Fox has its team ready for climactic Sunday
A word of warning to Patriots fans: Should you ever encounter Joe Buck or Troy Aikman at your neighborhood Elks Lodge or some other establishment, resist any urge to ask either member of Fox’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team which Super Bowl telecast they remember most fondly.
Buck and Aikman quickly provide the same answer, and their favorite memories come from a game the Foxborough faithful would just as soon forget: the Giants’ 17-14 victory over the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
“Without a doubt it’s the biggest, most enjoyable, rewarding game that I’ve ever been a part of,’’ said Buck, who will handle play-by-play duties alongside analyst Aikman on Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLV Sunday.
“Not just because of the stage, or the audience — that doesn’t matter as far as what we do. But to get through that fourth quarter and to be as wrapped up as we were in that back and forth between the Patriots and the Giants, it’s something I’ll never forget. I don’t know if it will ever get topped.’’
Sunday’s Packers-Steelers matchup, which is scheduled to kick off at 6:29 p.m., is the third that Buck and Aikman will call as a tandem. But it is the first that doesn’t include the Patriots; they also called the Patriots’ victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville.
Like his broadcast partner, Aikman has pleasant memories of the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl, but more because of a lingering sense of a job well done than the particulars of the game.
“Most weeks, we come out of the booth feeling like we did a really good job,’’ said Aikman. “And as a player, there were a lot of games where I felt like I played well.
“But the ones people remember are the big games and how we performed in those. There were a lot of big-time football fans really interested in the game because of where the New England Patriots were, and I thought we did the game justice.
“I would say there are a lot of other games I’m very proud of, but to have that broadcast on that stage was extremely meaningful.’’
The stage this Sunday is also quite meaningful to Aikman. A three-time Super Bowl champion in the ’90s as the Cowboys quarterback, the Hall of Famer is vice chairman of the Dallas/North Texas host committee for the Super Bowl, though he said he put much of that “on hold’’ this week because of his obligations to Fox. (For what it’s worth, another Cowboys legend, Roger Staubach, is the chairman. No word on what Danny White’s role might be.)
“Short of playing in it — which is the first thing I would have liked to have done — having a chance to broadcast it is really special,’’ said Aikman, who has lived in North Texas since the Cowboys chose him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1989 draft. “It was just by the luck of the draw that Fox has this game, but I’m really thankful that we do.’’
Aikman also will be prominent during part of the pregame festivities on Fox, which begin at noon with the one-hour special “The Road to the Super Bowl,’’ produced by NFL Films. That will be followed by a one-hour preview of the game, hosted by Aikman and titled “Inside the Rings.’’
The pregame studio show, hosted by Curt Menefee and featuring analysts Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson, and Michael Strahan, starts at 2.
Fox has been relentless in its promotion of Bill O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama, which is expected to air at approximately 4:30, as the pregame must-see. But for those who put away their political inclinations on Super Bowl Sunday, Bradshaw’s reportedly tense interview with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — of whom he’s been bluntly critical — should be compelling television. That interview is slated for 5:30 p.m.
It should be noted that once the game begins, Buck and Aikman will have company in the booth. Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former vice president of officiating, will sit in to provide an immediate explanation of officials’ calls as well as interpretations of rules should any controversial plays take place.
In sports television nowadays, it’s not easy to truly innovate, but Fox has done just that in its utilization of Pereira, who proved his value and silenced any concerns that he’d be an apologist for officials in the very first week of the season, when his instant analysis that the call of an incomplete pass on a potential winning touchdown by the Lions’ Calvin Johnson would not be overturned proved spot-on. Fox’s foresight in adding Pereira is almost enough to make one forgive the network for the annoying FoxTrax glowing puck in the mid ’90s.“I didn’t intend for this to be a controversial role,’’ said Pereira. “I wanted it to be an educational role. And in Week 1, with the Calvin Johnson play, we kind of jumped right into it . . . and that really kind of set the stage for the role. In that case, it took the heat off the officials and people thinking the officials were wrong and put the heat on the rule and people not liking the rule.
“And, as it went along and as situations came up, I really felt good about what we were able to do, not only [from a studio] in Los Angeles, but out of the booth. I’m able to sit there with Troy and Joe and maybe give them a nod to confirm what they’re seeing, or whisper in their ear and give them a little tidbit.’’
Said Buck, “I think it’s been the most important hire we’ve had since, well, I don’t even know. It’s the biggest security blanket Troy and I can have in the booth.’’