There is no sweeter scenario for a Super Bowl broadcaster than a game hanging in the balance, and NBC's ratings for the Giants' 21-17 victory over the Patriots on Sunday will almost assuredly top last year's Super Bowl on FOX, which averaged 111 million viewers and became the most-watched television program in U.S. history. But how was the NBC broadcast for viewers? It's time to hand out grades.
Pregame promise:"I think we have a good mix, and we'll get more and more football as we get later in the show." -- Sam Flood, executive producer, NBC Sports
We've said it before: It is impossible to construct a pregame show that satisfies both the hardcore football fan and the 50 million additional viewers stopping by for a once-a-year-visit. Did NBC keep Flood's promise? For the most part, it did. Host Bob Costas promised the network would capture both the football and the frivolity and there was much of both. The features ranged from the sensational (a Phillip Parrish and Paige Westin-produced feature on former Saints player Steve Gleason, who is now battling ALS disease) to the unoriginal (interviewing Archie and Olivia Manning) to the abominable (anytime Nick Cannon appeared on screen).
Outside of the features, the best part of the pregame was when NBC took viewers onto the field or inside the stadium, from studio host Dan Patrick and analyst Rodney Harrison speaking in front of Tom Brady's locker to Patrick, studio analyst Tony Dungy and Harrison in the end zone an hour before kickoff. NBC executives spent a lot of time contemplating how to introduce the players to viewers and, unlike previous networks, they opted not to do a taped package. Instead, the lineup introductions from the players rolled as they left the locker room and made their way into the tunnel. That proved to be interesting television, especially seeing the players waiting around the tunnel, the anticipation on their faces palpable.
The pacing of the pregame was much better than last year's pregame on FOX, but the five-hour show still delivered too much cross-promotional nonsense and too frequent cuts to celebrity interviews. If you thought FOX's Michael Strahan and Maria Menounos red-carpet interviews were awful last year -- and they were -- Cannon took the sycophantic gig to a new soul-sucking low. His interview with Jessica Simpson had me flashing back to when Walter Cronkite interviewed Anwar Sadat (well, not really) and the lowest of the low was NBC late-night host Jimmy Fallon dressing up in drag for a skit called "the Real Housewives of Indianapolis," arguably the worst pregame segment in NFL history. Thankfully, that carnage ended quickly, unlike Cannon's vapid and inane interviews.
What was good? NBC used guest analysts Aaron Rodgers and Hines Ward very wisely, and both were were smart additions to the broadcast. Despite his soft-spoken voice, Rodgers was pointed and thoughtful all afternoon, from his discussing the "phantom injuries" suffered by Giant defenders when trying to slow down Green Bay's offense to explaining some of Brady's best traits. (Worth noting, too, is Costas had an excellent interview with Brady in the pregame.)
Said Rodgers of Brady: "It's his ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes; he never stares a guy down, and he is always looking guys off to create an open window for his receiver. The second thing is his pocket presence. Tom has the ability to make subtle moments in the pocket that allow him to evade slightly, and create a throwing lane." Both Rodgers and Dungy predicted that Mario Manningham would have a huge day. Nice call, gents.
Features on the legacy the Super Bowl will leave in Indianapolis, Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko, and Harrison's reaction to seeing former Giants receiver David Tyree (he of the famed catch in Super Bowl XLII) were all excellent. But there were also places to improve. Upon being asked for his pick, Harrison dropped into former player mode. Said Harrison: "I have a house in Massachusetts and I like going back to Boston so I am picking the Patriots regardless." It was a funny line but a silly reason, and Harrison has been better than that this year. Grade: B
Pregame promise:"We must have every play that could be termed as controversial nailed down with irrefutable evidence. I'd also say that Al and Cris [analyst Cris Collinsworth], as they are most Sunday nights, are ahead of the curve in terms of keeping the audience informed." -- NBC Sports producer Fred Gaudelli
Ultimately, as a viewer, it's the game's most memorable moments that you remember, and NBC was at its best when it needed to be. Game director Drew Esocoff told SI.com before the game that he wanted defining looks of every critical play and for his camera people to anticipate the spectacular. "It would be very easy for a group of camera guys to get caught up in a moment," Esocoff said. "And keep in mind that the sidelines and end zones are more crowded at a Super Bowl. You have to be really careful because the environment is unforgiving."
