By Chris Rambo
Perhaps nothing symbolizes the Super Bowl’s growth from simply a championship football game into the hype-driven colossus that we know today more than the network pre-game show.While all known tapes of the original Super Bowl I network broadcasts have since been wiped, something tells me that the two pre-game shows (CBS and NBC each broadcasted the game) were nothing like the five-hour extravaganza NBC put forth Sunday. Covering that amount of time is no small feat and certainly requires many days of preparation and rehearsal, not to mention seamless coordination on game day. Fortunately, NBC has a deep reservoir of on-air talent to pull from, and it was their skillful deployment of that talent which made the pre-game show a success.
Every Super Bowl pre-game that I’ve watched seems to be a blend of the following: non-football entertainment, informational/inspirational feature stories, x’s and o’s talk, and plenty (I do mean plenty) of network promotion. NBC more or less stuck to this format on Sunday.
Non-football entertainment/network promotion: I’m deciding to merge these two categories into one because that’s basically what NBC decided to do. Almost every one of their non-football segments featured a personality from an NBC Universal-owned network. First, there was The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantorie giving fans at home a feel for the conditions outside Lucas Oil Stadium while also hanging from an 800-foot zip line. Next up came Tom Colicchio, host of the Bravo reality show Top Chef, who appeared with two contestants from the show. The contestants competed to see who could whip up the best Super Bowl party snack, with Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy serving as judges. They were followed by Bill and Giuliana Rancic from the Style Network, who offered fans a few last-minute pointers on how to host a good Super Bowl party. There was a live interview at the White House between Matt Lauer and President Obama, the remainder of which could be seen by tuning into the Today show Monday morning. Finally, Nick Cannon, host of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, was on hand throughout the afternoon to chat with various entertainment figures — all of whom had either a movie or upcoming NBC show to promote. While die-hard football junkies probably cringed at most of this stuff, it shouldn’t be judged too harshly. After all, plenty of non-football fans were surely tuned in, plus, NBC shelled out truckloads of money for the broadcast rights, so I think they were justified in turning some of the show into a glorified infomercial.
Feature stories: I thought NBC did a pretty good job on this front. With five hours to kill, there was no excuse for not covering every relevant angle, and the network made sure that America got to know a little bit about the players and coaches on each team. In an effort to conserve space, I won’t list every single player that was profiled, but I will say that my two favorite segments were on defensive-end Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants and punter Zoltan Mesko of the Patriots. Each story did a nice job at highlighting the inspirational elements of each player’s journey and the unusual way they were both introduced to the game. There were also scores of one-on-one interviews most notably with the quarterbacks, owners, and head coaches of both teams. Duties were doled out among Bob Costas, Al Michaels, Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison. While the interviewing skills of the first three have been well chronicled (they were all terrific as usual), I thought Dungy and Harrison also did a good job on their respective sit-downs with Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick. While nothing earth-shattering was revealed in either case, viewers were treated to a side of the two coaches that is different from the way both men have at times been portrayed. The best package, however, was Peter King’s poignant segment on Steve Gleason, the ALS-stricken former special teams player for the Saints. Airing shortly before game time, the piece took a look at how some of Gleason’s former teammates have come to his aid, and the possible link that repeated head trauma could have on ALS. Overall, the features were all very solid. While many of the angles that NBC covered had already been explored by other networks and various newspapers, viewers who did not spend their spare time devouring information received a nice look at all the key participants.
X’s and O’s: I feel that this was the strongest part of NBC’s presentation. For most of the afternoon, the network grouped Bob Costas with Hines Ward and Aaron Rodgers, and Dan Patrick with Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison. Dungy and Harrison have done nice work all season while I thought Rodgers and Ward did a good job at adding perspective on the quarterback/receiver part of each team’s game plan as well as what emotions a player feels leading up to the big game. I thought the crew was at its best about halfway through the broadcast when Doug Flutie, Cris Collinsworth, and Rodney Harrison acted out a taped segment on the field about what has made Victor Cruz so effective this season. Back live, Dungy and Harrison then broke down both Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. They correctly predicted Nicks could have a huge game because of all the attention the Patriots were putting on Cruz. They then swung it down to Costas, Rodgers, and Ward, with the two players explaining all of the dynamics that went into good quarterback/receiver chemistry. While there were other good examples, I felt this one best exemplified NBC’s coordinated use of its available talent. The analysts were able to explain a key subplot concisely after being skillfully led in by the two anchors.
Overall, I thought that NBC did a very competent job at delivering what most viewers have come to expect from a Super Bowl pre-game show. The network did well at plugging in Dungy, Harrison, Rodgers, and Ward to analyze all of the emotional and strategic aspects of a game like this, while Costas and Patrick are obviously two of the best facilitators in the business. NBC also did a nice job at confining most of the non-football stuff to the first-half of the show before trading in Cannon for Michaels and Collinsworth and devoting more time to game strategy. Honestly, I can’t recommend that anybody actually watch one of these pre-game shows from start to finish like I did, however, if you were periodically tuning in, then chances are that you ran into something pretty good to hold you over until kick-off.