Sure, the NFL loves all of its television partners — as long as the checks clear — but none was better suited to this particular Super Bowl than its good friends at CBS.
That is because no network takes its history in general, and its history with the NFL in particular, more seriously than does the Tiffany Network, and Super Bowl 50 has had history as part of its backdrop all season.
So yes, CBS plans to pay tribute to all of that on Super Bowl Sunday, primarily during its four-hour pregame show, as it has leading up to the big event.
It began last month with a vintage clip of Jackie Gleason promoting Super Bowl I on his variety show the night before that game, with a brief clip sent to journalists of announcers Ray Scott and Jack Whitaker introducing the game telecast itself.
In it, Whitaker, articulate as always, says: “I guess there’s been as much written about this game, Ray, as there has been about the Civil War. And in a way, this is the end of a civil war — a civil war in American professional football this afternoon. There’s never been a game quite like it, and both clubs have every reason in the world to be emotionally up.”
Little did Whitaker know how many more words would be written, said and tweeted about the 49 Super Bowls to follow. Fortunately, he still is with us to discuss it and will do so Sunday as part of a centerpiece feature of CBS’ pregame celebration of the 50th game.
Whitaker, 91, will join the other five living play-by-play men who have called Super Bowls — Joe Buck, Dick Enberg, Greg Gumbel, Al Michaels and Jim Nantz — to talk about the experience.
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said he is particularly proud of that feature, which he views as emblematic of the approach the network hopes to bring to Sunday’s telecast.
CBS had considered a segment on the man who owns a near-complete recording of Super Bowl I and who has been locked in a long legal and financial battle with the NFL over it, but “It turned out we weren’t able to get all the clearances for the footage and decided not to pursue it.”
McManus said he most likely watched Super Bowl I with his father, ABC’s Jim McKay, on NBC as a 12-year-old AFL fan because NBC was the AFL network. (The game was on both networks.) But CBS’ history with the NFL predates that.
The network began showing a regular slate of Sunday games in 1956, the first national schedule that resembled modern NFL coverage. (CBS was out of the NFL business from 1994-97.)
Nantz, who will call his fourth Super Bowl on Sunday for CBS, is a serious student of the network’s history and recently realized he was part of its team for the 50th Masters in 1986 — when Jack Nicklaus famously won for the final time — and the 50th Final Four in 1988. Now he will be part of the 50th Super Bowl.
“All of those golden moments have been very special,” he said.
Speaking of golden, McManus said that other than a gold-colored theme, there will be relatively little reference to history once the ball is kicked off.
“I think once we get to the game coverage, it will basically be what you’re used to seeing on Super Bowl coverage,” he said.
At that point, it’s all about football and business. McManus said Sunday could generate more revenue than any previous day in the history of television.
Nantz, who will make the Lombardi Trophy presentation, said he has thought about how to integrate history into his call “a hundred different ways.”
Mostly, he concluded that cannot be part of the game coverage. But knowing him, and how much the milestone means to him and everyone else involved, he will find some way to give it a verbal nod as the confetti falls.