When a Super Bowl goes dark for 34 minutes, someone’s got some explaining to do.
In 2004, CBS was left groveling in how to absolve itself from the famous “wardrobe malfunction” during halftime.
In a game that may have started at 3:30 p.m. but lasted so long some DVRs switched over to “Downton Abbey” at 7 p.m., CBS’ awkward time-filling during the blackout that took more than a half hour to resolve itself was more of the more surreal moments in sports TV broadcasting history.
It was strange enough that the mikes went out on both Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, but Steve Tasker was given the task as the one to guide viewers through what was going on.
Or, studio host James Brown, who continued to say, “if you’re just joining us,” and then vamping as if viewers must have just stumbled onto the game.
While meandering analysis and dead jokes by Shannon Sharpe filled the air, no one could pin down the NFL for a statement?
With about eight minutes left in the game, CBS decided to issue its own statement:
“Immediately after the power failure in the Superdome, we lost numerous cameras and some audio powered by sources in the Superdome. We utilized CBS’s back-up power and at no time did we leave the air. During the interruption, CBS Sports’ Steve Tasker, Solomon Wilcots and our studio team reported on the situation as a breaking news story, providing updates and reports while full power was being restored to the dome including our sets and broadcast booth. All commercial commitments during the broadcast are being honored.”
And they issued this why? To absolve themselves from blame?
That’s not the point.
Tasker had the task of telling viewers “there was no danger, no one is injured,” and eventually reported that it was “an outside power feed that went dead . . . no question, this is a bonus for the 49ers. That game was about to get away from them.”
The most interesting reporting on the situation may have come from Mike Pereira, the former NFL official that rival network Fox uses for rules explanation. Pereira tweeted out: “If the Commish was told the lights weren’t going to come back on tonight, he could order the game resumed tomorrow.”
SIMMS SCRAMBLE: When a former Super Bowl MVP and quarterback of the New York Giants cramps up on how to map strategy for viewers with an NFL championship on the line, be surprised. And maybe concerned.
Kind of ironic that it was during his descriptions of a QB sack that the CBS audio went out, as did a blackout hit the New Orleans Superdome, at the 13:22 mark in the third quarter of Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII.
Simms was in the middle of explaining how San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick couldn’t avoid a sack by Baltimore’s Arthur Jones:
“He is going to throw this down the middle to Vernon Davis,…. Watch … but look, at the safety, he antis ….”
And then, nothing. Kind of like a World Series in San Francisco.
That made almost as much sense as anything when Simms, who has done six previous Super Bowl calls for NBC and CBS coming into this, seemed to have his own knowledge outage during what will be remembered as the Blackout Bowl.
Early on, Simms was showing signs of confusion when he wavered on whether Baltimore coach John Harbaugh made a strange call on a fake field goal with a 14-3 lead late in the second quarter.
While many on Twitter questioned the play call, Simms responded: “Yeah, it was a . . . listen, I’m not going to second-guess the call. I understand why they did it.”
In the closing minutes, after the game took a dramatic turn following the 30-minute-plus power outage, the 49ers were in position for a go-ahead touchdown. Kaepernick’s fourth-down lofted pass was incomplete. Was Baltimore guilty of pass interference?
Initially, Simms says no. Then, after another couple of angles, he says: “The more angles I see the more confused I get.” He finally declares: “It’s hard to throw a penalty flag in that situation.”
Nantz then asks him to “do the math” and figure out how the last minute-plus could play out. Simms again seemed stumped.
The climactic moment came at the end when Simms couldn’t seem to piece together the facts as to why Baltimore could benefit from taking a safety in the last moments of the game when punting on fourth down with 12 seconds left and a five-point lead.
“Any reason to take a safety here?” Nantz asked, put in the role of set-up man all night.
“No, I would not,” said Simms. “I would punt it.”
Baltimore then called a time out.
“Let’s think about it, you bring up a great point,” Simms backtracks. “You take a safety, 34-31, you punt the football . . .”
“Free kick from the 20,” Nantz added, continuing to walk him through it.
“No, I would not do it,” Simms concluded without further discussion.
