Last night’s Super Bowl telecast was wonderfully done by Fox. Under the aegis of Brad Zager for the first time, the production was first rate and almost absolutely perfect. The network gets an A for its coverage.
The Super Bowl broadcast is tricky for the talent. They have to please a mixed constituency, the fanatics and the casual. Yet Aikman and Buck did well walking that fine line.
Hardcore fans might have appreciated more depth of analysis from Aikman, something he generally provides. The two booth voices were cognizant of the fact that a Super Bowl telecast reaches both the football savvy and the novice. As such, for the most part, they didn’t engage in anything terribly sophisticated to deter the uninitiated.
The Super Bowl is always television’s most watched program of the year. Many tune in for new commercials and the extraneous like the halftime show. Many viewers are listening with half an ear at a party.
- The endless lead-in show captured the electricity of Miami Beach and provided good interviews including one by Joe Buck with San Francisco coach, Kyle Shanahan. The two grew up under well known dads whose footsteps Joe and Kyle followed. Mike Shanahan was a longtime coach and Jack Buck was an icon in St. Louis where he called Cardinals baseball.
- The pre-game bunch added much more substance than they normally do during the regular season.
- One stimulating profile was that of the Chiefs’ guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a Canadian, who has a medical degree from McGill in Montreal.
- A heartwarming graphic appeared in the first quarter, juxtaposing factoids on the 2020 Super Bowl and the one in which the Chiefs played last in 1970. Fifty years ago Jack Buck did the telecast. This year, it was his son Joe, who added a personal touch saying his mother has to be proud. Jack passed in 2002.
- Buck was crisp, rhythmic and succinct. His play-by-play ingredients were economical. Early in his career, Vin Scully would listen to his own calls and ask himself how he could have called plays more efficiently. Vin marveled over how Red Barber could call a triple play simply and seamlessly. Joe’s conciseness is a gift.
- With about 1:40 left in the first half the 49ers stopped the Chiefs offense on third down and were about to get the ball back. Aikman was surprised that Coach Shanahan didn’t use his timeouts. Viewers observed Niners’ GM John Lynch applauding the defensive stop but was visibly upset that the timeouts were not used. the timeouts would have afforded the Niners more of an opportunity to score which it failed to do. At the start of the second half, Aikman and Buck were still not convinced Kyle Shanahan played the clock correctly.
- Aikman was exceptional when it came to replay reviews. He used the video tools available to explain what occurred without going over the heads of casual fans. His best review came on Patrick Mahomes’ first interception where he threw a terrible ball right to the 49ers defender, Fred Warner. Aikman explained what route Tyreek Hill was running and where he expected the ball to be, as well as where the 49er defender was during the play. Aikman elaborated on how one of two things happened, either Mahomes made the wrong read or he just flat out threw a bad ball. Aikman’s reviews were sufficient for the hardcore fan and simple enough for non-football aficionados to grasp.
- Both announcers were fully prepared. For example, early in the game Aikman pointed out how KC linebackers are not known for their coverage skills. As the game progressed, viewers could see that Aikman was right. Most routes taken by the Niners’ running backs and tight ends were targeted against the KC linebackers.
- Troy knew Patrick Mahomes and running back Damien Williams had sometimes struggled to be on the same page this year. It happened in this game as well when Mahomes threw a ball into the end zone that could have been caught for a touchdown but Williams never saw it. It was reinforced on replay where Aikman pointed out that Williams didn’t turn his head around early.
- Buck and Aikman are all business and had great chemistry. They don’t step over one another. Joe didn’t bombard the audience with stats and factoids. We know what to expect. They’re dependable on the very basics.
- For much of the game Patrick Mahomes didn’t play well. With KC down ten in the fourth quarter, Aikman didn’t hold back. He told the audience bluntly, “Mahomes is having a poor game.” Buck immediately added that should the Chiefs win, they would need some “Mahomes magic.” The very next play was a 3rd and 15 from the KC side of the field. On cue, Mahomes, pressured by Deforest Buckner, heaved the ball down field to the wide-open speedster, Hill for a 44-yard completion into San Francisco territory. Mahomes’ magic sharply shifted momentum. The Chiefs proceeded to score three straight touchdowns.
- During the 4th quarter the 49ers defense was visibly gassed. Aikman recognized it and pointed out that San Francisco was “reeling” as the Chiefs moved down the field surgically for what was the game winning drive. When the 49ers went up by ten, sideline reporter Chris Myers noted how Chiefs’ safety Tyrann Mathieu went on an angry rampage on the sideline yelling at everyone.
- Aikman was critical of Coach Kyle Shanahan’s play calling in the fourth, questioning its play action passing after success in the running game.
- Chris Myers who was sharp on the Chiefs sideline had to corral the two key protagonists, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Fox then smartly took a tight shot of the two, avoiding the distracting celebratory activity around them. Reid’s wife Tammy was by his side and that made for a few uneven moments. Myers asked her a perfunctory question while Reid was being congratulated by others in the unrestrained gaggle. The chaos at the end of the game is something that league and the networks should address. Last year, CBS’ feisty Tracy Wolfson had to elbow her way through a crowd of people and heavy cameras to get to Tom Brady.
- During the celebration, Buck was right on the history of the Chiefs and the Hunt family. It’s interesting to note that the Chiefs were an AFL original, born in Dallas in 1960. They moved to Kansas City in 1963. in 1960, the games were carried on ABC Television. The network’s voice was Jack Buck. Yes, Joe’s dad.
David J. Halberstam contributed to this article