There was a moment during last week's Super Bowl conference call that revealed the prevailing mood at CBS Sports these days. Asked by a reporter for the network's coverage plans for Sunday's broadcast, CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus responded like a man holding pocket aces in a Texas hold 'em game. "This year we're going to do nothing interesting or surprising," McManus cracked. "It will be the same old crap you see on pregame shows."
Such sarcasm is borne from the growing chatter in broadcasting circles that Sunday's game could become the most-viewed Super Bowl ever. No Super Bowl has drawn an average of 100 million viewers, though NBC came close last year when a record 98.7 million watched the Steelers defeat the Cardinals. "If we get a close game, I think we will get an extraordinary rating," said McManus. "And if we get just an OK game, I still think we get a really good rating with the storylines involved."
In terms of sheer bravado, CBS ad chief John Bogusz sped past caution and declared to the Sports Business Journal that "our game is going to do a record number." Mind you, such numbers here are total viewers and not ratings points. Last year's Super Bowl drew a 42.0 rating, far from the unlikely-to-be-broken 49.1 rating for San Francisco's win over Cincinnati in 1982. (One rating point equals one percent of the nation's television homes that is tuned in during an average minute of a broadcast.)
But Bogusz's bravado is not without merit. NFL ratings have soared this season for every NFL broadcaster and now comes a Super Bowl featuring the top seeds from each conference for the first time since the 1993 season. If the game is close come the fourth quarter, it's a better than likely bet CBS Sports employees will be drinking champagne back at their Hollywood, Fla., hotel come Monday morning. The prediction here is the game will top 100 million viewers, especially with ugly weather slated for the East Coast this weekend.
Harold Bryant, a vice president for CBS Sports, said the network has about 500 staffers working the game. Asked about the expectations of such a huge audience, Bryant said, "I'm nervous and our team is nervous, but it's a good nervous. We're going to be ready to go."
This will be CBS's 17th Super Bowl broadcast and the network's biggest day of programming in high definition.
Longtime CBS announcer Jim Nantz will call his second Super Bowl (he called the game in 2007) and Phil Simms will provide analysis (his sixth Super Bowl game and the fourth for CBS). Steve Tasker and Solomon Wilcots are the sideline reporters. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:28 p.m. Eastern, though it'll be pushed back a couple of minutes if history serves as a guide
"For me, a successful Super Bowl broadcast is this: we didn't miss anything," said CBS Sports director Mike Arnold, who also directed Super Bowl XLI and the famed Duke-Kentucky East Regional finale in 1992. "I want to be almost like a baseball umpire. I don't want to be noticed. I want people to talk about the game."
Unlike Fox -- which foisted Ryan Seacrest's nonsensical pregame interviewers on Football America two years ago -- CBS tends to play its broadcast traditionally and shtick-free. The features planned are mostly rooted in football and one stands out above the rest: the first interview with former Steelers and Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress since he was incarcerated last September after pleading guilty to a weapons charge. He'll be interviewed by one of his former coaches, Bill Cowher, who told the Newark-Star Ledger that Burress "blames no one except himself. He's had a lot of time to reflect."
Bryant said The Super Bowl Today pregame studio show (2-6 p.m.) has more than 10 features ready for air as well as an original musical piece composed by jazzman Wynton Marsalis, and a Jay-Z mash-up of "Run This Town" that will run in a tease prior to kickoff. The talent of the pregame is mostly the usual CBS lot: host James Brown, analysts Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe and Cowher, NFL Insider Charley Casserly, reporters Lesley Visser, Sam Ryan, and contributor Dick Enberg.
Upon completion of Super Bowl XLIV, CBS says 4,975 games will have been broadcast by its network.
But none seen by more people than this one.
Among the features CBS has scheduled for the pregame:
• Katie Couric, the anchor of the CBS Evening News, has a live interview with President Barack Obama. The interview is expected to air around 4:30 p.m.
• Brown examines New Orleans four-and-a-half years after Hurricane Katrina, including interviews with Saints coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees, running back Reggie Bush, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, long-time New Orleans area residents Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, and residents of the Lower Ninth Ward.
• Burress sits down with Cowher for his first interview since being sent to jail last September. (Cowher traveled to Oneida Correctional Facility in upstate New York for the interview.)
• Couric travels through New Orleans with Brees and his wife.
• Sharpe interviews Bush about his impact in the New Orleans community.
• Visser sits down with Saints defenders Darren Sharper, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith on how to slow down the Colts' offense
• Marino interviews Manning on the Colts' decision not to go for a perfect season, and facing this father's team
• Esiason interviews Colts Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis
• Ryan talks with the Colts receiving corps: Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon.
• Marsalis pays a special musical tribute to New Orleans.
• Live musical performances throughout the day include Steve Winwood, and Daughtry. The Food Network's Guy Fieri also will prepare the "perfect tailgate food."