The snap is made, Baltimore punter Sam Koch knocks eight seconds off the clock dancing in the end zone, runs out of bounds, and takes the safety.
“The 49ers were not ready for that,” Simms concluded.
Nor, it seems, was he.
After the power came back and CBS retained its audio in the third quarter, Nantz joked that it was Simms’ powering up his cellphone that caused all the problems.
“Yeah, I was doing some of my best work during that blackout,” Simms joked.
But not many were laughing.
MORE SMOKES, CHOKES AND THINGS TO POKE:
== The silver lining to CBS’ playbook was going to see the CBSSports. com live player to watch the various angles offered aside from the TV main shots. Despite the slight delay at times, the cable camera that slides overhead provided the coolest consistent shots. It was interesting as well to see the “fan choice” camera that often stayed on 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh no matter what was happening on the field – even after the first Baltimore touchdown.
In all, the “All-22” angle overhead often gave the best look at formations before the snap, as what a coach would see from a press box, or what Phil Simms would get when explaining a play.
== CBS may have introduced new graphics to the broadcast — a tweak to its time and score box — but do you think many noticed?
More may have found the “hEYEper zoom” camera to be more beneficial — a replay camera that can zoom more clearly on a play to see if there’s something worth noting. It was used once, and clearly, to show the ball punched out of the hands of 49ers running back LaMichael James before he hit the ground in the second quarter, giving the ball correctly to Baltimore.
== At the end of the first half, Nantz was the one who had to remind Simms that in 2006, they once saw Indianapolis trail 21-6 to New England at the intermission before they rallied for a 38-34 win in the AFC title game. It might have just been a way to keep viewers from wandering off, but it turned to be almost prophetic.
== Nantz seemed to dance his way on reference to either coach by calling them “Jim” or “John” whenever they came up on the screen.
== Dial Global tweeted out a photo of Kevin Harlan, doing play-by-play of the game on radio with Boomer Esiason, actually staying on the air during the power outage by talking through a landline phone.
== During the pregame, San Francisco 49ers exec Jed York showed off the concept of the team’s new $1.2 billion, 68,500-seat stadium that’s being built in Santa Clara during the pregame.
“Don’t be surprised if you see Super Bowl 50 in that new stadium,” said Esiason coming out of the clip.
Does that mean there’s no more talk of the L.A. Coliseum, where Super Bowl I was played, of having a chance to get it back for the historical moment?
== Most embarrassing CBS moment during the pregame was having Esiason and Sharpe do a taped piece where they went through parts of New Orleans getting people to bark for a free pizza. It wasn’t labeled as a commercial – although it clearly was.
== Sharpe at one point referred to studio partner Greg Gumbel as “J.B.” (To think, at least he didn’t call him “Bryant.”) Gumbel came back and called him “Sterling,” a reference to Shannon’s brother.
== A more puzzling moment was allowing Sharpe to interview the Ravens’ Ray Lewis. At least he had Lewis address again the 2000 double murders in Atlanta where he was charged with two counts of murder. Lewis’ meandering answer was something that Sharpe could have followed up with, but didn’t.
== Most illuminating pregame interview came when CBS’ Bill Cowher visited with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Cowher held up an iPad to show him a video clip of former coach Mike Singletary calling him out years ago. Davis thanked Singletary for saving his career. Cowher then showed a clip of Davis’ reaction to Singletary to complete the interview process and get his reaction.
== CBS reporter Jason La Canfora, talking to Brown about news and notes about both teams, said whether the NFL will fine the 49ers’ Chris Culliver for making some anti-gay remarks during the Tuesday media day: “He won’t be. I checked with the league and they felt like, ‘He slipped up, he apologized, he said he’s going to work with the gay and lesbian youth, so he did the right thing .’ . . The 49ers feel he’s a good kid who didn’t really say what he meant – but that’s the peril of media day, JB, you get the shock jocks, the comedians that start pushing buttons, and these guys get a little confused.”
So that’s the excuse card they’re going to play here?
Either make media day a “media” day and don’t allow the riff-raff like Artie Lang in (the comedian in question here), or prepare the players better for what they say will have repercussions – like in real life.