THE BOWL GAMES : NBC Provides Coverage as Good as Its Games

If what took place on the first day of 1988 is an omen for NBC, the peacock will have plenty to be proud of this year.

Dealt two very exciting games and another that pitted the nation's top two teams, NBC delivered three excellent telecasts.

In the first game of the tripleheader, the Fiesta Bowl, Jimmy Cefalo, working with Charlie Jones, again showed he is fast becoming one of the top football commentators.

The game's most important play was when Nebraska was called for illegal procedure late in the game, nullifying a 56-yard gain on a pass play to the two.

Cefalo spotted the penalty immediately and let viewers know that the big gain was coming back.

Later, talking by phone from Tempe, Ariz., Cefalo said: "I saw wide receiver Morgan Gregory look at the official and then take two steps backwards. That's what tipped me.

"As a former wide receiver, I knew that something was wrong. Someone had lined up wrong, and Gregory was trying to adjust."

Cefalo missed a few details on the confusing play, but so did everyone else. Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said he'll have to take a look at the film before he knows what happened.

The key was Cefalo knew immediately which team was going to be penalized.

Later Friday, commentator Bob Trumpy, working the Orange Bowl with Don Criqui, also was quick to pick up on a key penalty. When Miami's Melvin Bratton scored on a pass play in the first quarter, a flag was thrown. But Trumpy said right away that it was for Oklahoma having 12 men on the field, so the touchdown would count.

However, in the closing minutes of the Orange Bowl, Trumpy got overly excited by a Miami fumble that wasn't a fumble. But Criqui immediately said the drop had been caused by the ground, and thus was not a fumble.

In the early game, Jones and Cefalo didn't have a perfect telecast, but when they did make a mistake they corrected it.

"We have a deal," Jones said by phone after the game. "When one of us notices the other has made a mistake, then we correct it. We erase it."

In the first half, Jones corrected Cefalo, who said Florida State quarterback Danny McManus had been sacked only twice during the regular season. Jones said it was four times and, after a rather involved exchange, concluded: "The point is he hasn't been sacked very much."

At the start of the second half, Jones said Florida State led, 21-0, when actually the score was 21-14. Cefalo corrected him, saying: "Well, you've got the right idea. Florida State did score 21 straight points."

In the fourth quarter, Jones said McManus had broken the Fiesta Bowl passing yardage record set by Gary Huff 17 years ago in Super Bowl I.

"Did I say Super Bowl I?" Jones said on the air. "I mean Fiesta Bowl I. I'm getting a little excited."

Later, Jones explained what happened. "After the mistake, I looked over at Jimmy and could see I'd said something wrong, and then it occurred to me what I'd said."

Some veteran announcers don't like to be corrected, but it doesn't seem to bother Jones, a network football announcer since 1960. Jones happens to be one of the nicest guys in the business, plus he enjoys working with Cefalo.

Their camaraderie comes across during their telecasts. They have a good time, and so do the viewers, or at least they should. It also helps to have a great game.

"It was the best bowl game I've ever done, and this one was my 21st," Jones said.

Good camaraderie also plays a role in the success of the team of Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen.

Their work during the Rose Bowl was solid, and Enberg, in particular, got off some decent lines.

At the start of the fourth quarter, NBC came back from a commercial showing a still picture of Michigan State players holding up four fingers. The Spartans were leading by four points, 14-10, at the time.

Said Enberg: "(Coach) George Perles asked his players, 'Are you for me or against me.' They're telling him they're four him."

After one of Perles' sideline tantrums, Enberg said: "Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler would be proud of his sideline fare."

When USC's Ken Henry did a toe dance as he scored on a pass reception in the fourth quarter, Enberg said: "Baryshnikov would have been proud of that catch." And noting how close Henry was to being out of bounds, he said: "Had he polished his shoes, that wouldn't be a touchdown."

Enberg nicely summed up the critical play of the game, USC's fumbled snap, by saying: "You play all season, you get to a bowl game and you get in a position to win and it all comes down to making a basic exchange between center and quarterback."

Enberg, however, gets the cliche-of-the-day award for a first-quarter comment. After it appeared that Michigan State quarterback Bob McAllister might have fumbled but didn't, Enberg said: "SC came up with the pumpkin. "

Best timing of the day came when NBC put up this graphic: "Michigan State: 20 straight rushing plays." On the next play, McAllister passed to Andre Rison for 55 yards.

For ABC and CBS, the new year didn't start off all that well. ABC got a bummer, Penn State's 35-10 loss to Clemson in the Florida Citrus Bowl. And then in the Sugar Bowl, Auburn and Syracuse tied, which makes nobody happy.

In CBS' only telecast, the Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame lost to Texas A&M;, 35-10.

One lesson ABC and CBS have yet to learn is that sideline reporters, although sometimes helpful in supplying needed information, usually offer nothing. Most of the time, they just intrude on the game.

CBS had John Dockery interview just about everybody connected with Tim Brown--his high school coach, his brother and others.

ABC at least curtailed the usually outlandish Steve Alvarez during the Citrus Bowl but turned Mike Adamle loose during the Sugar Bowl.

Adamle got this from Bo Jackson: "Auburn is where Bo Jackson was discovered. . . . You never forget where you come from." Heavy stuff. Adamle also interviewed the Auburn mascot, a Golden Eagle named Tiger.

NBC used a sideline reporter only for the Orange Bowl--Tom Hammond, who was not as intrusive as the ABC and CBS guys.

A lowpoint for NBC came during the Orange Bowl when a camera was focused on ex-Miami quarterback Jim Kelly just as he decided to spit.

But overall, NBC's long day was filled with highlights.

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