All the pre-hype punditry to Super Bowl XLVIII, no matter where the source, led to one conclusion: With the cold weather threat resolved, the game originating from MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands this past Sunday would be one for the ages -- a close match of a top offensive pro football team (Denver Broncos) against top defensive football team (Seattle Seahawks) with the outcome doubtful to the final minutes. No objections to the contrary.
The game was one for the ages for sure, as the highest-rated special in television history, with more than 112.2 million people watching all over this land. Those viewers, plus another three million, turned on the most-watched halftime extravaganza of a U.S. sports event and learned how talented Bruno Mars is. No one-song-and-done artist is he. More on that shortly.
Then there was the flip for the ages: A game of blowout city proportions, final score 43-8. In just 12 seconds of the first quarter, Denver transformed into the football gang that couldn't move down the field straight and Seattle went for the defensive jugular that didn't unlock until the last second.
As Meat Loaf might warble, two out of three outcomes ain't bad.
Why didn't viewers switch the channel to “Downton Abbey” or another refuge of original programming? Let's open the debate and suggest that Seattle's defensive prowess on every play, plus the offensive maneuvers of quarterback Russell Wilson and teammates, kept viewers coming back for more. Credit much of that to the way Fox showcased the game, with a minimum of graphic pyrotechnics (simple live/replay transitions using a silver Vince Lombardi trophy and most factoids in a left corner box) and the max of isolated offensive line and secondary replay action. It was somewhat reminiscent of Emmy-winning director Sandy Grossman's handiwork on many a CBS or Fox Super Bowl or National Football League playoff games over recent decades. How fitting that toward the end of the blowout, Grossman got a shout-out from play-by-play caller Joe Buck and analyst Troy Aikman.
Buck and Aikman, for this observer, contributed their own viewing pleasure by keeping the focus real and on the game play. After Percy Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return to open the second half (and demolish any chance of a Denver comeback), Buck went to commercial with these lines: "A short pop-up kick to limit the damage Percy Harvin could do. Damage done."
"They (the Seahawks) took all the air out of this building for the Denver Broncos," Aikman added seconds after that break.
As for the halftime show, Mars' electrifying performance, going from an extended drum riff to spirited rendition of his Grammy-nominated hit “Locked Out Of Heaven” to winding down with “Just The Way You Are” was matched by outstanding direction and camera work. MetLife's field became a giant mosh pit, with some of the best shots being crowds watching Mars prance around the stage, including that James Brown footwork break. High-definition set owners had a great seat for the panoramic views, and the visual of Mars singing “Way” on the left side of the screen, while fireworks went off on the right side.
When it came time for the Chevy-sponsored post game show, Fox seemed on its way to pitching the TV equivalent of a perfect game. Then the network balked big time. First, coming from four minutes of commercials and promos after Buck and Aikman's last words, host Curt Menefee did 30 seconds on-camera and handed off to another four-minute pod of commercials and promos. (Reminded me of CBS' atrocious practice at the start of NCAA basketball tournament games in the 1980s, when the network cut to a local station break less than a minute after starting coverage.) Then came the trophy presentation and MVP announcement (well-handled by Michael Strahan) followed by another long commercial break, and finally Menefee, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson giving a few wrap-up sentences on the game before closing shop.
For all of that, Fox gave post game viewers zero replays – zero! Zero recap of full-game or second-half action. Zero effort to spot turning points of the game or bring in reaction from players. By contrast, ESPN's NFL primetime special, starting its game recap just as Fox faded to black, provided as enthusiastic and inventive a summary as it gets, thanks to Chris Berman, Tom Jackson and Steve Young, plus sideline reaction midway from Seahawks player Kam Chancellor (a fun hear). Berman offered numerous opportunities to "toast" Denver's play. In a few minutes, ESPN filled the gap Fox left behind.
Nevertheless, give Fox big kudos for an exercise in sports domination well-presented. Add extra credit for a smooth recalculating of segment assignments in the way of Terry Bradshaw's absence due to the death of a family member over the weekend. Condolences to Bradshaw's family.
In another way, this anticipated game of the ages was historic. This Super Bowl was the first simulcast in Spanish while live in English, via Fox Deportes, which had its own announcing crew and some production support to accompany Fox's feed. Nineteen advertisers participated in this first, including GoDaddy, the first online site to make a national Spanish-language ad buy. This was a milestone long overdue for multicultural TV, and unknown to most, it capped off a set of groundbreaking Fox Deportes NFL games, starting with the early afternoon Thanksgiving Day matchup last November and continuing with the Fox-scheduled conference wild card, divisional playoff and championship games last month.
The big minus: Fox and the NFL did little in the way of public acknowledgment of this initiative. No press releases or conference calls with reporters or other methods to drum support. What's to hide?
The big plus: The move to present these games live happened, and maybe this will spur an era of having every NFL game, regular-season and playoff, available nationally on live Spanish-language TV. With a tip of the tongue to Russell Wilson, why not now?
As for that other popular Super Bowl avocation, commercial viewing, two things come to mind for 2014. Every in-game break lasted 60 or 90 seconds. Don't you wish all network TV programming would go this way again? No wonder these ads stand out for viewers, instead of spread out inside three-to-four minute breaks. Second, the assortment of commercials I witnessed (from the halftime show on), with exceptions along the way, came off as dopey or moronic, either in premise, execution or both. A few commercials started promising, as Heinz did with its "Happy and You Know It" kid play, and then went the dopey route.
The best of the bunch:
*** Chrysler's "American Pride" two-minute spot featuring Bob Dylan. Wonderfully evocative and poetic with both words and imagery. "Is there anything more American than America?" Dylan waxes. "You can't fake true cool. You can't fake legacy...You can't import the heart and soul of every person working on the line."
*** "Homecoming" from Budweiser, showing serviceman Chuck Nadd's return from his tour of duty. Great slice-of-life atmosphere. Simple point: "Every soldier deserves a hero's welcome." Right after the spot, Fox returns with a live shot of Nadd and his wife sitting at MetLife, noted by Buck.
The worst of the bunch:
*** Audi's "compromise" commercial featuring a gruesome set of dog heads growling from pocketbooks. Looked like a pilot for an Animal Planet satire on “The Walking Dead” or an ad Petsmart put in its trashcan. How did this get by the advertiser or the agency?
*** "Cowboy Kid" from Doritos, a perennial winner among top Super Bowl ads every year. The sight of a boy riding a dog to the Lone Ranger theme/William Tell overture looked way out of bounds. Let's hope it’s the exception to Doritos' track record.
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