The moment they needed it, everyone on Gaudelli's and Esocoff's crew came through. On the game's biggest play -- Eli Manning's 38-yard pass to Manningham late in the fourth quarter -- here was the call from the booth:
Play-by-play announcer Al Michaels: "Four-man rush. Eli. Throwing into traffic on the sideline... and they rule a catch by Manningham! Along the sideline, they are going to spot the ball at the 50-yard line."
Analyst Cris Collinsworth: "This is absolutely brilliant. If he makes this play -- let's watch his feet -- clean catch. I think he got them down."
The officials then reviewed the play, and that's when NBC's behind-the-scenes people took over. Viewers got multiple looks at Manningham's catch, including a bird's eye image, a view from behind Manning, and a zoom on Manningham's feet. It was terrific stuff, and those at home knew before the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium that the catch would be ruled good.
"In that situation, it's not quite David Tyree but it's pretty close," Collinsworth said. "That is everything you have to ask from a wide receiver. Going to take the hit. Make the catch cleanly. Get two feet down. Maintain control all the way to the ground. Simply remarkable. For the next 50 years, you will be watching highlights of that catch if the New York Giants come back and win this thing."
Michaels followed Collinsworth's comments by telling the audience it was the longest play of the game, and NBC showed a reaction of both coaches after the call stood, as well as a shot of Tyree on the Giants sideline.
It was fantastic work, and I asked the PR staff of NBC Sports to email me the names of the camera people on the sideline because they deserve props for getting all the angles of the Manningham play. Take a bow, Steve Brangle, Kevin Peterson, Nick Utley and Craig Woloshin.
NBC continued its terrific final minutes. With the Giants poised to take the lead with 90 seconds left, Collinsworth warned, "This is one of those weird situations where if your running back breaks out, you may actually tell him, fall down on the 1-yard line so you can run out the entirety of the clock and kick a field goal late."
Three plays later, the Patriots allowed Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw to score the go-ahead touchdown, and Collinsworth immediately pounced. "There was time to talk about it and I guarantee you Bradshaw had been told to get down and he just didn't do it," Collinsworth said. "It is basically game over if you can covert an extra point at that moment, and now it is going the other way and now Tom Brady is going to get a chance. It's a big mistake."
It was bold commentary and the cameras panned on Bradshaw, then quickly to Brady. Viewers then got more replays of Bradshaw scoring, which made it clear how the New England defenders had backed away.
Prior to the game's last play, Collinsworth nicely informed viewers that injured New England tight end Rob Gronkowski had entered the game for jump-ball purposes. Michaels' final call was not over-the-top dramatic, but it was accurate and informative. "To the end zone, [Aaron] Hernandez is there, tipped and batted, Gronkowski can't get it! Incomplete. And the New York Giants, given last rites by many in December, are the Super Bowl champs in February."
Yes, there were some missteps during the game. Michaels mistook Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman for running back Danny Woodhead and NBC pulled off Giants receiver Victor Cruz way too early when he was in the middle of his trademark salsa touchdown dance. There were not a lot of celebrity cutaways, which depending on your taste is either a great thing (hand raised) or not. But those are small nitpicks and NBC's game telecast deserves viewer praise. The footage of Giants tight end Jake Ballard falling in agony on his sideline with 10:05 left in the fourth quarter might have been the best moment of the night for the production team. How could you not feel for Ballard?
The postgame was solid, though not getting Patriots coach Bill Belichick or any New England players before NBC signed off was a big miss. But again, there was still good stuff in the postgame, especially Patriots owner Robert Kraft looking forlorn in his suite on the game's final play. The camera stayed with Kraft as the others in his suite moved out of the frame. The owner stood motionless before he looked at the scoreboard, and then down again. His face told the whole story. Grade: A-