TAMPA -- Early in the first quarter of the Super Bowl, ABC analyst Dan Dierdorf informed his audience that the Giants' offense was built around controlling the ball and using as much time as possible. "In fact," he said, "they are running out the clock from the first play of the game."

A few minutes later, still early in the action, play-by-play man Al Michaels talked about Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood after he had one of his rare kickoffs into the end zone. "Norwood has not been kicking very deep," Michaels said. "It's a source of concern for the Bills."

Just more than three hours later, the two announcers could look back on their early comments and tell viewers they had told us so. The Giants' offense had controlled the football for 40 minutes 33 seconds, and Norwood's 47-yard field goal attempt -- a kick that would have matched his longest ever on a grass field -- sailed wide right, allowing the Giants to win, 20-19, in a game many are describing as the best Super Bowl ever.

ABC had the right two, baby, uh-huh, sitting in the broadcast booth Sunday night, to the point that the third man, Frank Gifford, thankfully kept his mostly meaningless comments to a minimum. "What a show Thurman Thomas is putting on tonight," Gifford said late in the game. Back to you, Dan and Al.

Both men indicated in the week before the game they would try to resist the jocular, sometimes frivolous behavior that often punctuated their performances on regular telecasts of "Monday Night Football," particularly when games got out of hand.

That was never a problem Sunday night. Both were mindful that their huge audience -- estimated at 750 million around the world -- included men and women in the Persian Gulf. As they pledged, there were no references to real war in their almost understated description of a game that fortunately needed little hyperbole.

Dierdorf moved up his game several notches, with insightful analysis and a pointed needle when that became necessary. After Andre Reed's third drop of a pass early on, Dierdorf said what everyone else was thinking: "That's not the kind of work you want to see from an all-pro receiver."

He was also prescient in talking about Ottis Anderson, the veteran Giants running back. Early in the game, he said, "O.J. Anderson means so much more to this team than an aging running back. He is the heart and soul of this offense." Anderson was named the game's most valuable player.

After Mark Ingram's critical third-down 14-yard catch and run, breaking four tackles to keep alive the Giants' touchdown drive at the start of the second half, Dierdorf said: "Every now and then you look back to a play and it might set the tone for everything that happens after that. If the Giants win the game, they might look back at this catch."

They did.

Michaels was Dierdorf's equal. He is the most versatile announcer in the business, equally adept at baseball, football, hockey and probably horseshoes. He prepares meticulously and knows how to get the best out of the men by his side. At least one of them.

ABC producer Ken Wolfe and director Craig Janoff also earned high marks. Right before Norwood's attempt, Dierdorf said, "If Ken Wolfe can bring up Jim O'Brien's kick {for the Colts to win Super Bowl V against the Cowboys}, I'll be impressed." Wolfe found the clip. "I'm impressed," said Dierdorf. So were we, all night.

Moments after Norwood's miss, viewers watched the reactions of both coaches on the sidelines, and the kicker turning away almost as soon as he looked up. By now, that shot has become a cliche', and yet it's gripping every time.

After the final gun, we also saw a vivid tableau of reactions from all the game's principals, though the drama of the moment would definitely have been enhanced if Michaels, Dierdorf and Gifford had simply stopped talking for a while. Jeff Hostetler's look of pure joy as he searched the stands for his family needed no commentary, nor did Lawrence Taylor's peck on the cheek for Bill Parcells, then a 50-yard hug between player and coach as they ran off the field.

This was a football game that also embraced the troops overseas from the very start, when Brent Musburger, hosting the pregame show, solemnly said, "Our hearts remain with our fighting men and women in the Persian Gulf."

There were constant reminders of the war, though ABC's (not to mention the country's) worst nightmare -- the possibility that horrific events might bump their telecast off the air -- never materialized.

Instead, Peter Jennings offered several reports in the pregame, with updates at the end of each quarter. Here in Tampa, ABC's decision to stay with news and not televise a Disney-produced halftime show featuring hundreds of local children produced livid howls of protest from parents watching at home expecting to see their little ones on national television.

The network did show tape of the emotional high point, a towheaded 7-year-old singing "The Wind Beneath My Wings" as flags provided by the NFL for everyone in the stands waved in the background. This was no ordinary little boy, however. Seth Horton was described in the Tampa Tribune as "a professional singer from Las Vegas," and his presence fit right in with the slick sort of patriotic productions Disney has orchestrated for years.

ABC was also guilty of some shameless self-promotion alongside all those slick commercials designed especially for airing during the game. By my count, there were 17 spots for upcoming network shows in the pregame, and 21 during the game itself. Even NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue did a little pitching, with a big hand from Musburger, who spent most of the interview asking Tagliabue about the new World League, whose games, it happens, will be televised by ABC.

And one final observation. Did anyone notice that ABC News military analyst Anthony Cordesman was actually using a John Madden-style telestrator on a map of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to describe the military strategy of dumping oil in the Persian Gulf? A few minutes later, a graphic flashed on the screen at the end of Jennings's last report before the start of the game. That's when I knew who the real winner was on Super Bowl Sunday.

It referred to which side had lost the most planes. Allies 17, Iraq 47.