Even for the casual fan, this game could be super

The previous two blogs talked about lots of things surrounding Super Bowl 50, but there still seems to be something missing ... Ah yes, the game itself. Somewhere alongside the hype, the music and the commercials, people will play football. This one could be interesting, even for the most casual fan; here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

The massive grasp of
a Super Bowl goes far beyond your intense fan.

“An event of this
size brings legions of casual viewers,” said James Brown, who hosts
Sunday's four-hour pre-game show on CBS. It even has
“believe-it-or-not, a sizable number of first-time viewers.”

Last year's game
averaged 114.4 million viewers; some knew little about the players or
the game. Not to worry; this year's game is a classic match-up, with
some key people. Let's go way back:

In 1987, two great
quarterbacks met in Pasadena. John Elway led the Denver Broncos; Phil
Simms led the New York Giants ... who were in their first Super Bowl.

“I remember
standing in the tunnel at the Rose Bowl, ... thinking, 'This is the
greatest thing that's ever happened to me. All my dreams as a kid,'”
Simms recalled.

His teammates had
different reactions. “One of my offensive linemen, standing next to
me, was crying (and) my starting left tackle was throwing up.”

Gradually, the
Giants pulled together. Trailing 10-9 at halftime, they won 39-20; at
one point, Simms completed 10 straight passes.

Those things happen,
Simms said; people say the quarterback gets in a rhythm. “When you
get that confidence, the coach gets it with you. So the play-calling
gets better; everything changes.”

Elway had two more
Super Bowl losses – 42-10 and 55-10 – as part of the AFC's
13-year losing streak. Then he ended both streaks in 1998, beating
the Packers 31-24. The next year he beat the Falcons 34-14; at 38 –
ancient, by football standards – he was named most valuable player
and retired.

Now jump ahead 17
years. Simms is CBS' Super Bowl analyst; Elway is the Broncos'
general manager.

In his first season
there, Elway saw the Broncos go 8-8 – their fourth straight
non-winning season.

That's when Peyton
Manning – one of the all-time great quarterbacks, but questionable
after a year-long injury – was available; Elway signed him. In the
four regular seasons since then, the Broncos have been 50-14; one
year, Manning was named most valuable player (for the fifth time) but
was promptly drubbed 43-8 in the 2014 Super Bowl.

That put his Super
Bowl record at 1-2 and this season he seemed unlikely to get another
try. “It was incredible, the turn of events for him,” Simms said.

At 39 and battered
by injuries, Manning missed six games and should have missed another.
Playing while hurt, he attempted 20 passes, with only five
completions (for 35 yards), four interceptions and a benching. People
assumed his career was over.

But the Broncos
played well with back-up Brock Osweiler and then with Manning
returning. He edged two longtime foes (Ben Roethlisberger and Tom
Brady), to become the oldest Super Bowl quarterback.

Manning would be the
full focus – if it weren't for the emergence of the Carolina
Panthers' Cam Newton. “His talent, his personality is like nothing
we've seen in the NFL,” Simms said.

Neither man had a
strong passing year; Newton ranked 16th in the NFL,
Manning 27th. But Newton ran for 636 yards and 10
touchdowns; over the past eight seasons, Manning has totalled
minus-34 yards.

The Panthers have
soared – and been overlooked. “They rode into Dallas at 10-0 ...
and they were the underdog,” said Jim Nantz, who will do the Super
Bowl play-by-play for CBS. “People haven't really caught up with
how good they are.”

The Panthers were
15-1 in the regular season, took their play-off games 31-24 and 49-15
and have a dynamic quarterback. “He's 26 years old,” Nantz said.
“He's bound to be the future face of this game.”

But now he meets one
of the past faces. Manning has done it all – except to win a second
Super Bowl, like his boss (Elway) did at the end of his career. Now
he gets perhaps his last chance.

-- Super Bowl
kick-off, 6:35 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

-- James Brown
anchors “Super Bowl Today” from 2-6 p.m.; other previews start at
11 a.m.


Super Bowl? How about a half-hour preview, plus "Lassie"?

What's coming Sunday, CBS reminds us relentlessly, is not merely the Super Bowl; it's Super Bowl 50. So with that in mind, let's look at then and now. This is part of a package I sent to papers. The blog below this one walks through CBS' day on Sunday (Feb. 7); this one looks way back. Still coming is a casual-fan's view of this year's game.

By Mike Hughes

By now, we assume
that this Sunday will be supersized.

Super Bowl 50 will
be surrounded by spectacle – seven-and-a-half hours of pre-game
shows ... a halftime concert by Coldplay ... a postgame special with
Stephen Colbert. “This really is a national holiday,” said Sean
McManus, chairman of CBS Sports. “It really is a celebration.”

But some people
remember when the game didn't have a number ... or the word “super”
... or a sell-out.

On Jan. 15, 1967,
the “World Championship Game” at the Los Angeles Memorial
Coliseum was listed at 61,946 people – which means there were about
31,661 empty seats. CBS' pre-game show was a half-hour; its postgame
show was “Lassie.” Halftime had marching bands.

