CBS’s production of Super Bowl 50 next Sunday won’t be a television broadcast so much as a sensory invasion.
Forget for a moment the network’s 7-hour pregame lineup. The game itself will be captured and presented in a nearly unfathomable variety of ways, including the use of such things as the EyeVision 360 replay system (which can freeze the action and pivot seamlessly to another high-def perspective), imbedded pylon cams and real-time-generated graphics that will tell us, for example, how far an individual player has run over the course of the game.
Since this is the golden anniversary of America’s biggest sporting event, it would be fun to compare the 2016 telecast with the pared-down show that CBS or NBC offered for the first Super Bowl in January of 1967, when the series officially debuted as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
But that probably won’t happen anytime soon. Unless you are a high-level executive at the Paley Center for Media in New York City or the close associate of a mystery man in Pennsylvania, you cannot view a recording of Super Bowl I. In fact, hardly anyone ever has.
“It’s a holy grail for archives, but it is for collectors and the public, too,” said television and radio curator Ron Simon of the Paley Center, an organization that focuses on the cultural, creative and social significance of the broadcast media. “Because it is the first game (in what) becomes an American tradition. And I’m not sure they had any understanding what this game would involve.”
For decades, there was no known copy of Super Bowl I. The networks had made no effort to archive sports programming in those days, and home recording was practically nonexistent.
Then came a breakthrough. In 2005, a man walked into the Paley Center with a briefcase that contained two reels of 2-inch quadruplex videotape. On the tape was that historic game, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers beating Hank Stram’s Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 to preserve the pride of the NFL.
Because Super Bowl I came so soon after the AFL-NFL merger was announced, and because each of the two leagues had its own TV contract, it remains the only Super Bowl broadcast by two networks. NBC handled the game for the AFL. The Pennsylvania tape is the CBS/NFL version that featured the commentary of Ray Scott, Jack Whitaker, Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall.
The man delivering the reels explained that his father had used professional-quality equipment to capture the broadcast from the feed of WDAU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Pa. The tape then sat in an attic for nearly 38 years.
The man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, offered to give the original to the Paley Center in exchange for a pledge to restore it. The center did just that, with help from the New Jersey-based film preservation house Specs Bros.
“They cleaned it and they found edge damage, they also found some oxide flaking off, and they knew that they had to prepare it for one good pass, which they did,” Simon said. “So we got the best transfer we could possibly do on digital tape, and that’s what we have right now.”
The 94-minute master tape resides at Iron Mountain, a massive, climate-controlled vault near Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
SUPER BOWL 50
Get ready for the invasion. The Denver Broncos are coming to the Bay Area, as are the Carolina Panthers, and a lot of their fans, and corporate executives and hangers-on and other Super Bowl enthusiasts willing (or even eager) to join the mobs and traffic jams.
Here’s what to expect over the next few days.
THE NFL EXPERIENCE: Part carnival, part NFL skills test, part museum, the pro football “interactive theme park” opened yesterday at the Moscone Center in San Francisco and will remain open every day through the Super Bowl. Check times before you go.
TOUCHDOWN!: The Broncos are scheduled to land at Mineta San Jose International Airport at approximately 2:30 p.m. today. The Panthers touch down at the same airport at about 3:30 p.m. They will not be gathered around one of the luggage carousels.
CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN: The annual Super Bowl Media Day has evolved into Super Bowl Opening Night. It will be held at SAP Center in San Jose (where the Sharks play) from 5 to 8 p.m. on Monday. Watch for scantily clad models, Star Wars costumes, clown outfits and other tools of the journalistic trade.
CHANGE OF LEVI’S: Levi’s Stadium, home of the 49ers, has been given a major facelift. The south end is painted with the Broncos logo, the north end with the Panthers logo. The Broncos are the designated home team and will use the 49ers’ locker room, though for some reason the Panthers will stand on the 49ers’ sideline. Denver has elected to wear its white jerseys, perhaps because the team is 0-4 wearing orange in the Super Bowl.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: The Broncos will stay at the Santa Clara Marriott and practice at Stanford. The Panthers will stay at the San Jose Marriott and practice at San Jose State. All practices are closed to the public.
AWARDS SEASON: The NFL will announce its Man of the Year and Coach of the Year awards on Friday. The next night the league will divulge its Player of the Year, and the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class will be announced. Among the finalists are former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and wide receiver Terrell Owens, and late Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler.
AND FINALLY: Yes, there is a game. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m., Feb. 7, at Levi’s. Ticket prices on StubHub were starting at $3,000 on Friday. It’s free to watch from your home on CBS.
— Phil Barber