Any television network would love to have the Super Bowl on its schedule—except perhaps when the game is played, as it was last Sunday, in New Orleans' Superdome. Despite disclaimers from the Dome's builders, the $163 million bubble on the bayou is fraught with problems for technicians and cameramen.
Unlike other sporting terrariums—the Astrodome in Houston, the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. and the Kingdome in Seattle—the interior of the Superdome tends to look dark, if not dank, on television. Chalk that off to poor lighting. In an attempt to correct this shortcoming for the Super Bowl, the power to the lights in the Superdome was dramatically increased and hundreds of them were refocused in hopes of eliminating dark areas, particularly in the end zones. To complicate matters, laying wires for the telecast, through the maze of subterranean passageways in the immense building, was a nightmare. But all the work was worth it, because the pictures from New Orleans were consistently sharp.
This year's Super Bowl was the first played in prime time, starting at 6 p.m. in the Eastern zone and ending at 9:50, and CBS hoped to break the record of 81.9 million viewers who watched last year. Evidence that those hopes were realistic was the lineup NBC and ABC put against the Cowboys and Broncos: repeats of The Hardy Boys and Six Million Dollar Man (ABC); a rerun of 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and a showing of the oft-delayed dramatization of Lou Gehrig's life, A Love Affair (NBC). CBS followed the game with an All in the Family episode written around the Super Bowl. It was taped only two weeks in advance so that the names of the actual Super Bowl teams could be used.
Not counting Archie Bunker's show, CBS put on nine hours of sports Sunday, a one-day record for the network. Dallas-Denver was preceded by NBA basketball, a rain-shortened telecast from the Phoenix Open and a tedious 110-minute pregame show that was notable for its low points. When CBS crew members made predictions of the score, the best the network's resident prognosticator, Jimmy the Greek, could come up with was a tie. At least that put him one up on Artist Leroy Nieman, whose endless and intrusive splatterings proved only that he could not even paint a tie.
January 23, 1978
For the game, CBS used 13 cameras and five slow-motion discs, compared to the six and two it usually employs for a regular-season pro telecast. Thankfully, the network did not also increase the number of announcers, staying with its "first team" of Pat Summer-all and Tom Brookshier, the best combination doing football on any network.
While Summerall and Brookshier have been called the Sunshine Boys, in broadcasting terms they are the Odd Couple. Standard CBS practice is to use a professional announcer for play by play and an ex-jock for filler. These two are ex-players (Summerall was a placekicker for the Giants, Brookshier a star defensive back for the Eagles) who are also first-rate broadcasters. They share the air time so evenly and smoothly that viewers get the impression they have been working together for a lifetime. Well, they have, almost, though they became a Sunday combination only 2½ years ago, when Summerall and the network agreed that he had spent enough time—12 seasons—doing only analysis. Before then, however, Brookshier and Summerall had worked well together for seven years on NFL Highlights.
Between them, Summerall and Brookshier have 28 years of broadcasting experience, and a lot of that time was spent doing things other than football. Brookshier served as the sports director of Philadelphia's WCAU for 12 years, and in recent years he has been handling some major prizefights. Summerall's background in sports and sportscasting is even more varied. He was a Florida tennis champion, and he had a tryout with the baseball Cardinals. He was considered such an able announcer by WCBS radio in New York that he once worked as the station's 5:30-10 a.m. "Morning Man."
During the NFL season CBS used 18 regular announcers and a few standbys. Being selected for the Super Bowl is the big enchilada for these broadcasters, and Summerall and Brookshier, well informed and low key, were the obvious choices. Their selection also reflects a slowly evolving trend: the networks are finally picking their best announcers, not necessarily their most famous ones, for big games. Summerall and Brookshier got the assignment though they were not the most familiar voices and though they were not the resident experts on the teams competing in the Super Bowl. "As we go into the game," Summerall said last week, "the odd thing is that neither Tommy nor I saw Denver during the season."
Nevertheless, the pair handled the Broncos, and the game itself, with aplomb. They were intelligent and insightful and occasionally made a stab at being witty, as at the end of the first half following Cowboy Efren Herrera's third missed field-goal attempt.
Summerall: "It'll be a long halftime for him."
Brookshier: "Depending on which dressing room he goes in."
The thing viewers may well have enjoyed most was the use of a camera installed at the top of the Superdome. The view from 270 feet up was extremely helpful in showing pass patterns, sideline plays and blocking. Perhaps this will mean the end of tiresome blimp shots, to be replaced by those from rooftop or 'copter-mounted cameras at future NFL games.