The Green Bay
Packers, the National Football League champions, faced the Kansas
City Chiefs, champs of the upstart American Footbal League – which
some people called a “Mickey Mouse league.”

Chiefs coach Hank
Stram decided to have equipment guys wear Mickey Mouse ears in the
locker room and play the theme song as the players came and left. “I
thought, 'We'll have a little fun with this and maybe get them
relaxed,'” he said in “Super Bowl Sunday: The Day America Stops”
(Addax, 2000).

That worked for a
while; at halftime, the Chiefs trailed only 14-10.
The game was on
both CBS and NBC, the regular networks for the NFL and AFL. McManus –
who was 12 and watching with his dad, master sportscaster Jim McKay
-- grants that he may have chosen NBC back then. “I was kind of a
fan of the AFL.”

CBS had Frank
Gifford as its analyst, with Ray Scott calling the first half and
Jack Whitaker the second. “I'm scared to death,” recalled
Whitaker, 91. “And ... here comes the second-half kickoff and all
of a sudden, everything stops. Whistles are blowing; referees are
running around.”

After more
confusion, he said, an explanation “came over the headset: 'Relax
guys, NBC blew it. They were in commercial. They are going to kick it
over again.'”

Then the game became
more predictable: The Chiefs were shut out in the second half and
lost 35-10; Packer quarterback Bart Starr was named most valuable
player ... and repeated that a year later, when the Packers beat the
Oakland Raiders, 33-14

In the third year,
the game was officially named the Super Bowl – and became super.
Joe Namath, quarterback of the AFL's New York Jets – guaranteed a
victory. The Jets beat the Baltimore Colts, 16-7.

For seven of the
next nine years, the AFC would beat the NFC (their post-merger
names). One turnaround then saw the NFC win 13 straight, from
1985-97; then Broncos' quarterback John Elway launched a
counter-streak, winning eight out of 10.

Now the NFC has 26
wins, the AFC has 23 and the game has lots of promotional hype.

That first year,
Whitaker recalls, “we couldn't get a promo .... We got no help at
all. And Bill MacPhail (the CBS sports president) was kind of

Today, promos aren't
a concern for McManus. Five days after the 49th Super
Bowl, he said, CBS had a company-wide conference; ever since, it's
been dripping in golden promos.


It has a high mark
to beat: Last week's Patriots-Seahawks game on NBC set the records
for TV rating (47 percent of all TV homes) and total viewers, an
average of 114.4 million. That compared to 112.2 million the previous
year – and a combined 51.2 million the first year. “It's nice to
have the most-watched show in television history .... but if it's
not, life goes on,” McManus said.


There will total
seven hours of primetime specials ... and 75 hours of previews on the
CBS Sports Network ... and more, on radio and in daytime shows and
newscasts and beyond.

After all of that
comes the 6:35 p.m. ET kick-off. The Denver Broncos – with Elway as
general manager and veteran Peyton Manning at quarterback – face
the Carolina Panthers, with young Cam Newton and one of the best
records in the Super Bowl era. “We have to put into context how
magnificent this season has been for the Panthers,” said Jim Nantz,
who will do play-by-play.

Chances are, they'll
be saying “Super” and “50” a lot. And there won't be 31,000
empty seats.

-- “Super Bowl
50,” 6:35 p.m. ET Sunday (Feb. 7), CBS. Specials at 11 a.m.;
preview at 2 p.m.

-- Earlier primetime
specials involve Super Bowl commercials (8-10 p.m. Tuesday, 8-9 p.m.
Saturday) and halftime shows (9-11 p.m. Friday), plus “NFL Honors,”
9-11 p.m. Saturday.

Super Sunday: Ready for football (and a whole lotta other stuff)

As Super Bowl Sunday nears, its size can be overwhelming. A reasonable (well, semi-reasonable) human being could spend 14 hours on the game and all its previews and post-views. This story is part of a three-piece package I'm sending to papers. This one has the basic lay-out of the day; the blog above it takes a historical look. Still coming is a casual fan's view of the game itself:

By Mike Hughes

No one said Super
Bowl Sunday would be easy.

This is a
seven-hour, 35 minute marathon ... before the kick-off. If you catch
the commercials – some paying as much as $5 million for 30 seconds
– there's little time for family, friends or bathroom breaks.

Here's a guide to
CBS' day, with all times ET:

pre-pre-game shows

-- 11 a.m.: “Before
They Were Pros.” NFL Films follows some of the current and past
stars, as they visit their home towns and high schools.

-- Noon: “Road to
the Super Bowl.” This is NFL Films' visceral portrait of the
season. It has original orchestral music ... plus the un-musical
touch of almost 100 players wired for sound.

