UNLESS YOU WERE the ad salesman who promised big numbers for 30-second spots during the Texas A&M-Penn State bowl game on ESPN, the Dec.29 showdown between the Patriots and Giants was a dream come true in the television industry.

At a time when a writers' strike has resulted in very little original programming, CBS and NBC cut huge slices out of what was a record-setting ratings pie.

NBC did so without losing its other prime-time game — Sunday's Titans-Colts finale — while CBS was able to pluck a feather for its cap by outscoring its rival in head-to-head viewers. "What it comes down to is," KPIX-Channel 5 programming director Tom Spitz analyzed, "viewers had a choice and they turned to us. When they were thinking football, they were thinking CBS."

On the surface, it might appear as if the NFL Network — which had exclusive rights to the game up until 72 hours before kickoff — was the night's big loser. But that's far from the case.

First off, by getting CBS and NBC to run a majority of its commercials, industry sources claim the NFL Network was able to use the monster ratings to make good on seasonlong promises to its chief advertisers.

Also, as part of the power play Congress pulled on the NFL to get the game on free television, those in the know believe the government will now get involved in the NFL Network's stalemated negotiations with Comcast and Time Warner, all but guaranteeing an agreement will be reached before next season.

That — and the highly unusual circumstances surrounding the Pats-Giants game — makes it unlikely a similar scenario will unfold in 2008, not that Spitz and most of his colleagues would mind seeing it.

"We had the opportunity to carry a game of historical significance. We benefitted in a number of ways," he assured. "We were fortunate to get it."

Raiders part of solution

Could it happen again next December? Just to be on the safe side, I'm guessing the NFL Network will pick its game conservatively, shooting for something totally meaningless.

Yeah, like the Raiders at the Chiefs.

You gotta believe Congress wouldn't be watching.

Dumbest thing I heard all week

"I'm angry that what I've done for the game of baseball and ... in my private life what I've done, that I don't get the benefit of the doubt." Sorry, Roger. That one hasn't worked for O.J. Simpson, either.

Three you gotta see

-Men's basketball: Santa Clara at St. Mary's (Saturday, 4 p.m., CSN). It'll be hard changing the channel if Brett Favre is leading a fourth-quarter comeback against the Seahawks, but it's got to be better than the postgame show.

-Pacers at Warriors (Sunday, 6 p.m., FSN Plus): The Mike Dunleavy homecoming game. More boos than the entire Kerry Collins era.

-Men's basketball: Georgetown at Pittsburgh (Monday, 4 p.m., ESPN): For the next two months, "Big Monday" means college hoops: Big East followed by Big 12 (Oklahoma-Kansas this week).

Scanning the airwaves

What happens the day after the Rose Bowl at ABC? They start working on the 2008 schedule. Already written in ink: Ohio State at USC, Sept.13. ... ESPN's alternative to traditional New Year's countdowns — its motorcycle-jumping, truck-flipping "New Year, No Limits" — was deemed a huge success with more than 5 million viewers and a 3.6 national rating. Look for more of the same in 358 days. ... Here's a head-scratcher for you: the Penguins-Sabres outdoor game on New Year's Day got its ninth-highest rating nationally (a solid 2.9) in the Sacramento market. The game got a Sharks-like 1.0 in the Bay Area.

E-mail media-related questions and

comments to Dave Del Grande at

dave@bayareanewsgroup.com.