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Pregame coverage lacked local images

By ERIC DEGGANS

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001


We're an insecure bunch in the Tampa Bay area, judging by the way we react to other's observations about us.

We know the outside world sometimes sees our home as a motley collection of strip clubs, pawn shops and theme parks, and it rankles. That's why we let knuckleheads from out of town unsettle us with their ill-informed opinions about our perceived lack of nightlife, lack of culture and preponderance of go-go joints.

That's also why it was interesting to see how little of the Tampa Bay area actually showed up on TV in the blitz of programming that led up to CBS' Super Bowl telecast Sunday.

Sure, there were many reverential mentions of Tampa -- pregame host Jim Nantz noted our status as a "20-minute city. Because everything you need is 20 minutes' distance" -- and lots of loving, picturesque shots that made Raymond James Stadium look like the $168-million football palace it is.

But those who might have hoped for sweeping visuals of Ybor City landmarks, way cool footage of Clearwater Beach or an in-depth look (or any look) at the Salvador Dali museum were likely disappointed.

Instead, the gussied-up settings for most of the pregame festivities -- the NFL Experience, MacDill Air Force Base and Raymond James Stadium itself -- looked like they could have been any place with nice weather. At least we had the occasional shot of guys in Gasparilla pirate gear to lend a little local flavor.

Not that CBS didn't have time to bring us more varied images of the Tampa Bay area. With a slate of pregame programming that stretched back to noon Saturday -- including a star-studded Ricky Martin concert at MacDill on Saturday and a live edition of MTV's Total Request Live at noon Sunday -- the network had loads of air time to fill before the 6:25 p.m. kickoff.

But Saturday's Martin concert was little more than a glitzy, well-produced showcase for the singer, marred only slightly by awkward interview segments that brought Dan Rather and Tom Arnold together while 'N Sync traded quips with Joe Namath. (Have they ever even heard of each other?)

Though MTV later proved it can stage an eye-popping halftime show, its non-music programming for corporate sister CBS was more hit-or-miss. In particular, the version of MTV's Total Request Live that aired on CBS Sunday seemed to lack energy, despite Jennifer Lopez lip synching her way through two sizzling numbers in a skin-tight football jersey.

"I like her uniform," mumbled Kevin Richardson of the Orlando-based Backstreet Boys, in one of his more coherent observations. A proud moment for any fan of Florida-bred music.

CBS' TRL show led into a five-hour blitz of pregame programming that was less about readying fans for the game than it was about providing a home for more ads. Even a story on the physical punishment absorbed by NFL players (featuring Tampa Bay Buccaneer John Lynch, among others) felt a little superficial and rushed.

New President Bush couldn't add much during a heavily edited interview with Nantz. "Any big game that is prone to be close depends on (who gets the) turnovers and breaks," noted Bush, repeating the boilerplate analysis sports journalists had been tossing around all week (as it turned out, he was right). "I think it all may depend upon a dangling field goal."

Right.

Elsewhere, analysts on ESPN and Fox Sports Net dissected the coming game from picturesque perches at the stadium and on Tampa's Harbour Island, sealing our image as a tourist's paradise.

But even if the Tampa Bay area didn't get much of a showcase in TV's pregame programming, we did emerge as an enthusiastic party town, bursting with colorful fans and good weather. In a world filled with hanging chads and strip club ordinances, maybe that isn't such a bad thing.

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