The Eye network
'EyeVision' helps CBS make successful Super Bowl return
Updated: Monday January 29, 2001 12:44 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- This was not your father's Super Bowl telecast.
From the six hours of pregame hoopla, to the MTV influences and references, to the often spectacular debut of rotating replays, CBS Sports' first Super Bowl broadcast in nine years was decidedly a nod to the video generation.
And the network certainly has a winner in "EyeVision," the instant replay system that seems inspired by arcade games.
Announcers Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms were solid when they weren't shilling for the network, and the reporting, graphics and other production elements also were fine.
The system employed 30 digital cameras that synchronized to focus on a particular player, showing views that spun about 270 degrees. Think of the action scenes in The Matrix.
CBS used its new toy about twice per quarter, and it was most impressive on two second-half plays.
The TV audience was shown three different points of view during Jermaine Lewis' 84-yard kickoff return for a Baltimore touchdown. Then, on the game's final TD, "EyeVision" was deployed to demonstrate that Ravens running back Jamal Lewis did indeed have the ball across the goal line before fumbling.
It's the sort of breakthrough that could end living room arguments consisting of "It was a touchdown!" and "No it wasn't!"
Fittingly, CBS was the first network to use what could soon be known as "plain old" instant replay -- employing it once during the telecast of the Army-Navy game Dec. 7, 1963. When Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh scored on a short run, viewers saw the play again seconds later.
"This is not live!" announcer Lindsey Nelson screamed. "Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again."
Simms and Gumbel, of course, did not have to make any such assurances for what were expected to be upward of 120 million people tuning in to at least part of the game.
And since CBS was hoping a sizable segment would stick with the network for the premiere of Survivor II after the game, the production wound up having the feel of a setup for that show.
The low points of the broadcast included a shot of last year's Survivor winner Richard Hatch in the stands at Raymond James Stadium, Simms imploring viewers, "You gotta keep watching to see Survivor,' and that program's music and logo accompanying a graphic about Ravens' opponents' offensive statistics in previous games. Oh, and then there was the juncture when Simms and Gumbel chatted during game action about their upcoming guest appearance on a network sitcom.
On the other hand, when they stuck to the game, they were quite good. Gumbel -- who made a little history as the first black play-by-play announcer to work a Super Bowl telecast -- didn't miss a call, while Simms -- the third man in the booth for NBC at the 1996 and 1998 Super Bowls -- provided his customary clear explanations.
Their give-and-take was almost uniformly smooth.
One example: "Well, I think we've seen both teams testing each other, trying to find where the little chink in the armor is," Gumbel said.
To which Simms promptly replied: "The Ravens have definitely found that chink and it's a chunk. It's big, and they're taking their shots down the field."
On more than once occasion, Simms said, "I did not see that until I saw the replay" -- a refreshing admission in an age when sports announcers rarely allow any indication that they are anything but all-knowing.
Producer Mark Wolff and coordinating director Larry Cavolina were on the ball with a few exceptions, including failing to show helpful replays after a penalty wiped out a Giants touchdown in the first half, and when a scuffle broke out on the sideline.
There were, of course, other little glitches, such as when overzealous use of microphones picked up at least two players yelling obscenities during player introductions.
Some say the best reason to watch the Super Bowl is for the commercials; CBS might concur, since it pulled in more than $2 million per 30-second ad.
There was a big drop in the number of dot-com advertisers from a year ago, while the best spots were turned in by Pepsi (with Bob Dole spoofing his old Viagra ads) and MasterCard (with an auction of the color red and gravity demonstrating that "there are some things money can't buy").
Any respite from the overdone pregame programming -- the six hours were nearly twice as long as the game itself took, and 50 percent more than ABC's pregame last year -- was welcomed. Except, perhaps, the "battle of the bands" halftime show produced by MTV, CBS's Viacom sibling.