NBC telecast 6 1/2 hours of coverage Sunday of Super Bowl XX, a game that had all the suspense of a traffic-court hearing. The Bears beat the Patriots, 46-10, but at least it was close until the coin flip, which New England lost on a controversial call.
Here is a rundown of what happened, for those of you who elected instead to watch tapes of the Patriots' 51-10 loss to the Chargers in the 1963 AFL title game:
At 3 p.m. (EST), NBC began its coverage with a five-minute Bob Giraldi film touching upon the Super Bowl's impact on American lives.
At 3:08, NBC went to a commercial as the Super Bowl made its first financial impact for the network.
At 3:13, 3:19, 3:27, 3:36, 3:46 and 3:54, NBC went to commercials again.
At 4:02, NBC broadcast "The Blank Minute." It lasted 60 seconds and greatly resembled the Patriots' offensive playbook.
At 4:40, Tom Brokaw interviewed Ronald Reagan.
At 5:15, Bart Starr conducted the coin flip. (Was I the only one who thought Walter Payton waited until after the coin hit the ground to call it? Was I the only one who thought it suspect that referee Red Cashion shut off his mike so we couldn't hear the ensuing mixup? Was I the only one who heard a Patriot shout, "Let's do it over"?)
At 6:50, Kevin Butler's field goal gave Chicago a 23-3 lead. "This game's all but over," said a friend of mine rooting for the Patriots.
At 6:58, we learned about Hands Across America, a May 25 event in which 6 million people will form a human chain across the country to help fight hunger. It's a worthy cause, but you have to figure that if 2 1/2 percent of our population is holding hands at one time, even nations as small as Switzerland, which doesn't even have a standing army, might invade us successfully then.
At 7:03, Up With People started its youthful, exuberant halftime show. Unfortunately, the folks who most needed the emotional lift -- the Patriots -- were in the locker room, diagramming ways to duplicate their one first down in the opening half.
At 7:40, the Bears made it 30-3. "It's just about over," my friend said.
At 7:46, the Bears made it 37-3. "It's definitely over," my friend said.
At 7:56, the Bears made it 44-3. "What's on ABC?" my friend said.
At 9:35, NBC signed off from New Orleans and began preparing its Super Bowl XXIII coverage in 1989. NBC officials reportedly will ask the NFL to send two teams to that one.
Unquestionably, the rout made for a long day. But NBC, which handled the pregame and postgame shows admirably, suffered during the game also because the network simply didn't perform up to par.
During the pregame, we were treated to excellent segments on the 1966 Kansas City Chiefs and Vince Lombardi, plus offbeat features of varying quality that established a nice carefree tone to the coverage. The postgame, too, generally was handled very well. Bob Costas and Ahmad Rashad, helping bring some dignity back to the locker-room interview, asked good questions and avoided a lot of the usual postgame banalities.
But from kickoff to final gun, NBC's production was uneven. Replays were out of sync with what analyst Merlin Olsen was saying. Some replays failed to show the brunt of the action. On at least two occasions, NBC returned from a timeout -- the final commercial each time being an NBC promo -- with the ball in the air on a kickoff.
Announcers Dick Enberg and Olsen also had their ups and downs. Credit Enberg for early spotting of trends -- New England's unusual reliance on the pass and Chicago's unusual reliance on Matt Suhey -- and his interesting anecdote about how Mike Ditka added the quarterback sneak to the Bears playbook because of George Halas. Credit Enberg and Olsen for criticizing the officials when necessary, and credit them for shifting gears in the second half when the game became a rout and needed a lighter touch in the booth.
Yet again, Olsen's overall lifelessness dragged down the telecast.
In the first half, with the exception of three plays, Olsen had a comment after every snap from scrimmage. Anyone talking that much had better be incisive, funny or surnamed Madden. Instead, Olsen served up his usual bland platitudes: "The two weeks of waiting, I'm sure, is taking a toll on these players." "Field position is so critical." "Very often when you're trying to make the big play, you lose the integrity of the defense."
The Olsen era -- this was his fourth Super Bowl -- should be declared over by NBC. If NBC wants to play it conservatively, it could promote one of its other top analysts, Bob Trumpy or Bob Griese. If NBC wants to gamble a bit, it could promote Jimmy Cefalo or Reggie Rucker.
Or if NBC wants to really gamble, it should search the nation's bars for an intelligent, articulate fan with a good voice and nice demeanor and hire him or her.
Anyone but Herb.