Super Bowl - The Media Column

The Super Bowl is the greatest spectacle in American television and the networks that broadcast it have a great responsibility to treat it as such. It should feel different because it is different and last night's broadcast from CBS certainly attempted to do just that. They opened the broadcast with an open worthy of the occasion. The network unveiled a new score graphic that was sleek and effective. They brought in an excellent array of current NFL players to supplement their pre-game show. This is where the praise all but ends.

The broadcast last night was in a word - pathetic. It was failure by all involved from talent to producers and that was without the disaster that was the power outage. These are supposed to be the best of the best and while we all knew going in that this wasn't CBS's best crew, it is what they deem their 'A-team' and they were awful.

All of my criticisms are intertwined failures of all involved. At any point where a play-by-play man fails to mention something, a producer can get in his ear and help things along and the viewer won't know the difference. All involved are also in the production meetings all week. That said, I'm going to start with Jim Nantz who gets the highest grade out of everyone last night at about a C- and I feel like I'm being nice. The following are all notes I made on my iPhone during the game of nuggets that I thought of that would have enhanced the broadcast. Keep in mind Nantz has called a full season of NFL action, is a multi-year veteran and has been preparing for this game for 2 weeks and has that prep sitting in front of him. I'm an unemployed talk show host who does some play-by-play who was sitting on a friend's couch with no prep in front of me.
  1. The first half LaMichael James fumble was caused by Courtney Upshaw. Upshaw is a rookie from Alabama. He was attempting to go back-to-back as a college and pro champion. Both his National Championship Game and Super Bowl were played in the Super Dome.
  2. On the fake field goal call (more on that coming), there was ZERO mention that John Harbaugh came up as a special teams coach.
  3. That fact also was not mentioned in the game's final seconds as Nantz correctly predicted the Ravens would take a safety. 
  4. On that safety, neither Nantz nor Simms explained why you would do that in that situation. For those still wondering: it was a 5 point game meaning San Francisco needed a touchdown to win and a field goal wouldn't help them because there wasn't enough time to score twice. The Ravens were punting from their own end zone meaning a short return could be a touchdown. Instead, the Ravens took the safety, taking extra time off the clock and punting from the 20 yard line. The two points didn't matter because San Francisco still needed a touchdown. That 2nd punt is a free kick so it's not rushed like a regular punt might be, limiting the chance for a bad kick. The result: a very good, deep punt and the need for an 80 yard runback that didn't happen. Time expires. Ravens win.
  5. The shuffle of the Ravens offensive line was barely discussed. For those that don't know - the Ravens switched nearly every player on their offensive line at the start of the playoffs. This is unheard of. They introduced one new starter (Bryant McKinnie at left tackle), moved their left tackle Michael Oher (the guy from The Blindside, also not mentioned) to right tackle and switched around their guards for at least the fourth time this season. That's unheard of and it was barely mentioned.
  6. During the power outage, nobody from CBS mentioned the down and distance we would be returning to until the players were lined up ready to go. Resetting the stage is as important as it gets as you probably have a few new viewers coming in to check out the power outage.
  7. Late in the game Haloti Ngata was hurt. It was mentioned in passing going into a break (a player is down, no specifics and instead of a shot of the player, a replay of a previous play was being shown) and it was mentioned in passing when they came back. Ngata is an integral part of the Ravens defense. Nantz had to (at minimum) ask Simms how significant that was. He didn't even do that.
These were just off the top of my head. Some of them are more on Nantz (the Upshaw nugget, Harbaugh's background) than others (offensive line shuffle) which should have been set up by producers but all in all it was infuriating to watch.

The number one rule of broadcasting is to know your audience and Nantz failed miserably in that regard. A large portion of the Super Bowl's audience is watching their one and only football game of the year. While I give CBS credit for not overplaying the Ray Lewis storyline, it felt like they ignored it. Lewis has a complex legacy thanks to the murder case in 2000 but he's arguably the greatest linebacker to ever play, playing in his last game. He needed to be discussed. The pistol needed more attention. There was just very little context given to anything throughout a broadcast that needs more of it than any other sporting broadcast on earth. A quick but subtle example: on Jacoby Jones's 108 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Jones was led through the hole by Vontae Leach. Leach is the Ravens all-world fullback who routinely opens holes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. This was not stressed during the replays by Nantz, whose initial call of the kickoff was exceptional or our next victim.

