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Michaels and Madden strike a Super balance

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McClatchy Tribune
February 2, 2009

NBC has been back in the NFL for three seasons now, but the rest was mere warm-up for Sunday night: its long-awaited return to the Super Bowl, 11 years after being cast into the pro football-less desert.


The strategy from the start was to take no chances with its second chance, importing an all-star team en masse from ABC’s old “Monday Night Football” crew, topped by Al Michaels and John Madden.


Thus did the network arrive in Tampa and on America’s television screens, and thus did it provide the expected: a mostly solid, mostly seamless production under the brightest lights in sports media.


It’s not clear how much longer NBC’s booth duo will be at this. Michaels is 64 and Madden 72, and it won’t be their turn to do another Super Bowl for three years.


But if this was their last Big Game together, they proved again what they have for years—that they are the comfortable pair of slippers among network football announcers.


Michaels demonstrated why he is as good as it gets in play-by-play—conveying both information and excitement in just the right balance.


And Madden came through with prescient analysis as the game reached a climax that nearly matched last year’s Giants-Patriots classic.


It took a long time in the first half for Madden to get around to analyzing how the Steelers were able to nullify the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald, but as the fourth quarter wound down, he zeroed in on that key story line.


After explaining several times how the Steelers’ deep coverage was taking away Arizona’s downfield attack, Madden finally said, “I think they can still do some business in that middle.”


Seconds later, Kurt Warner completed a 23-yard pass up the middle to Steve Breaston.


Then, on what looked as if it would be the winning score, Warner again exploited the unoccupied middle to find Fitzgerald for his long catch and run.


It appeared NBC had come up with a timely graphic, noting before the Cardinals took the lead that since 1988, the Steelers were 152-1-1 when leading by 11 or more.


Well, now they’re 153-1-1, thanks to a fantastic catch by Santonio Holmes that NBC captured with the kind of multi-angle replays it offered on key, close plays all night.


(It was the second year in a row the winning Super Bowl points were scored with 35 seconds left.)


The Holmes catch also inspired a close-up of Fitzgerald on the sideline, mouthing the words, “Oh, no. Oh, no.”


Before the wild finish, the highlights had come just before and during halftime, the latter featuring an energetic performance by Bruce Springsteen. (The guy did sound a little winded, though.)


First, the Steelers’ James Harrison finished the half by returning a Warner interception 100 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-7.


“Unbelievable!” Michaels said.


“Unbelievable!” Madden concurred.


The strangest line of the Harrison aftermath came from Madden, who said as the return replayed yet again, “James Harrison runs like James Brown.”


Huh? The late singer or the CBS studio host? Maybe he meant Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame running back.


(Later, Madden would call for Harrison to be ejected after the linebacker punched a Cardinal during a punt.)


After Springsteen’s show, Costas said: “If there was one guy that we weren’t thinking was born to run, it was probably James Harrison.”


Then it was back to Michaels, who again put the play in dramatic perspective: “John, that was an epic play. I mean, that was just one of the greatest moments in the history of the Super Bowl.”


It was, but there would be more to come on Sunday night.



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