As we get ready to watch the Big Game today, CBS is making last-minute preparations for its four-hour pregame extravaganza and the actual broadcast of Super Bowl 50. While CBS has been promoting the airing of Super Bowl 50 in earnest since September, it seems like it’s been doing so since 2013 when it last aired the NFL’s biggest event.
CBS has 70 cameras including ones inside pylons, 360° EyeVision technology and even more replay machines to cover the game from all possible angles in hopes of catching every big play and every big call.
The network has been looking forward to this date since it signed the current NFL contract back in 2011 and counted the rotation that consists of CBS, Fox and NBC. As CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus told Awful Announcing, today is a big day for the network, “When we saw the rotation when we negotiated the last contract and we knew we were going to do Super Bowl 50, we actually started thinking about it and planning for it at that point.”
McManus said, “The day after Super Bowl XLIX, we had a corporate-wide meeting with everybody from every area at CBS whether it was primetime or news or operations or digital or (local) stations or the syndicated group just to basically figure out how we were going to market, prepare for and brand Super Bowl 50. I think if you’ve watched our network over the last few weeks, you’ve watched how we’ve embraced it.”
McManus added that from a production standpoint, the planning for features has been ongoing since last February and he feels the pregame show, the Super Bowl Today which hits the air at 2 p.m. ET “is smart, it’s really well-thought out, entertaining and an informative four hours of programming.”
One particular feature in the pregame show that stands out is one on the six surviving announcers who have called the Super Bowl dating back to 1967, Jack Whitaker, Dick Enberg, Joe Buck, Greg Gumbel, Al Michaels and Jim Nantz. McManus said coordination and cooperation for this feature was key. “Every announcer that we contacted from Al to Jack to Joe and obviously Greg and Jim who work for us, and Dick Enberg, the minute we asked them they immediately said ‘Yes, I’d love to participate,'” McManus said. “They were very honest and very refreshing in their recollections.”
It’s a small fraternity of announcers both past and present who have called the 49 prior Super Bowls and McManus said, “I think all of them wanted to participate, none of them wanted to be left out and I think they realized it was a nice little moment to reflect on what it’s like to call a Super Bowl.”
Another feature that will get heavy play will be one that will explore how the world would be different if Scott Norwood of the Buffalo Bills made the kick that would have won Super Bowl XXV instead of missing it and allowing the New York Football Giants to win. “We talk to Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, (CBS analyst) Steve Tasker, Thurman Thomas, Marv Levy and Bill Parcells,” McManus said.
“The feature is an imaginary look at what happened if they won the first of their Super Bowl and go on to win three more, and we have Bill Parcells talking about how disappointed he was if they didn’t win that Super Bowl,” McManus said.
That might be more torture than entertainment for Bills fans, but it might be fascinating to think what might have been for Buffalo.
And what about the much-maligned Mike Carey? McManus has defended him saying the criticism towards the CBS rules analyst can be hurtful. But he admits there are times when Carey doesn’t come off well on TV. “I’m not as concerned with Mike predicting and I’ve tried to get him to lessen this, predicting what the call will be, because quite frankly, announcers and fans disagree with rulings all the time,” McManus said. “What one person sees might be different than what the replay official sees.”
“So I’m not concerned with him being right or wrong because I think speculation probably is not the best part of his job,” McManus said. “What I would appreciate is if he could really and I think he’s done this a number of times, just concisely describe what the rule is and what he sees on the screen and let the final decision be in the hands of the officials.”
McManus added “It seems to me sometimes okay if the announcers or the fans or the analysts disagree, but when Mike says something differently, he gets an awful lot of heat because he doesn’t necessarily agree with what the end result is and I think people sort of had mistakenly assumed his job is only to predict what’s going to happen and I think sometimes he has a position and I’ve said to him, ‘What I want you to say is how you would call this if you were on the field.'”
He said in a number of high-profile cases, Carey disagreed with the end result and he’s gotten a lot of heat for it. McManus said in a perfect world, there won’t be too many disputed calls today as it takes away from the fans’ enjoyment and he hopes Carey will define what a rule is and leave the speculation to others.
While Super Bowl 50 is a totally new game for CBS, one lingering memory from the network’s last Big Game effort is the infamous Louisiana Superdome blackout that marred Super Bowl XLVII. McManus said there are many things that he and the network have learned from that day where there was a long communications gap between the truck, the broadcast booth and reporters on the field. “I look back on that day a lot and there’s no question we could have done a better job covering the blackout as a practical matter,” McManus said. “It took us seven or eight minutes to even have any communication with any of our sideline reporters or our announcers.”
McManus admits CBS could have done better in getting information from the NFL as well as the officials on the field and he admits people at home probably got frustrated at how CBS handled the reporting of the blackout.
For Super Bowl 50, CBS will have Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn on the sidelines, both of whom have covered the NFL sidelines for the past few seasons. “We’ve got Jeff Glor from the news division standing by ready if anything happens, “McManus said. “He’s got a dedicated camera crew. He can go out and cover the story.”
“We’ve made a very concrete plan of action of what happens if there is an emergency and if god forbid, something bad that happens, I think we’ll be ready to cover it,” McManus said.
And if the power goes out like it did at the Superdome in 2013, CBS will have three different sources to remain on the air, power from the stadium, battery-operated power in case that goes down and if the second source fails, diesel-powered generators will fire to keep the production trucks going.
CBS as it has throughout this postseason will utilize Jay Feely as a kicking analyst. McManus credits producer Pete Radovich for coming up with the idea for using Feely, who was a kicker for several NFL teams and has been a college football analyst on CBS Sports Network. McManus said often games come down to a field goal or like the AFC Championship can be decided by an extra point. “We heard Jay do some commentary for another local outlet, found him to be very articulate and very concise and decided to give it a shot,” McManus said. “What I like about Jay is that he has a really good sense for television and he can get in and out very, very quickly.”
And what is McManus hoping for in Super Bowl 50? “I would like a clean broadcast that people really enjoy watching and I’d love to get overtime,” McManus said. “And I’m not rooting for either team I promise you, but the kicker for Denver’s last name is McManus so if McManus won the game in overtime and McManus in the truck had a good show, I would consider that a very successful day.”
CBS’ broadcast day begins at 11 a.m. ET and continues at 2 p.m. ET with The Super Bowl Today then kickoff is scheduled for sometime after 6:30 p.m. The online simulcast of CBS’ broadcast begins on CBSSports.com, the CBS Sports tablet app and the CBS Sports settop apps on Apple TV, Roku and other devices at 2 p.m. ET and continues through the conclusion of Super Bowl 50.