IN THE LIVING-ROOM BOWL
Literary and dramatic criticism are at least as old as the republic and—who knows—have probably had a generally good effect on the state of culture in these United States for a long, long time. Nobody has yet made a full-time career out of critical scrutiny of the TV sports announcer, but an attempt seems overdue. Certainly millions of professional football fans came away from the TV broadcast of the Detroit-Cleveland game two weeks ago in a mood to cuff children, because an announcer named Van Patrick doggedly persisted—in hallowed radio fashion—in telling them in detail, and without surcease, what they could already see for themselves on their own screens. On New Year's Day, therefore, with roughly half the country assembled before bowl-game screens for five or six hours, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED set up a living-room watch as well as a press-box watch in Miami, New Orleans, Dallas and Pasadena. Give or take a few bloopers, living-room America got a high-grade show.
The coin-tossing ceremony—with the TV audience tuned into the mid-field ceremonies with field microphones—still seems prevailingly unrehearsed, with lines and gestures strictly ad lib. Thus at Pasadena, when the referee introduced his colleagues to the Ohio State and Oregon captains, one official acknowledged with a nod, another with a semimilitary salute, another with a semi-Bushido bow. But nobody expects football officials to synchronize like the Radio City Rockettes, and the coin-tossing closeups did help the living-room set to acquire a fair sense of intimacy—after the sweeping camera shots of coliseums people-packed like beans in cans—with the real goings-on.
All networks use the two-platoon system in the announcers' box: Chris Schenkel and Johnny Lujack at the Orange Bowl (CBS); Lindsey Nelson and Red Grange at the Sugar Bowl (NBC); Tom Harmon and Forest Evashevski at the Cotton Bowl (CBS); Mel Allen and Chick Hearn at the Rose Bowl (NBC). Thanks to the fact that the Miami game and its pageantry consumed close to three hours of network time, CBS watchers got little more than the second half from Dallas and had to be brought up to date on lost happenings by Harmon and Evashevski, who proved to be in expert and rather unexpected disagreement as to the chief reason for Navy's success. Old Running Back Harmon credited the Navy line; Old Blocking Back Evashevski credited Tom Forrestal in the Navy backfield. Out in the Rose Bowl, Mel Allen did a good clean job and, with no beer to gargle or cigars to lip as he does for his baseball sponsors in summertime, was able to keep the excess saliva out of his pear-shaped tones.
By every standard, however, the most successful novelty of the day was CBS's wiring of the referees for sound. Both in Miami (Referee John Donohue) and in Dallas (Referee Albie Booth), the top official was equipped with a breast-pocket microphone, à la Ed Murrow, a set of batteries in one pocket and a small transmitter in another. A pickup aerial carried field talk to the CBS man in the press box who, at the turn of a switch, put the dialogue on the air.
In Dallas, Albie Booth's batteries ran low in the second half—which was a pity ("He's an awfully colorful guy," mourned a CBS spokesman). But in Miami the device worked beautifully, even though—perhaps overweighted with the experimental character of the occasion—the control booth put Donohue on the air less than a dozen times altogether.
"Clipping—15 yards," Donohue would sing out.
"Who?" the Oklahoma field captain would say.
"Number 74"—or whatever—and the camera would pan down on the culprit.
Or, as Donohue made a sidewise chopping motion with his arm to indicate the offense, his voice would come through: "Personal foul—15 yards." And the camera would pick out the villain again.