If this was Jan. 1, it must have been another long day of bowl watching. It began badly, but the Orange Bowl and a national-championship performance by Oklahoma and NBC made up for most of the irritations of watching almost 11 straight hours of football on three different networks.
Disappointment No. 1: Lindsey Nelson, after working 16 straight Cotton Bowl telecasts, was relegated to CBS Radio, replaced by Brent Musburger. Musburger and analyst Ara Parseghian, who was pleasantly inoffensive, did not enjoy a great day. Musburger, in particular, was so pumped up, primed and overly intense, you had to believe he was plugged into an electrical socket or that CBS was playing his comments in fast-forward.
And the CBS folks, usually at their best on football, produced a choppy, error-filled broadcast. They often returned from replays as the ball was being snapped on the next play. At game's end, they missed two plays -- I mean flat-out did not show a failed two-point conversion attempt and Texas A&M's final touchdown. Instead, we watched sideline shots of Coach Jackie Sherrill and Bo Jackson.
Meanwhile, at the Fiesta Bowl, NBC burdened us with Charlie Jones and Sam Rutigliano, who was dreadful. You remember Sam Rutigliano. He's the former Cleveland Browns coach who at the start of this season often shouted out players' numbers during plays ("No. 82's open, No. 82's wide open!!!"). Nowadays, his business is walking us through replays: "Now watch him go upfield, now watch him cut back, now watch him elude the free safety."
NBC's Rose Bowl was next, and by halftime, I resolved I would not criticize analyst Merlin Olsen more than once a month for all of 1986. The rap on Olsen remains the same: while the words flow ever so gracefully, the insights don't. His talk sort of reminds me of department-store Muzak -- the sound might be soothing, but you never really can remember what you heard.
*After Iowa gang-tackled a UCLA runner: "If you are a defensive player, what you want to do is be part of that swarm."
*After UCLA's Eric Ball, a Michigan native, scored: "Michigan's proud of their Wolverines and proud of Eric Ball."
*After the outcome was decided: "Probably, the players on the field who most appreciate being at the Rose Bowl are the seniors . . . it's their last game."
Late in the game, Dick Enberg slickly slid out of a play-by-play blunder. With Ball rushing for what would have been a record fifth touchdown, Enberg said, "And there is Rose Bowl history . . . or not" as Ball was stopped inches short.
The Sugar Bowl was doomed from the outset. Even though ABC correctly focused on the "Who's No. 1?" question -- with analyst Frank Broyles interestingly pointing out that if Oklahoma and Miami both won, the coaches would vote Oklahoma No. 1 because they'd prefer two national champions -- the Hurricanes were routed by Tennessee.
For ABC, Tim Brant again proved to be the best of the New Year's Day sideline reporters, and Keith Jackson and Broyles did their usual down-home-doggone-ain't-college-football-the-apple's-eye act. No matter where you happen to be viewing a game broadcast by Jackson and Broyles, the Mason-Dixon line runs just north of your television set.
NBC, with a national title game on its hands in the Orange Bowl, handled it nicely with a minimum of hype. Bob Trumpy gave some of the day's best analysis, helped a bit by Bob Griese and the NBC Telestrator. NBC played it straight, focusing on the game action with a nice mix of sideline shots of Barry Switzer and Joe Paterno.