CBS came into Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos with a clear story line in its mind: Peyton Manning is God, and all our cameras and announcers are here to worship him.
During the first quarter, viewers saw more close-ups of Manning's right-hand glove than the one Johnnie Cochran made famous during the O.J. Simpson trial. And when Manning started to struggle in the second half and gave up a key fumble, analyst Dan Dierdorf told viewers during the replay and review, it wasn't a fumble at all, it was an incompletion. Wrong again, Dan.
Ultimately, Manning's right hand and right arm did prove to be the difference in the game, but not the way CBS had it figured. An interception in the first quarter gave the Ravens one touchdown, and another interception in overtime set up the field goal that allowed the Ravens to pull off one of the great upsets in playoff history with a 38-35 double-overtime victory over Manning and the heavily favored Broncos.
What an exhilarating and utterly exhausting experience it was watching the telecast. When the play on the field is that sublime, it seems almost meaningless to review the telecast. Really, as I write this immediately after the game, in my heart of hearts, I don't care how many things CBS did wrong. I would not have missed a second of the telecast. I am so glad that I recorded the game for the sake of this review, because I will probably sit up all night watching it over and over and over until I pass out.
Look, the Manning worship on the part of CBS was excessive and maddening. But, in truth, the problem here is larger than CBS Sports. It's our culture. Not only did the CBS pregame show sing his praises to the point where he seemed unbeatable, when CBS went to commercials, there was Manning in the ads, selling Buicks. It was the same thing all day Saturday on the NFL Network. Manning is the kind of feel-good, comeback, good-guy story that's easy to tell and sell.
And in fairness, overall, CBS did deliver a better telecast than it has during the regular season. Granted, we are talking about a very low bar, but let's be fair.
One of the best things CBS did was open the checkbook and give viewers a sideline reporter, Solomon Wilcots, an analyst from their fourth-string announcing team.
Wilcots did some very good work. He had Ray Lewis right after the game, and while it looked like Ray was talking directly to his God rather than Wilcots, I wanted to feel the adrenaline, the heat, the energy of Lewis in all its raw intensity. And I did.
Thank you, Mr. Wilcots, for the hustle, and thanks to the folks in the production truck who made sure we had tight shots of interview amid all the postgame frenzy and jostling on the field.