CBS’ James Brown knows what it’s like to host Super Bowl pregame shows when the temperament of the nation is delicate and the spirit of the day transcends beyond the teams competing for a championship.
Brown, a 1969 DeMatha High School graduate, who played basketball for the legendary Morgan Wooten, hosted Fox’s pregame for the 2002 Super Bowl, which occurred nearly five months after 9/11.
With the coronavirus pandemic still at the forefront, Brown realized Sunday’s “Super Bowl Today” show could offer the same opportunities, but in a different manner.
“Typically, sporting events offer a respite to get away and to enjoy hopefully a competitive game. People are looking for that kind of relief and coming off all of we’ve gone through, there’s a strong desire, hopefully, to become more unified,” Brown said.
“It will be in a different sense of 9/11 because that was a celebration of withstanding the attempt at our country, but it was very patriotic and unifying. This is a different kind of backdrop where many people have just been fatigued, given all the challenges that we’ve had to endure during this time.”
Brown hosted his record 10th Super Bowl pregame, and his sixth with CBS. He says he didn’t even know that anyone had kept track of this feat until someone mentioned two years ago that he’d tied the legendary Brent Musburger, who coincidentally anchored seven of his nine with CBS.
Brown said he never gave any thought to it, just considers himself a hardworking guy who prepares to set his teammates up to look good while anchoring and doing his job to the best of his ability.
Brown called NFL games on CBS for seven seasons during his first stint with the network. He became the pregame host for Fox in 1994 when they outbid CBS for the NFC package. Brown then returned to CBS in 2006 to lead “The NFL Today,” and has been a hiding presence on a show that went through a myriad of changes in the first eight seasons after the network returned to doing games.
“JB” was a standout basketball player at Harvard, he’s also shown the skills to play point guard in his sports media career, commanding the discussions between huge egos on the set, segueing features, and getting analysts Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms, Bill Cowher, and Nate Burleson involved seamlessly.
“Boomer says he’s what we call comfort food. He’s our comfort food because we know we’re in good hands with the best studio host in the history of the sport,” Burleson said before adding that he believes the best quality Brown possesses is recognizing the various talents that each host has and playing to those strengths like a Hall of Fame coach.
While Super Bowl pregames typically serve as showcases for the host city and the two participating teams, CBS featured some of the real heroes of this country — the healthcare workers.
The League also gave props to Kenny Washington (who re-integrated the NFL in the 1940’s) barrier-breaking women in the NFL and Whitney Houston’s stellar national anthem performance at the Super Bowl 30 years ago, which also happened to be held in Tampa.
Another huge element is the event served as a showcase for the ViacomCBS merger, which was completed 15 months ago.
Comedy Central, Showtime, Nickelodeon, “The Late Late Show With James Corden” and CBS News all contributed features and or interviews. Also CBS Evening News anchor Nora O’Donnell became the first to have a sit-down interview with President Joe Biden.
Couldn’t get him to pick a winner of the game but he was leaning heavily for the young guy Mahomes if you listened closely.
There were also features analyzing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, including the much-anticipated matchup between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Brown also knows that if there’s some sort of delay, he may be called at a moment’s notice. That was the case in 2013 when a power outage at the Superdome caused a delay during the third quarter between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
He’s also a revered mouthpiece for issues that affect the larger world.
When it came time to perform on Sunday, Brown’s uncanny ability in-front of the camera was on full display. His philosophy for navigating a four-hour show was top notch as you could tell the research and groundwork were done at a high level to bring us such a quality product. The preparation, camaraderie, and good-natured fun on set was obvious and it kept my eyeballs glued to the screen. This quintet may be the best in the business with “JB” playing point guard.