By David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun
11:49 PM EST, February 3, 2013
UPDATE (1 a.m.) at end of post with review of NFL Network's excellent post-game show and comment on Flacco profanity after game.
It was a fabulous day and night for TV football, with the Ravens winning the Super Bowl, 34-31. But little thanks for that goes to CBS, the network that had broadcast rights to the game.
The network's pregame show was overproduced and under-imagined, with no unifying vision. One segment that found Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe walking the streets of New Orleans handing out Pizza Hut pizzas to people willing to yell "hut, hut, hut," set a new low in debasing broadcasters and turning what is already an over-commercialized production into a nonstop advertisement.
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus should be ashamed for doing this to Esiason and Sharpe. CBS made plenty of money Sunday without having to turn two ex-NFL players into pizza delivery boys.
And then came the telecast itself, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the booth.
I have long been a fan of this duo, but they were pathetic in the first half in their inability to modify or abandon their Colin-Kaepernick-is-the-Second-Coming storyline. The two could not drop the script, even though it bore little relationship to what was happening on the field throughout the first half.
By the time the power went out in the Superdome and CBS temporarily lost its audio with 13:22 left in the third quarter, it was almost a welcome relief not to have to hear Nantz and Simms anymore.
And what about the performance by CBS Sports during that 34-minute delay that reversed the momentum of the game?
The CBS cameras showed John Harbaugh on the field, obviously highly agitated, but no one bothered to tell us what the coach was so agitated about.
CBS Sports did release a self-congratulatory statement by the end of the game, saying that while the broadcasters lost power in the booth and some of their 62 cameras, sideline reporters Steve Tasker and Solomon Wilcots managed to keep the audience informed.
CBS is the only network that doesn't use sideline reporters during the regular season, something I have complained about all year. McManus said they weren't needed — it's better to give their airtime to the guys in the booth.
But Sunday night, they were sure needed. I just wish they had done a better job and done some real reporting — like telling us exactly what Harbaugh was so angry about — or why the lights went out.
I thought Simms was awful.
With 1:15 left in the half and the score 21-3 in favor of the Ravens, thanks in large part to a shaky performance by Kaepernick that included throwing a big interception to Ed Reed, the two guys in the booth were still singing the second-year quarterback's praises as if he were dominating the Ravens.
"When you're judging a quarterback, I always say: When they rear back and throw it, can they control it?" Simms said. "And he can."
Oh, really? He had a number of passes that sailed on him, including Reed's crucial interception, and a two-point attempt late in the game.
Typical of Simm's commitment to storyline over what was happening on the field was his halftime comment about Kaepernick's less-than-stellar play the first half.
"I know this: Colin Kaepernick is my man. I'm going down with him, no matter how he plays," Simms said.
Simms provided no insight during two of the biggest plays of the games: a fake field goal by the Ravens in the first half and Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kick return to start the second half. I still don't know why one failed and the other succeeded. Explaining such big moments is Job One for an analyst.
There is almost nothing good to say about CBS, from its pregame through the game itself.
Outside of Bill Cowher, once again, all the CBS pregame analysts picked San Francisco to win. You would think after picking against the Ravens in the divisional and AFC championship games, these guys would give them a little respect. But that was not the case.
There was one impressive segment during the CBS pregame show: a feature on Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano and his battle with leukemia this year. The interviews with his daughters and wife were sensitive, smart and moving. Great stuff.
But it was not nearly enough to redeem the production. Who in the heck decided to set up a desk outside the studio with a crowd of screaming fans drowning out every other word from the analysts?
The 30-minute pregame show produced by the NFL, which followed the CBS pre-ame effort and immediately preceded the game, was brilliant. The choir of children from Sandy Hook Elementary singing "America, the Beautiful" with Jennifer Hudson was sublime.
But then came the kickoff and the telecast produced by CBS, and it was all downhill from there until the postgame, when CBS finally — after an entire season of treating the Ravens and its fans like peasants — put the cameras on the team, stepped back and let us watch as Flacco and Lewis called out to the city that is now the home of the Super Bowl champions.
Even CBS Sports couldn't ruin those moments.
UPDATE 1 a.m.: Just as it was the place to be for great pre-game coverage, the NFL Network was terrific in its post-game coverage as well -- CBS went to the "Elementary" episode it had been promotionally pounding away at all day and night.
Rich Eisen, Deion Sanders, Micheal Irvin, Marshall Faulk, Warren Sapp and Co. had an ecstatic Ed Reed sit down for an interview that had so much joy and energy emanating from the Baltimore safety that it felt as if the TV set was going to explode. The conversation truly communicated a sense of what it felt like to be a champion.
And then, they brought on Joe Flacco and actually found a way to have some fun with the game's MVP, asking him if he was going to seek $100 million in contract negotiations based on his performance.
"Steve Bisciotti said if this happened, then I could pound on his desk and really stick it to him," Flacco said laughing. "And that's what I'm going to do."
When Eisen kidded him about what he had just said "on live TV" about sticking it to Bisciotti, Flacco ad-libbed, "in a good way."
I did not know Flacco had that kind of nimble humor in him.
But then the CBS cameras had already caught Flacco saying something on live TV right after the game ended that some folks probably didn't think they'd hear on network television.
For the record, I think it was fine for people to hear him say the rush of winning was 'expletive awesome.' If that is too raw for you, don't watch professional sports. That's the way some folks talk in moments of such heightened intensity.
As to the network delay being off in live coverage at the end of a game, I have absolutely no problem with that. This is not the kind of profanity that will draw a fine from the F.C.C., believe me. If you think this is a big issue, you need to try living in in the real world.
I really liked the live shots the NFL Network had of Ravens fans celebrating in the streets of Baltimore, but I loved the reactions they got to those images from Reed and John Harbaugh. Fine work all day and night on the NFL Network.
Read my revierw of the NFL Network's pre-game coverage here.
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