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Football, the sport that has allowed them those extra martinis to go along with their $7.50 Caesar salads at lunch, has taken an unwelcome turn for the people at CBS and ABC. On those two networks the game seems to have peaked due to the oldest of all television diseases, overexposure. And that might add up to a crisis for televised football were it not for all those other folks over at NBC who are raising their glasses higher than ever, toasting their best season of football telecasting.

While the ratings for ABC's package of college and Monday night pro games and CBS' lineup of NFL National Conference contests were slumping, those for American Conference games on NBC were on the rise and topped off an excellent sports year for the network. Last spring, in prime time, NBC carried North Carolina State's victory in the NCAA basketball championships and Henry Aaron's 715th lifetime home run. It also had the World Series, the Orange and Rose Bowls and the most exciting game of this pro football season, Oakland's 28-26 playoff win over the Miami Dolphins. And last week NBC carried the Super Bowl with all the buzz and baberoo that surround it.

The man in charge of sports at NBC is 52-year-old Carl Lindemann Jr., who has gotten about one-tenth as much publicity as his ABC counterpart, Roone Arledge, while quietly betting his blue chips on live programming, and he now has drawn some big winners. Of course, not everything is perfect at NBC. Hockey ratings are still a problem, and the word is circulating in basketball and television circles that before the season is over the network may junk the National Hockey League and pick up the American Basketball Association, a move that would have ramifications for both sports. But that situation cannot remove the smile from Lindemann's face. NBC's football successes are especially pleasing to him because in some ways he, more than anyone else, brought about the merger of the AFL and NFL.

Lamar Hunt, Sonny Werblin and Joe Na-math are the three people generally credited with making the American Football League respectable. To be sure, each of them was important, but it was Lindemann and then-NBC President Robert Kintner who pulled the AFL up from "Mickey Mouse" status in 1964 by giving the league $42 million for a five-year contract. That was five times what ABC had been paying for the AFL rights. "That initial contract proved out a loser for us for five years," Lindemann says, "but it allowed the league to sign draft choices and get going. We had problems getting our games into the major television markets, and I can remember some of the championship games not even selling out."

Despite the huge investment, it was not until this season that NBC passed CBS in the pro football ratings. On Jan. 3 NBC placed an advertisement on the back page of The New York Times to celebrate the feat. The ad not only showed that NBC had out-rated CBS by .3 of a point and about 60,000 viewers per game, but that NBC's rating had jumped 6% while CBS' had fallen 4%.

It may be, as NBC quickly points out, that the AFC has more interesting and generally younger teams than the NFC. It also may be that NBC had an incredible run of luck in choosing games for its national broadcasts that turned out to be close and exciting right to the final gun.

Before Super Bowl IX, Lindemann said, "I'm hoping for a lousy day in the northern part of the country so that we can get good ratings." He paused for a moment. "By the northern part of the country I mean from California to Maine. We started thinking about the Super Bowl in the spring and had people go to Tulane Stadium to look it over several times. I'm way over my budget. It will cost us $350,000 just for production alone."

NBC's Super Bowl package consisted of five hours of broadcasting with 36 minutes of commercials sold at prices up to $214,000 per minute, the second-highest figure in the history of broadcast advertising. While Lindemann conceded in advance that a matchup between Pittsburgh and Minnesota, two teams that rely heavily on rushing offenses and stout defenses, was not a dream game from a television point of view, he said, "I've read where the Super Bowl is called the Super Bore and that the games have been dull, but I haven't seen this in a television sense. The one thing I can say for sure before it starts is that the Super Bowl, no matter how it's played, will be the No. 1 sporting event of the year.

"The thing to be wary of with a Super Bowl telecast," Lindemann added, "is that just because you have a lot of equipment [10 cameras] and personnel [180] at the site, you don't overproduce it." NBC didn't. Unlike Bowl telecasts I-VIII, this one did not stagger the viewer with endless reruns of insignificant plays or meaningless shots from balloons on high. And analyst Al DeRogatis, a man who can normally come up with 114 superlatives to describe a tight end who falls off the bench, used the word "great" only about a dozen times—a record low.

NBC's major problem occurred in its taped replays, which frequently fluttered and also changed hues, running the spectrum from pink to green. Almost everything else was well done. Curt Gowdy announced his best game of the year, and Don Meredith, who combined with Joe Namath for a pre-game show that was so flip it flopped, brought to the game a sense of humor it has needed since its inception.