me."