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ABC pulls out all the stops for Super Bowl coverage

Where do we begin with the Super Bowl coverage?

With Martha Stewart creating the ultimate Super Bowl party nachos? With entertainment featuring Aretha Franklin, Aaron Neville, Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones -- a lineup that would be huge, Jay Leno noted, if it were 1978.

In keeping with the theme of personalities of a certain age, ABC's telecast will be called by Al Michaels, 61, and John Madden, 69, together for the last time as an ABC team.

But the coverage will include plenty of new stuff, especially in the realm of technology. ABC will have more than 400 people working at Ford Field in Detroit on a production that will involve 10 broadcast trucks (the CBC had two at the Grey Cup) and 145 kilometres of camera and microphone cable. There will 36 high-definition cameras, 15 more than the number used on ABC's Monday Night Football. Hard-wired cameras will number 20. There will be seven hand-held cameras, six super-slow-motion units and six robotic cameras, two of which will be placed on goal posts and remotely controlled. And a SkyCam will run along cables above the field for the high, overhead shot. The stadium has been wired with 60 microphones, including several near the field. The audio will be of the highest quality: Dolby Digital 5.1-channel sound.

In short, the telecast should be loud and clear, a feast for the football fan, particularly so if he or she happens to be sitting in front of an HDTV set.

ESPN will begin its coverage at 11 a.m. EST with a six-hour edition of Sunday NFL Countdown. It will be seen in Canada on TSN until 3 p.m., when the network will go to a Philadelphia Flyers-Montreal Canadiens game. By then, ABC's 3½-hour pregame show, with host Chris Berman, will have kicked in, at 2:30 p.m., after the Houston Rockets-New York Knicks game. In keeping with the assumption that big is best, ABC's pregame show will use not one, but two sets -- one in the end zone and another 40 feet off the playing surface.

In addition to Martha in the kitchen, just about every feature imaginable has been produced. ESPN's lineup includes profiles of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks and a look back at the 1985 champions, the Chicago Bears. Far be it for a U.S. network to pass up an opportunity for a patriotic or military theme, so ABC will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release, on a Super Bowl Sunday, of the Iranian hostages. Mick Jagger will be interviewed and the show will wrap up with a 10-minute performance by Stevie Wonder.

At some point after 6 p.m., Franklin and Neville will sing the U.S. anthem. The kickoff should be about 6:30 p.m. The Stones will do the halftime show.

ABC's sideline reporters will be Michele Tafoya (Steelers) and Suzy Kolber (Seahawks).

Michaels's soft shoe

Al Michaels tap-danced around questions this week about his leaving ABC-ESPN to join NBC's new Sunday night football broadcast. At one point, he was asked directly why he wouldn't just end the speculation by stating that he would stay, as he initially said he would, with ABC-ESPN? He danced some more.

NBC's offer to Michaels was about $1-million (U.S.) less than the $6-million a year that he's making at ABC-ESPN. As well, Michaels's request for use of a private jet was turned down.

But if NBC matches the money Michaels is making, everything points to his leaving, assuming ABC-ESPN will let him out of his contract.

Predictions

Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson: Seattle, 31-24. "I think Matt Hasselbeck will be the MVP because Seattle just has more offence than Pittsburgh."

TSN analyst Chris Schultz: Pittsburgh, 26-20. "Seattle is a good football team, but Pittsburgh has a toughness and a confidence about them that I like."

Fox analyst Daryl Johnston: Seattle, 31-20. "I think [the Steelers] are due for one of those games when strange things happen for no apparent reason."

Hockeyville

A new reality show with a sports theme was announced by the CBC yesterday. It's called Hockeyville and is the creation of the title sponsor, Kraft Canada.

The CBC will be searching for a community that "best embodies the spirit of hockey and hometown pride. The competing communities will participate in a series of challenges. The winner will be the host to a National Hockey League exhibition game and also receive a $25,000 gift certificate for arena upgrades from the Home Depot and $10,000 in hockey equipment from CCM/Reebok.

"I think it will work spectacularly in terms of reach and awareness in Canada," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who attended the Toronto news conference. "What's also interesting is, this is the biggest promotion of any kind that Kraft Canada has ever done."

The seven-part series is scheduled to start on March 29.

whouston@globeandmail.com

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