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Super Bowl announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden addressed a pretty adoring crowd of columnists this week via conference call from Miami.

The tone was established by the guy who asked why the Fox duo is perceived as the best announcing team in the game.

Bob Stenner, the producer of the game, had a succinct answer.

"Pat's a man of a few words and John's a man of a lot of words," said Stenner. "John can go off on a tangent and Pat can safely land the ship."

No question, this team of 18 years on CBS and Fox has become an American classic. That will be even more apparent after the game between Denver and Atlanta ends and Summerall and Madden are featured on the two Fox entertainment cartoons that follow the game, "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons."

"Family Guy" satirizes Madden's enthusiasm for football, which cries out for such treatment.

Like all living icons, the announcers aren't immune to the American practice of knocking down people who have been successful for a long time.

Though you wouldn't have known it from the conference call, Summerall has faced more criticism this season than he has had in years.

The team was far from perfect in its last performance, Atlanta's upset of Minnesota for the National Conference title.

Summerall gave the wrong score during one key moment of the game and asked Madden a mind-numbing question after Atlanta scored in the final minute and was an extra point away of tying the score and sending it into overtime.

He actually asked if Atlanta would go for two points and the win. Any NFL coach who would go for two points in that situation would be impeached even if he won the game.

Madden, meanwhile, had trouble on a couple of replays.

He claimed that Minnesota receiver Randy Moss got both feet down on a touchdown reception in the end zone when Fox's pictures suggested otherwise.

Summerall said in the conference call that he didn't think it should have been a touchdown though Madden and Stenner did.

Madden also uncharacteristically botched a rule and said that a fumble call by an Atlanta back was incorrect because the ground caused the fumble and that can't happen. However, since the back was never touched and could have gotten up, it was a legal fumble.

You don't expect the supposed best announcing team in the game to be less than perfect.

But Madden lovers had to be pleased by his enthusiasm two weeks ago, as the veteran broadcaster acted as excited as a rookie. He noted that the game was so good that his palms were sweating. He constantly remarked about how much fun he was having.

The NFC title game was so good that it could be difficult to top today.

"It would be hard, wouldn't it?" said Summerall, who noted that the divisional playoff game between San Francisco and Green Bay was just as exciting.

"Two out of the last three games we've done, I walked out of the booth and realized that's as good as it gets," said Summerall.

Let's hope not. But Summerall adds that with all the Super Bowl hype during the week and on Fox's seven-hour pregame show, it is pretty hard for the game to meet anyone's expectations.

Madden borrows a phrase from former Bills coach Marv Levy when discussing the pregame filibuster on Fox.

"What the hell would you rather be doing than watching stuff about the Super Bowl?" asked Madden. He doubted that many people on Super Bowl Sunday would say, "I'd rather see some bowling."

If a high-scoring game fits your definition of a good Super Bowl, Madden sees the potential for one.

"Both offenses are better than both defenses," said Madden.

For Atlanta to win, Madden thinks it has to put a defensive back on Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe and keep running back Terrell Davis in check.

For Denver to win, he thinks the Broncos must keep running back Jamal Anderson in check, pressure quarterback Chris Chandler and protect the ball from the aggressive Atlanta defense.

"They led the league in turnovers for a reason," said Madden, whose homework for the game hasn't just focused on football.

He not only is a student of what happens on the field but of the field. He notes the groundskeeper for the game in Miami's Pro Player Stadium has had to use American fertilizer instead of British fertilizer because mad cow disease across the ocean prevented the use of British soil.

"English fertilizer is better because it is less salty," explained Madden.

Naturally, Summerall and Madden were asked during the conference call for a prediction. I learned years ago when they worked the Bills' Super Bowl loss to Washington not to ask for one. Back then, Madden wouldn't give me one during the week because he didn't want to tell anyone he expected a Washington rout. It turned out that the prediction he gave privately to friends was on the money.

Of course, this year it would be easier to predict when the team of Summerall and Madden is going to be retired than it would be to predict a winner in the game between two teams who have lost a combined four games.

Fox executives remain supportive of Summerall. But with the play-by-play man due to be 72 by the time Fox has its next Super Bowl in the year 2002, it wouldn't be that surprising if this was the last one that he and Madden do together.

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