Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Boomer not so Super

But thankfully, few will listen to telecast

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ATLANTA — ABC held a news conference here Tuesday to promote its Super Bowl coverage. It was an important news conference, filled with important executives whose names I can't recall.

AP coverage

        They announced they'll have 40-some cameras tracking the game Sunday night. That would be one for every two players. Roughly. Meaning Nate Hobgood-Chittick has a 50-50 chance of getting some face time. Theoretically.

        (Nate is a backup defensive tackle for the St.Louis Rams and is no relation to teammates Az-Zahir Hakim, Mike Gruttadauria and Jeff Zgonina. Where'd the Rams get these guys, Scrabble?)

        ABC also will have a way to show every play from three different angles, giving the officials that many more chances to blow a replay.

        Play-by-play man Al Michaels beseeched the league to allow more intrusive sideline interviewing. Though if you're like me, you can recite what the coach is going to say way before he's intruded upon.

        It all sounds great, and there is no question the networks' technical work on football has gone from excellent to incredible. It's so good, people with tickets stay home, preferring to watch on TV.

        But here's a question:

        Who watches the Super Bowl?

        I mean, who actually tunes in with ears fully engaged?

        I'm always at the game, so help me on this one: Don't people party during the Super Bowl?

        You're with Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. You are with lots of people. They all brought appetizers. There is a cooler on the deck and another in the kitchen. Am I right?

        There is music on. Soon enough, there are so many people in the room where the big-screen TV is, half of you leave the room, just so your elbow won't send someone's guacamole-on-a-paper-plate flying into someone's liver-and-bacon-on-a-stick. You're standing around, balancing a bloody Mary and a plate of cubed cheese pieces and hoping a hunk of chive doesn't glue itself to a bicuspid.

        And everyone is talking loudly.

        So who hears the game? The Super Bowl is the most prestigious event a broadcaster can land. It's also the most watched, least listened-to game of the year. If Nielsen counted ears, ABC couldn't trade a 30-second commercial for a pound of salami.

        “I just hope we have a good, close game, so we don't have to fill a lot of time,” Boomer Esiason said last week. Esiason will do the game with Michaels, the Monday Night Football tandem that closed its first season to a national ho-hum a few weeks ago.

        It wasn't that Michaels wasn't good. He was excellent. It wasn't that Esiason wasn't good. He was, well, cheery. And they did have some really awful games.

        But Michaels and Esiason together did not work.

        Networks hire ex-jocks who were glib as players or coaches, figuring that will carry over to the tube. Not necessarily.

        Esiason was the best interview in Cincinnati for a decade. He was genuine, funny, open and smart. Then he got on TV, and something happened. It's as if someone grabbed him by the wireless microphone and whispered into his ear, “Act like a TV guy.” ABC drafted Boomer to be Boomer, but Boomer became what he thought a TV guy should be. The same happened to Sam Wyche.

        (I wanted to bring this up with No.7 on Tuesday, but he was snowed in at home in New York.)

        If you've ever listened to him with Cris Collinsworth on the wonderful show they do on WLW radio, you know what I mean. Esiason and Collinsworth combine insight and humor with terrific chemistry. Sometimes, the chemistry between Boomer and Michaels is so rough, you want to look away.

        The hardest thing to be on TV is yourself, because that's not always what TV wants. A few get it: Collinsworth, Terry Bradshaw, John Madden. A lot don't.

        Esiason is trying. On Sunday night, he'll get a reprieve. Everyone will watch him; no one will hear. I hope his tie is good.


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