American football has been described as the ultimate TV sport. Here is a game that has: 1. Plenty of timeouts (convenient for plenty of commercial/refrigerator breaks); 2. Lots of dramatic buildups (between every play); and 3. Lots of climactic conclusions (at the end of every play). Somewhat like a sitcom. Only live.
And so it came to pass that by the year 1989, a mere 119 years since Princeton and Rutgers played the first football game in America, TV and football teamed up to produce the Ultimate Day.It was Monday, Jan. 2, 1989. A nation was trapped at home, unable to go to work, or school. Congress wasn't in session. The banks were closed. So was the stock market. Winter winds gripped most of the country, with the exception of a few places warm enough to host bowl football games.
Stand up and take a bow if you were part of this historic occasion. And brush off the popcorn.
From the bowl's warm transformed-into-TV-studio locations - from Miami and Pasadena and New Orleans and Dallas and Orlando and Phoenix - came, count 'em, no less than seven New Year's Day football bowl games. Six on network television, available to the masses, and a seventh on ESPN, the cable giant, for the true junkies.
Remote-control changers have never had such a workout. Stacked end to end, this was enough football to fill the entire 24-hour holiday period. We Interrupt Monday To Bring You The Bowl Season.
To anyone's knowledge, this was the most football-on-TV in the history of football, or the history of TV. The airwaves were alive with the sound of color commentators. There were games for every meal. An instant replay for every moment.
Even the soaps were tape-delayed.
As is often the case in TV Moments, the actual event was rather anti-climactic. This wasn't surprising. You can go back as far as when they replaced James Garner in "Maverick," or when David Janssen found the identity of the one-armed man in "The Fugitive," or to more recent TV Moment history, like when they revealed who shot J.R. Ewing in "Dallas," and the buildup traditionally tends to suffocate the revelation.
The biggest winner out of all of yesterday's attention may have actually been Carie Humphreys. Carie doesn't play for a football team. She was married yesterday, on a float at the 100th Rose Parade in Pasadena, while 350 million people worldwide - awaiting the USC-Michigan kickoff - watched.
Carie was ecstatic.
"I always wanted a big wedding," she said.
As for the seven games, there wasn't a great one among them. The national championship game, so-called, between Notre Dame and West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, was the worst of them all, and the national championship runner-up game, between Miami and Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, was a 23-3 rout that was the runner-up worst game of the day. This was the game that revealed that Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson, who left his starters in the whole way, is not a gracious winner. The TV cameras stuck with Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne after the game, to see if he would shake Johnson's hand, or slug him. He shook his hand and thus ended a shot of at least some controversy on an otherwise dull and dreary day.
There were fairly close games, in the Rose Bowl (won 22-14 by Michigan over USC), the Citrus Bowl (won 13-6 by Clemson over Oklahoma) and the Sugar Bowl (won 13-7 by Florida State over Auburn). But in each case the team that was ahead stayed ahead, and potential game-winning touchdowns were ended by either incompleted or intercepted passes. Endings that would never have been written by script writers. Not even by bad script writers. In real TV, the defensive back would never get the girl.
The whole day looked more or less like so many Super Bowl reruns.
No matter. It was still a day for the record books. Never have so many with so little to do watched so many snaps from center. Never have so many dinners been eaten in front of the TV set.
From Syracuse-LSU in the Hall of Fame game to Auburn-Florida State in the Sugar Bowl game, they played on cue. Not until FSU's Deion (Neon) Sanders intercepted Auburn quarterback Reggie Slack in the end zone to end the Sugar Bowl did the action cease and desist.
That play, as announcer Al Michaels observed, came at 10:55 p.m., New York time. "With five minutes of prime time to spare," said Michaels. Which was perfect. That left just enough time to squeeze in the rest of the commercials.