Then there is Nantz's partner, Phil Simms. Everyone last night was lambasting him on Twitter and rightfully so. He was so indecisive and often just doesn't seem to know what in the hell he's talking about. From the late safety to a suggestion that San Francisco should be conservative while down big with possession at the end of the half and the other team getting the ball to start the 2nd, his lack of football acumen was disturbing. 

CBS had at it's disposal over 60 cameras, one of which was the coveted "all 22" angle. This is a high sideline angle that shows all 22 players on the field, allowing the viewer to see how plays develop. It's not used in telecasts and is usually reserved for coaches, players and analysts. CBS had an option to watch the game from this angle online. It was not used at all in the telecast. 

I'm not sure if it was supposed to be an online only thing, but if CBS had that access and didn't use it to break down every big play down, that is a massive failure and I think it's in part to Simms' lack of a clue. Could you imagine what Gruden, Collinsworth or Mayock would do with that? Is film nerd Trent Dilfer available? Jaworski? Beuhler? 

When I read that CBS was going to have the all 22 I was giddy. I never saw it and won't until I see it on NFL Matchup next season.

Then there is the production team who had about as bad of a night as you can have. Obviously losing power is a disaster and during the outage, CBS had limited to no communication with Nantz/Simms and lost all but 11 of its 62 cameras. That withstanding, here are some notes I made during the game:
  1. Where is Alex Smith? The 49ers QB switch was one of the stories of the NFL year. The first time we saw him was when he shared a post-game embrace with Ed Reed.
  2. The fight. Early in the game there was a scrum in which Ravens DB Carey Williams threw a punch and shoved an official. The replays were horribly limited and CBS as a whole failed here to stress that Williams should have been thrown out. We never really saw what started the fracas. The mission, per CBS's producer, was to not miss anything with the plethora of cameras. Missed that!
  3. Why on earth did the director cut away from Jacoby Jones doing Ray Lewis's dance to show Joe Flacco pointing to the sky? Lewis inspiring the Ravens is a story that got little run and here was one of his teammates honoring him after making a historical play and they cut away from it?! Kudos to them for having a solid replay of the dance and Desmond Howard's kickoff return for a touchdown ready to go as well, but cutting away from Jones there was a joke.
  4. Lewis's first career sack was on Jim Harbaugh, the then Colts quarterback and current 49ers head coach. CBS told SI's Richard Deitsch that they had that clip. Unless I missed it, it never made the broadcast.
  5. As the 49ers came back, there was not enough, if any mention, of the deficit from which they were coming back from. This team was down 28-6 in the 3rd quarter. What was the biggest 3rd quarter deficit ever overcome in a Super Bowl? Would have been a great graphic. Also on Nantz for not bringing up just how improbable this was.
There was one point in which they used a graphic of the stats after the blackout when the game seemed to (did) turn. I would have loved to see that graphic a few times, updated as the 49ers continued to drive.

Last but not least, the power outage. I've often told the younger students I talk to that radio is incredibly important even if you want to do TV. Why? Radio builds your adlib skills. What can you do when you're off script? One of the senior hiring managers at ESPN once told me generally speaking they'd rather take someone off radio with limited TV experience for SportsCenter than someone who's only done 2-minutes sports casts their entire career. Why? The radio person can handle a 3-hour SportsCenter shift.

Last night, with no prompter or script, James Brown looked lost and without a clue. His first on-camera appearance during the blackout had him literally looking all over the place as if he couldn't have been less sure what to do. He failed to drive an interesting conversation and that crew sorely missed Boomer Easiason who was in the radio booth calling the game. Easiason's radio background (he co-hosts a daily show on WFAN in New York and is damn good) would have been a savior. Instead you had Bill Cowher saying the 49ers should consider Alex Smith and then say he wasn't really suggesting that. One, that was confusing. Two, one of the primary reasons the 49ers switched to Kaepernick was his big play potential, which down 22 points in the Super Bowl, was needed sorely and almost won them the game.

Overall the broadcast was lacking in nearly every department. There were technical errors beyond the power outage with either bad calls by the director or bad takes by the technical director. The off-field and personal story lines were never developed any deeper than surface level mentions. The football elements of the game were sorely lacking. One last example - Trent Dilfer post-game had a great stat that San Francisco was averaging over eight yards per play out of the pistol. Frank Gore's gashing run that set the 49ers up in the red zone with a chance for the go-ahead score was the last play the 49ers ran out of that formation. Perhaps that's a bit much to ask, but questioning the 49ers playcall down the stretch certainly isn't and it wasn't done.

But hey, what do I know? I'm just an unemployed talk show host armed with a broadcast journalism degree who's done some play-by-play.