Super Bowl needs some off-the-field makeovers

While the games have gotten more exciting in recent years, other aspects of the Super Bowl have become far too predictable.

The overextended pre-game show, the glitzy halftime entertainment, the hit-and-miss television commercials follow a similar pattern every year.

It’s time to inject some variety into the proceedings. Here are three suggestions — none of them tied directly to Sunday’s San Francisco-Baltimore match-up — that wouldn’t necessarily improve the Super Bowl experience (although, in the first case, I believe it would), but would at least stir a fair amount of water-cooler conversation.

1. Replace the CBS broadcasting duo of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts.

Although three networks alternate coverage of the event, Super Bowl broadcasting teams are virtually a closed society. Incredibly, fewer than a dozen announcers have handled play-by-play for the game since 1967. Barring some unforseen off-the-field event, Nantz and Simms were locks to call the game far prior to the season.

That doesn’t mean they are necessarily the most qualified CBS team.

Nantz is a versatile pro with a curious tendency to spout obscure trivia (“This is the fourth consecutive week that the Patriots have scored on their third possession”). The underrated Eagle is just as good on play-by-play and Fouts (whose father, Bob Fouts, once did play-by-play for the 49ers) easily surpasses Simms as an analyst.

Fouts’ broadcasting career has been dogged by bad luck. After retiring as a player, the former University of Oregon and San Diego Chargers quarterback quickly ascended to CBS’ No. 2 analyst — behind John Madden, who was as close to an immovable object in terms of big-game assignments as anyone in sportscasting history.

He later babysat comedian Dennis Miller for a couple of years as part of ABC’s bizarre Monday Night Football makeover, only to be dropped when Madden became available the year the network was scheduled to carry the Super Bowl.

Reassigned to college football, he was paired with play-by-play great Keith Jackson at a time when the latter’s powers of observation were beginning to fade.

Through it all, Fouts has been a solid commentator, delivering insightful analysis without trying to overpower the game.

The latter trait is in stark contrast to Simms, an intense babbler who defends every decision made by players, coaches and officials and never met a cliche´ he didn’t like.

Even had he not attained Hall of Fame status as a player, Fouts would be an asset to Super Bowl coverage. Had he hadn’t played quarterback for the New York Giants, Simms would be lucky to find a gig calling Big Sky Conference games for ROOT Sports.

2. Include at least one replacement ref in the Super Bowl officiating crew.

Before the blown call at the end of the end of the Seattle-Green Bay game spurred a resolution to the NFL officials lockout, league administrators insisted that the replacement refs would be evaluated the same as their more experienced brethren.

It is time for them to follow up on that pledge and put the highest-graded replacement official on the Super Bowl crew, possibly as a head linesman or back judge, as a reward for subjecting this group to untold ridicule while helping the league make it through the first month of the season.

Such a move would create all sorts of fascinating story lines, such as how the replacement officials would interact with players, coaches and other members of the crew.

Suspected terrorists were treated better than the non-union officials who were retained by Major League Baseball following the resolution of an umpires strike in 1979. In one celebrated instance, a non-union ump who was bloodied by a foul ball in an early inning was forced to continue calling balls and strikes for the remainder of the game because none of his union partners would take his place behind the plate.

Say what you will about the NFL replacement refs, their performance provided a never-ending source of conversation in September. Bringing one back would do the same for the Super Bowl. Too bad the Packers aren’t playing.

Speaking of comebacks…

3. Revive a decades-old tradition and hire “Up With People” for halftime entertainment.

For those too young to remember, “Up With People” was a Denver-based singing group largely financed by American businesses as an squeaky-clean alternative to the counter-culture groups that were dominating the music world in the late 1970s.

Their act consisted primarily of scurrying between locations on a stage or field, smiling and waving endlessly and singing snatches of such middle-of-the road favorites as “Surfin’ USA,” “Michael Rode the Boat Ashore,” and “Abraham, Martin & John.”

Rock devotees disliked them intensely and a documentary film suggested the group embraced some aspects of a religious cult. But, if you call up YouTube clips of their concerts, the audience response to the act was actually pretty favorable.

Eager to cash in on this version of Americana, the NFL hired “Up With People” to perform at no fewer than four Super Bowls. The last time was in New Orleans in 1986, which would have given an appearance this year a sort of blast-from-the-past appeal.

Although “Up With People” temporarily disbanded in 2000, it is back in operation.

The group even made a couple of Grays Harbor appearances in the late 1970s or early ’80s. Because of some type of connection with Donrey Media, then The Daily World’s parent company, troupe members would take over the newspaper’s conference room for about a week at a time. Few on the staff knew what they were doing for that extended a period, although there was a strong sentiment to put them to work taking classified ads or covering Grays Harbor PUD meetings while they were here.

According to the group’s website, that was part of its mission to “live with a host family, participate in service projects and learn about different cultures through educational workshops.” The results of their in-depth Grays Harbor research were never, to my knowledge, made public.

Beyonce, Sunday’s Super Bowl headliner, may have a larger national following than “Up With People.” But it’s hard to imagine her leading a cultural workshop in Aberdeen.