Skip to main content
Original Issue


During the nine Super Bowl telecasts that preceded last week's, just about everything worth trying had been attempted by NBC and CBS, the two networks that alternate in broadcasting the game at a cost of up to $3.5 million. Yet there remains a compulsion to try something new for every Super Bowl, if only to combat what some network people refer to as the Doze Factor. Super Bowl teams generally get there largely because of their defensive skills, and TV executives fear that game plans based on defense lead to football that will have many of the 70 million viewers yawning by halftime. And that is not a good situation when commercial minutes sell for as much as $230,000.

With its pageantry, star-studded rosters and championship implications, the Super Bowl should be a perfect event for television coverage, but the networks' concern about the staying power of the many inexpert fans that help swell this particular audience hampers their efforts to put on memorable telecasts. Last week it was CBS' turn to try, and Bob Wussler, the head of the network's sports department, had been thinking about how to do the game for 18 months. He sent 170 people to Miami, along with 18 cameras (six are used during regular season games), 60 microphones and 110 monitors. CBS rented enough trailers to establish a small retirement community and strung seven miles of cable. "When I say we have 170 people here, I think I might be wrong," Wussler said. "We probably have another hundred more. Just call them hangers-on."

To the heaviest concentration of technical equipment ever at a Super Bowl, Wussler added a 57-foot cabin cruiser named Raffles. Pregame celebrity interviews were conducted aboard Raffles as it moved down Biscayne Bay. Counting the cruiser and the omnipresent Goodyear blimp, CBS could say that it was covering the game by land, sea and air. Too much of a good thing? Not really. Convincing viewers that well-known non-sports people are enjoying themselves at the Super Bowl is an important factor in the business of broadcasting the event, and the use of a boat as an interview site gave the pregame show a relaxed touch that Wussler felt it needed. "One of the major problems with Super Bowl telecasts has been that the game has been taken too seriously," he said early last week. "I feel you need only two main announcers to cover the game itself, and we assigned Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier. We will have nobody down on the sidelines as others have in the past, because I don't remember anyone ever telling me anything interesting from there."

The decisions to keep the number of game announcers to a minimum and not to switch to roving reporters were well conceived. In their efforts to outdo each other, the networks too often have only succeeded in cluttering up football, bringing in peripheral elements during games that detract from the coverage of the play. Still, Wussler could not entirely resist looking for something new for Super Bowl X. "When Jimmy Connors and Rod Laver played their challenge tennis match, the sound of their strokes drew a tremendous viewer response," Wussler said. "We hope to get that kind of effect in the Super Bowl by broadcasting the sound of the hitting. It could be a big plus."

CBS' five hours of coverage came complete with the "Songs of the Week," a marriage of film and music that has almost become a staple with this network since it was first tried last spring on the Ballad of the Sad Young Men, a telecast about the "rabbits" on the pro golf tour. During the season, CBS followed that up with some effective "Songs of the Week." After Bart Starr became the coach of the Packers this season, one show presented film excerpts from the great Green Bay years—and some shots from the not-so-great present—while Barbra Streisand sang The Way We Were. When the Dolphins were struggling without Larry Csonka, the film cut back and forth between new footage of Coach Don Shula standing grimly on the sidelines with his arms folded and old footage of Csonka running for Miami. The music was Come Back To Me.

But on a Super Bowl telecast, one "Song of the Week" apparently would never do, so CBS used five. Too much of a good thing? Absolutely.

Because the halftime score (10-7) was so close, the Doze Factor was no factor in Super Bowl X. The hoped-for crash of tackles and blocks was also absent. Only on a couple of first-half plays could the sound of contact be heard, but the idea is worth pursuing.

The too-long pregame show opened with a fine description by Jack Whitaker of the goings-on in the week preceding the game, including "enough cocktail parties to seriously endanger human life." CBS took viewers to some of them, and introduced a wild range of people, places and things: George Halas, Raquel Welch, Don Shula, Alice Cooper, evening gowns by Jordan Marsh, a 20-pound lobster, the Fontainebleau and a chap named Vinnie who got tickets from his bookie.

This Super Bowl also turned out to be as glittery and as unpredictable as the people and events surrounding it. And CBS capitalized on that well. Wussler had said all week long, "We're going to get lucky with this game, and we will be prepared for it." Indeed they were, and the result was generally excellent camera work and judicious use of replays. Wussler also had identified Summerall and Brookshier as "our first team." And they were, especially when Brookshier was doing his succinct analyses of line play.