Nothing succeeds like excess for the network covering the Super Bowl.

NBC succeeded by sticking to the formula, starting a full 51/2 hours before kickoff with its “Sunday Night Football” theme music – the tune that sounds like it was borrowed from a sword-and-sandal flick.

Chris Collinsworth and Bob Costas appeared on the pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium, and Costas promised: “Super Bowl Sunday is a game, yes. But it’s also a national party, and over the next five hours we’ll capture as much of the football and frivolity as we can.”

Frivolous, and maybe even a little fatuous.

Some of the show inevitably felt forced and foolish. But, overall, NBC delivered solid coverage, using a 300-frame-per-second “X-Mo” cam for replays on each goal line and at midfield.

“Today” personality Al Roker’s thankless job was to have various celebrities come on to flog their latest projects (who won’t be identified and given further free promotion here).

And there was face time aplenty for stars of NBC Universal’s various programs and outlets: NBC’s “Nightly News” anchorman Brian Williams, “Today” host Matt Lauer, Bravo’s “Top Chef” martinet Tom Colicchio.

Even CNBC’s Money Honey, Maria Bartiromo, got to offer a “Business Brief” culminating with her crowing that NBC set an ad revenue record for its Super Bowl commercial sales.

Bet the boss loved that – and we’re not talking about halftime act Bruce Springsteen.

Once the game got under way, Al Michaels provided spot-on play-by-play – as always – keeping on top of the action with alacrity and accuracy. And when he gets excited, it feels real – something we’ve known since the 1980 Winter Olympics.

And while it’s hard not to think of Frank Caliendo’s John Madden impersonation, marked by incoherent ranting, the ex-coach clearly delivers observations and insights without devolving into the arcane world of Xs and Os.

Michaels and Madden played off each other as well as ever, too.

When Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger went over to the sideline trying to decide what play to call, Michaels said:

“He has a 150 to 200 plays on that wristband so maybe they needed some help with the Dewey decimal system to find it.”

“Just imagine what the print looks like on that,” Madden responded.

“You gotta have Ted Williams’ eyesight,” Michaels theorized.

At the football desk, Matt Millen’s rehabilitation as a studio commentator continued in the aftermath of his firing as team president of the Detroit Lions – who had an unprecedented winless season in 2008. He joined ex-coaches Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren, who came across as fresh faces – even with something fresh to say.

Talking about Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhut, whom the Steelers passed over as coach in favor of Mike Tomlin, Holmgren bluntly averred: “Any coach that says they don’t like playing against their old team and it’s just another game – they’re not telling you the whole truth.”

Unfortunately, NBC had audio problems during Lauer’s interview with President Barack Obama in the White House map room. But the network didn’t pull away, and quickly fixed the sound, allowing viewers to hear him talk seriously about foreign issues and the economy before turning to football and reiterating that he’s rooting for the Steelers. (Steelers owner Dan Rooney endorsed Obama’s presidential bid and campaigned for him.)

NBC’s pregame marathon succeeded in being fast-paced, using shorter features and allowing the talent to tell stories.

Costas’ tete-a-tete with Springsteen was entertaining, with pop-culture maven Costas asking The Boss why he chose to do the halftime show this year after being asked numerous times before.

“I have an album to promote, dummy,” Springsteen cackled. “It’s not rocket science.”

What refreshing honesty. Leave it to Springsteen.

There also was an emotionally touching feature focused on Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had a falling-out with his mother and then didn’t reconcile with her before she died.

And knowing about the heartache Jennifer Hudson suffered from the October slayings of her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew, her performance of the national anthem felt particularly brave and stirring.

The chemistry between Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick that goes back to their co-anchoring days on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” was on display after Olbermann recounted a history of the peripatetic Cardinals franchise and the team’s six-decade-long futility. Once Olbermann finished, Patrick yanked his chain by trying to draw a comparison between the Super Bowl and politics. But Olbermann pretended not to bite, declining to transform into the MSNBC pitbull-pundit he’s become, and joking that he didn’t know anything about the subject.

“Poli …,” he stammered.

Then, he ventured: “Polamalu.”

“Somewhere, Bill O’Reilly is smiling,” Patrick cracked.

AP-ES-02-01-09 2037EST


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