Leave it to Brent Musburger to get to the cliched essence of Florida State-Virginia Tech in New Orleans on Tuesday night when he described it as "the first meeting of David and Goliath in the 21st century."
As it was, the Sugar Bowl could have been viewed as the first college football "Game of the Century," with countless more surely to come. But during the first four days of 2000, nothing else on the bowl schedule topped it in terms of presenting a compelling cast of characters on both sides of the field and the sheer entertainment value of electrifying performances by Peter Warrick and Michael Vick.
The assignments on ABC went to Musburger on play-by-play and Gary Danielson handling the analysis, with sideline reporters Jack Arute and Lynn Swann covering both benches, not to mention what appeared to be the entire Bobby Bowden family scattered all over the telecast. Bowden, the Florida State coach, even did an interview while the game was going on behind him.
A national championship game certainly did not seem quite the same without Keith Jackson doing the play-by-play, but time marches on and he prefers not to leave the West Coast. The big Hoss had the Rose Bowl, and was a delight, as usual.
Still, it also was nice to see Musburger--"You are looking live at the Superdome"--back in the saddle of a big event. In his prime at CBS, handling Final Fours, NBA playoff games and countless other marquee events, he brought great energy and enthusiasm to any broadcast. Often he was criticized for being too ebullient and occasionally condescending, but on my list of all-time great broadcasters, he merits a top 10 ranking.
In the Sugar Bowl, he seemed a tad more subdued than usual, perhaps by design for a game that, once the big plays started to snowball, needed no extra hype. His descriptions of plays were basic, allowing the pictures to do most of the talking, and a wide selection of anecdotes on the key figures helped personalize the production.
Early on, just before a Virginia Tech punt from deep in its territory, Musburger told viewers to watch out for a big Seminoles special teams rush and a possible block. Sure enough, that's what happened.
I was rather surprised, however, that neither Musburger or Danielson spent much time talking about Warrick's off-field problems and suspension, other than to crack a few jokes in questionable taste.
Warrick's situation was addressed in great depth on ABC's corporate cousin, ESPN, in a long, well-reported piece during its one-hour pregame show leading up to ABC's 8 p.m. starting time. In the network pregame show, ABC allowed Terry Bowden, the former Auburn coach, to interview his father. It was warm and fuzzy, but viewers would have been far better served had Musburger, never shy about asking tough questions, handled the assignment.
Danielson, meantime, is a cliche machine, and viewers who did not tune in early for his keys to the game couldn't have any idea about what he was talking about when he kept saying "lock and load" or "truck and trailer." In fact, I watched the keys to the game and still had no idea.
Still, Danielson offered some strong opinions. While Virginia Tech was debating whether to attempt a field goal or try to get a first down on a fourth down and inches deep in Florida State territory early in the game, he said, "I think they should send a message to his team and go for it." Virginia Tech did, Vick fumbled and the Seminoles recovered. Then he pointed out that Vick botched the play by turning the wrong way after taking the snap.
When Seminoles quarterback Chris Weinke rolled out to throw a pass, Danielson said, "I don't understand it. Chris Weinke is not comfortable doing this." He also criticized Bowden for calling so many trick plays when they weren't all that necessary. And in one stretch when the Seminoles seemed to ignore Warrick, he cried out, "Where's Peter Warrick?"
Bobby Bowden must have been listening--or maybe sons Terry and Tommy told him--because not long after that, Warrick began inflicting major damage on Virginia Tech.
Meantime, ABC continued to inflict major damage on its viewers by labeling virtually every aspect of its show with a sponsor logo. It was the Nokia starting lineups, the Dell game solutions, the Morgan Stanley Dean Witter first-half stats, the National Car Rental halftime show. They even panned the Gatorade table, revealing cups with the Charles Schwab label.
The cost of college football, just like everything else, keeps skyrocketing, and all the networks are wringing every dollar they can from these sponsorships. But when Nokia, the title sponsor of the game, is written in large block letters over the smaller script and almost unreadable "Sugar Bowl" in the official game logo, something has gone terribly wrong.
And by the way, if I see that financial services commercial with Shannon Sharpe and Jason Sehorn one more time, I swear I'll sling a rock at the TV set, sort of the second meeting of David and Goliath in the 21st Century.