ABC Makes Best of Bad-Game Situation

There was a game within a game here Sunday. ABC was trying to beat Murphy's Law and win this one. The objective was to get the Super Bowl pictures and audio from Qualcomm Stadium to your living room, and others in 220 countries around the world, without anything major going wrong.

The biggest problem for ABC was the quality of the game.

There were a few little things. Lynn Swann's microphone was breaking up while he interviewed John Lynch just before the kickoff, and again while he interviewed Warren Sapp after the game. But that had more to do with other broadcasters illegally using ABC's frequency than faulty equipment.

Andrea Kremer had to interview Oakland Coach Bill Callahan in the dark. It was as if Callahan's face was being blacked out. Somebody must have forgotten to turn on a light.

ABC wasn't as perfect as magicians Penn & Teller, who got everything right -- although it would have been more impressive if they had announced their predictions before the game.

But overall ABC had a decent day. At least it was better than the Raiders' day.

Game producer Fred Gaudelli said, "Were we perfect? No. But I think we had a good telecast. I think we had everything covered. It's just unfortunate the game turned into a blowout."

Gaudelli's crew and the announcers were tested when the Buccaneers went up, 34-3, in the third quarter.

"That's when you've got to try harder," Gaudelli said.

Said announcer Al Michaels: "That's when you go deep into the saddlebags and dig out all your anecdotal and historical material. At least we had some interesting plays and some drama."

ABC certainly went into the game well prepared.

There were 31 production trucks, mobile units and office trailers in the ABC complex in a parking lot outside the stadium. There were 47 cameras on site and about 20 miles of cables. And the ABC crew consisted of about 300 people.

The crew is sort of divided into two groups. The announcers, key production people and network executives -- a group of about 50 -- spent the week at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel in Carlsbad.

The cameramen, engineers and technical workers stayed at the Doubletree in Mission Valley.

The day for most of the crew began early. A shuttle designated for the pregame show producers left the Four Seasons at 5:30 a.m.

A second shuttle for game producers left at 7 a.m.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew made its way over from the Doubletree. It was pretty much all hands on deck by 8 a.m.

However, the Outback Maddencruiser, transporting John Madden, Michaels, ABC vice president of media relations Mark Mandel, and two contest winners, didn't leave the Four Seasons until 11:30.

The Maddencruiser had a police escort, but that didn't speed things up. Cars were passing the bus left and right. The slow pace didn't matter though. The bus has all the comforts, including a refrigerator. Those on board just sat back and enjoyed the pregame show.

Meanwhile, things were abuzz in the complex. At 3:15, as kickoff approached, some workers, taking a brief break, began filing out of the trucks and trailers, awaiting the arrival of the Flying Eagles fighter jets from Lemoore Naval Air Station.

About the same time Mike Tirico arrived in the complex. He had been on board the USS Preble naval aircraft carrier in San Diego Bay to serve as host for part of the pregame show. Looking at his watch, he said it took him, Dan Fouts and segment producer Mark Loomis exactly 22 minutes to drive to the stadium.

"There's no traffic at all this close to the kickoff," Tirico said.

He watched the fly-over with everyone else. It was an emotional moment in a day of many.

Of his four-hour stint aboard the Preble, Tirico said: "Working among those 370 sailors and officers abroad the carrier was the most uplifting thing I've been a part of in my professional life."

There were some emotional moments for viewers during the pre-game show as well. The piece on Johnny Unitas, narrated by Baltimore native Jim McKay, was probably the highlight of a pregame show that was about as good as one that is four hours long could be. In this case, the pregame show was better than the game -- unless you're a Buccaneer fan.

ABC newcomer Jimmy Kimmel, saying goodbye to cable and getting thrown into the Hudson River by cast members from HBO's "The Sopranos," was one of the most entertaining pieces. And Grant Paulsen, the 14-year-old sportscaster, was a hit.

But Kimmel interviewing Bill Romanowski about his dead goldfish didn't work.

And although it was impressive to get interviews with Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, Wayne Gretzky, Serena Williams, Marion Jones and Derek Jeter for the "Mind-set of a Champion" segment, no one really said anything of substance.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 28, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 470 words Type of Material: Correction TV-Radio sports column -- An article in Sports on Monday about coverage of the Super Bowl incorrectly stated the U.S. Navy ship Preble is an aircraft carrier. The Preble is a guided missile destroyer.
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