TAMPA -- The numbers, as always, are staggering for the television production of a Super Bowl, and ABC's saturation coverage of the silver anniversary game Sunday will be no exception, with 17 stationary cameras, 16 videotape machines, 32 control trucks and mobile units, and 20 miles of microphone and camera cable snaking through and around Tampa Stadium.

But the most germane figure is three -- the number of men in the broadcast booth -- and the greatest trick of all is to keep them from babbling banalities as the day wears on. And this year, Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf say they also are fully aware of the game's context in light of developments in the Persian Gulf.

They know that in a moment's notice, the word can come from the truck that the game will be interrupted by ABC News. And they are also prepared for the possibility that big portions of the game will be lost to their huge audience, estimated at 125 million in this country, over 750 million worldwide.

And if there is catastrophe on the war front, there is still a very remote possibility the game will not be played at all, a decision the NFL desperately hopes to avoid. Thursday, ABC Sports President Dennis Swanson confirmed the obvious: The network is in constant touch with the NFL, and "discussions will be ongoing" until the game is played.

To a man, the three men in the booth say they are simply trying to deal with a football game and will do whatever higher authorities ask of them.

"I'm having a hard time going to sleep every night," Gifford said. "You're holding your breath. I think that's the feeling here {in Tampa}. It is the Super Bowl. It is important. It's important to play it and go on with our lives. But there will be a cloud hanging over the game. I feel a little peculiar, more than any game I've ever done."

"The way we're looking at it," said Dierdorf, "is that the job of the three of us . . . is to do the game. The NFL made the decision to play the game. ABC News will handle the news coverage, and the coordination of that does not involve us. We are vitally interested and extremely concerned about what happens in the Middle East. Normally, when we cut away, I don't get network audio in our earpiece. When we cut away to ABC News Sunday, I want that audio in my ear. I want to know what's going on just like everyone else."

Their usual slot is "ABC's Monday Night Football," which always has had a broader appeal than Sunday games, if only because it's on in prime time. Howard Cosell helped build that audience with his unique and brilliant brand of bombast and bluster. Dierdorf is far less outrageous, but clearly offers a hard-edged point of view with his own blend of analysis and wry wit.

Gifford often seems superfluous to the production, and he can belt out the cliches with the best of them. Still, his presence does add a bit of historical perspective: Gifford was an analyst for CBS with Jack Whitaker when that network and NBC both broadcast the first Super Bowl in 1967.

But ABC's trump card is clearly Michaels, particularly in a situation where off-the-field developments may overshadow the game itself, just the way they did at Candlestick Park during the 1989 World Series. Michaels's work the night the San Francisco earthquake hit was simply superb, a performance that earned him a news Emmy nomination and widespread praise for both his courage and his composure under extremely trying circumstances.

Michaels insisted earlier this week that "the circumstances were very different in the earthquake. We went out to do a baseball game and got hit with something we never could have rehearsed. I was called upon to provide the reporting because I was on the spot. That was extraordinary and totally unpredictable. Our job on Sunday is to announce a football game. It's being broadcast in a much larger context. In terms of reporting on news outside of Tampa, that's not our province, and we understand the entire picture."

But of course, the picture could change. Even as this is written, the most extraordinary security precautions in the history of the Super Bowl are being implemented, from bomb-sniffing dogs to a massive force of uniformed officers, plainclothes detectives and security agents, combat-ready tactical squads and counter-snipers watching from high places in and around the stadium.

Clearly, in a worst-case scenario, Michaels is the man Roone Arledge wants in his broadcast booth, even if Michaels plays down his potential role as a voice of calm and reason.

"It's a game being played under rather extraordinary circumstances," Michaels said, adding that because of all the precautions, "in a sense I feel more secure under these circumstances.

"I'm also a firm believer that sports have to remain in perspective at all times. . . . It should be fun and games to the spectators and a diversion to be enjoyed. When it becomes more than that, then something is seriously amiss and we should seek counsel for that spectator."

Dierdorf, for one, says he will be extremely careful about the words he uses. There will be no talk of bombs or battles in the trenches, the language of war that somehow has managed to permeate the language of sports, and is now going full circle back to its original intent on the nightly news.

"If, by chance, I say something during the telecast that is a reference to war terminology, it will be a mistake on my part," Dierdorf said. "I see pilots being paraded in the streets. . . . My heart goes out to all those families with people over there. . . . The memories of Vietnam are still fresh on my mind. I feel very small and very insignificant."

Don't we all.