WASHINGTON — D.C.’s own James Brown says nothing is more fun or interesting than setting the table for America’s most-watched sporting event, and he’s about to do it for the eighth time.
On Sunday, he’ll anchor The Super Bowl Today pregame show, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on CBS before the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos kick off Super Bowl 50.
He spoke with WTOP from San Francisco on Friday morning, and with contributor Jim Williams earlier.
Among the storylines, Brown told WTOP on Friday, is the Panthers’ controversial penchant for showing off after scores and wins.
“I think it’s generational,” Brown says, referring to the static Carolina gets, and says he brought it up to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, one of the most conspicuous celebrators.
“The way I read the young man … the kid is transparent; he’s honest; he’s enthusiastic.”
More importantly, he says, Newton told him the players he competes against “don’t have a problem with it.”
Brown adds that Newton “has really engaged the kids” with his enthusiasm and his habit of tossing footballs to children in the stands after touchdowns, but that he’s also gotten senior citizens doing his signature dab.
“And his teammates say he’s the same way in practice.”
Eyes will be on Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who could well be wrapping up an 18-year career on Sunday, especially if Denver wins. Brown says Manning hasn’t said definitively whether he’ll retire if Denver falls short, but all the indicators are that this is his “last rodeo,” as Manning told Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick two weeks ago after the AFC Championship Game.
Citing the Denver quarterback’s popularity as “an ambassador for the game,” Brown says a lot of people are pulling for him to get the win.
Even the Panthers’ Newton told Brown that he that he “would like nothing better than to see [Manning] do well, but not too well, against his team.” Newton told Brown considers the Mannings “the first family of football” – Peyton’s brother Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls with the Giants, while father Archie played 13 years in the NFL, mostly for the Saints.
Contributor Jim Williams talked with Brown about his role in the broadcast and what it takes to handle the hosting duties. The transcript is below.
What still excites you about the telecast?
It’s funny; we are in many ways akin to the football teams that will play here Sunday in the Super Bowl. We have grinded it out all season long, telling the stories of all the twists and turns of the regular season, then the post season. Now we are rewarded for all of the hard work that our team has done … .
I am blessed to have been able to have had the opportunity to be part of eight Super Bowl broadcasts, and it never gets old or less fun. Especially when you are surrounded with as many outstanding people as I am, starting with coach [Bill] Cowher, Boomer [Esiason], Tony [Gonzalez], Bart [Scott] and our super technical crew.
What special challenges do you face doing a four-hour pregame show to an audience with a larger-than-normal group of casual fans?
Every Sunday during the season, our NFL Today pregame team logs about seven hours of airtime, when you count … from before the game to halftime and then the postgame show. So, I know that it is something that we are excited about and well-prepared to do.
As to the casual-fan aspect, I think it’s all about the art of telling a story. I think that the features that our team has ready for the show tell great stories, and you don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy a well-told and compelling story.
Is a four-hour pregame show too long?
In my humble opinion, I really think that it is just the right length. We understand that because of the unique nature of a Super Bowl telecast, most fans aren’t going to watch all four hours of the show — they will drop in and out of the program.
So we will be constantly re-setting things, keeping fans updated on any news leading up to the game, and, with the features we have planned for the show, we will have something interesting for everyone — no matter if they are a diehard football fan or some who is watching their first football game of the season.
During the pregame, Williams suggests you keep an eye out for a few things:
NFL’s First Commissioner, Pete Rozelle: A number of Washington fans loved the man who took a game that was run by a few businessmen and made a true success. Rozelle was responsible for the league’s first television contract, “Monday Night Football,” the AFL-NFL merger and, of course, the Super Bowl.
And Then There Were Six: The six living play-by-play announcers who have called a Super Bow l— Jim Nantz, who will have the call again for CBS on Sunday; Jack Whitaker; Greg Gumbel; Al Michaels; Joe Buck, and Dick Enberg — talk about their experiences calling the biggest event in American sports.
Buffalo Back To The Future: A look at Scott Norwood’s missed field goal try from 25 years ago that put the Bills on the road to four straight Super Bowl losses. This feature looks at how everything would have changed for Buffalo, and maybe the league, had Norwood’s kick been good. This should a great look at a Bills team that never really gets much credit for actually making it to four straight Super Bowls.
Camera angles: CBS will have a crew of nearly 500 working this week to produce all the events taking place in the Bay area, including, of course, the game. It will use a record-high 70 cameras on game day at Levi’s Stadium and a system giving viewers a 360-degree perspective and higher resolution than ever seen before.
The 36 cameras strung around the upper deck of the stadium can freeze the moment, revolve around the play and continue to play out the scene. Viewers can have a look in a moment’s time from what the quarterback sees in the pocket to the safety’s perspective and other points on the field.
Jim Williams is starting his 40th year in the broadcast media business. He is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning producer, director, writer and executive. He also has won five Cable Ace Awards for television events production. Williams has been involved in more than 12,000 hours of live programming including the Olympics, World Cup, Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals and more than 200 live rock concerts.