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Third quarter tests Internet's immediacy

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001


Three touchdowns in 36 seconds. It's exciting if you're watching at home, but a nightmare if you're producing a sports site during the Super Bowl.

Such a huge event demands that sites keep a live front page, updating headlines, pictures and text to keep up with the frenetic pace of the action. When momentum does a 180 on three consecutive plays, it's hard to stay on top.

When Baltimore's Duane Starks returned a Kerry Collins pass for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead in the third quarter, it looked to put the game in hand.

To that point, sites had been split as to what the big story was: the Ravens defense or Baltimore quarterback Trent Dilfer's triumphant return to Tampa. The ESPN.com halftime headline read "Isn't It Ironic?" in reference to Dilfer, while CNNSI.com had "Firing Blanks," a nod to the first-half shutout of a team that scored 34 first-half points in its last game.

When Starks scored, it appeared to validate the dominant-defense angle. Even before that, USAToday.com's front-page headline went from "Baltimore defense lives up to billing" to "Ravens are in total control."

But before headlines could be updated, New York's Ron Dixon returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Were the Giants back in the game? As sites scrambled, the Ravens countered with a touchdown from Jermaine Lewis on the next kickoff.

Then the scoring spree stopped and sites were quick to recognize how impressive the 21-point burst was. Foxsports.com called it "the most exciting 30 seconds in Super Bowl history" and ESPN.com led its main page by saying that "The Giants were dead, alive and now in dire straits again."

Nearly everyone also guessed that the Ravens defense wasn't going to let a 17-point lead slip. "Another Super rout" was CNNSI.com's headline with 7:30 left. Foxsports.com had "Ravens: total domination," and ESPN.com had "Forget About it," before settling on "Raven-ous."

The official site, Superbowl.com played it safe with a bland "Ravens win, 34-7" and Sportsline.com, which produced the official site, wasn't far behind with "Ravens Rule." Sportsline.com ran a score in lieu of a headline for most of the game, which became a problem during the third-quarter explosion.

MOST ANNOYING FEATURE: ESPN.com ran an ad for the movie The Fast and the Furious on its front page, complete with loud background music. Fans listening to anything else while logged on to ESPN had two choices: hit the mute button or hit another site.

BEST INTERACTIVE FEATURE: America Online had several "Instant Polls" pop up for customers visiting its Super Bowl section. They often asked which commercial was the best during a recent commercial break; it wasn't unusual for one spot to get 70 percent, with another getting less than 10 percent. When Dilfer injured his finger in the third quarter, a poll asked if it would make a difference and 68 percent said it would.

BIGGEST HEADLINE REACH: Though backup Tony Banks hadn't so much as completed a pass, Foxsports.com's headline read "Ravens lead, Banks on it" after Dilfer temporarily left.

QUIETEST CELEBRATION: The Ravens' official site, ravenszone.net, won't be getting flagged for excessive celebration. Nearly an hour after the game ended, the site had a small logo reading "SUPERBOWL (sic) CHAMPS" and a scoreboard showing the score by quarters, but that was it.

BIGGEST MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Superbowl.com, which had shined all week, lacked the interactive punch that ABC's Enhanced TV offered during last year's Super Bowl. The site had little more than chats and live stats, which were often several minutes behind the game. Coverage was supposed to include quarter-by-quarter analysis, but the second-quarter insights hadn't been posted with five minutes left in the third quarter. Fans were allowed to vote on the game MVP, but that link wasn't posted until several minutes into the fourth quarter.

TID-BYTES: Kudos to Monster.com, whose first-quarter commercial poked fun at the sock-puppet spokesman for Pets.com, a Super Bowl advertiser last year that sold out to PetSmart. ... For a look at next year's Super Bowl in New Orleans, visit gnosports.com.

- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, send an e-mail to staff writer Greg Auman at aumanac1@aol.com.

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