-- 1 p.m.: “Phil
Simms All-Iron Team.” The former Super Bowl MVP talks with
sportscaster Dick Enberg, 81, and with people who symbolized eras –
Vikings coach Bud Grant and players Mike Singletary (Bears), Deion
Sanders (Cowboys and Falcons), Drew Bledsoe (Patriots) and more.

pre-game show

“If anything can
be 'a fast-paced four hours,' I think this will be,” said Sean
McManus, president of CBS Sports. He'll try to pepper the marathon
(2-6 p.m.) with short bits.

McManus talks about
musical mini-breaks and San Francisco vignettes. There will be brief
memories from Joe Namath, Russell Wilson, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith
and Simms, plus mini-portraits of Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, John
Madden, Reggie White, Doug Williams and more.

And there will be
plenty of time to talk football; James Brown, who anchors, says his
commentators range from Tony Gonzalez – who was in 14 Pro Bowls –
to Bart Scott, who was in one. An undrafted free-agent, Scott had 11
pro seasons and is “very brash, very candid,” Brown said.

And there will be
longer features; they include:

-- The usual
interview-with-the-president ... but this time done live. The idea,
Gayle King said, is to “share what it's like at the Barack and
Michelle Obama household on a big game day.” It's a key change,
said producer Chris Licht. “To the best of my knowledge, (the Super
Bowl interview) has never been done with the First Couple. And I know
Mrs. Obama generally does not do live interviews.”

-- A piece on the
six living men who have done TV play-by-play for Super Bowls. They
range from Jack Whitaker, 91, who did the first game, to Jim Nantz,
who's about to do his fourth. Others are Al Michaels, Joe Buck, Greg
Gumbel and Enberg. “It's really a great piece,” McManus said.

-- Interviews with
the duelling quarterbacks, the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning and the
Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, plus Panther coach Ron Rivera. Also,
Gonzalez talks with fwo former Cowboys – linebacker DeMarcus Ware
and defensive coordinatore Wade Phillips – now with the Broncos.
And Simms talks with John Elway, whom he beat 39-20 in the 1987 Super
Bowl; Elway went on to win two Super Bowls ... then, as general
manager, revived the Broncos by luring Manning.

-- Features on Pete
Rozelle (the first NFL commissioner), Joe Montana's “world's
longest touchdown pass” and Zaevion Dobson, a teen football star
who was killed as he shielded three girls from gunfire.

-- And abstract
pieces. One is a Super Bowl essay; another rewrites history, turning
the Buffalo Bills into Super Bowl winners.

game (eventually)

At 6 p.m., Nantz and
Simms take over. There's music and more, with kick-off expected at

As usual, coverage
includes some new techno-tricks. McManus talks about an overhead view
with “a 360-degree look at the field, where you can rotate the view
(and) animate it.” More grounded is a plan which, he said,
“involves eight custom-made pylons with 16 different cameras with
audio ... for an unbelievable ground-level view.”

And at halftime,
Coldplay performs. The group is expected to be joined by Beyonce –
who linked with it for “Hymn for the Weekend” -- plus the Los
Angles Youth Orchestra and possibly more.


First are the usual
interviews, complete with trophy presentation. Then – CBS
optimistically says 10 p.m., but it could be 10:30 or so -- come the
post-game specials:

-- Stephen Colbert,
live from New York. He'll have former “Saturday Night Live” stars
Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, plus Margot Robie, the Key & Peele
comedy duo and Donald Trump's non-favorite news anchor, Meghyn Kelly.

-- James Corden,
after local newscasts. He won't be live, but will have a Super Bowl
theme, parodying classic commercials and holding a tailgate part
outside the Los Angeles theater. Guests will be Zac Efron, Anna
Kendrick and Adam DeVine, plus a “Carpool Karaoke” segment with
Elton John.


Eve Plumb's nostalgia journey -- "Grease," Jan Brady and a reality check

OK, I officially have high hopes for "Grease: Live," at 7 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 31) on Fox. My previous blog focused on Carly Rae Jepson, who plays Frenchy; now let's go a generation earlier and meet Eve Plumb, who has ranged from "Brady Bunch" to playing the "Grease" auto-shop teacher. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

As “Grease”
returns to our TV sets, it brings warm bursts of nostalgia.

It reminds us of the
1978 movie, the 1972 Broadway hit, the 1959 early-rock era it
depicts. It has supporting roles for Didi Conn (who did the original
movie) and Eve Plumb, a “Brady Bunch” kid.

Ah yes, those
pleasant decades. “We think of that time as so innocent,” Plumb
said. “It wasn't. You remember a thing called the Vietnam War?”

That was going on
throughout the “Brady Bunch” run (1969-74). And back in '59, the
“Grease” era? Civil-rights rage was building and the Cold War and
nuclear fears were high.

Still, the screen
memories that linger were from two Ron Howard roles -- “American
Graffiti” was set in 1962, “Happy Days” in the mid-'50s. “We
think of it as this great time,” said Plumb, 57.

And for many people
it was, including her. She grew up in California sunshine, with a dad
who was a record executive, working with the Monkees and Jefferson
Airplane and such.

“A childen's agent
moved next door to us when I was 6 years old,” she said. “I just
got a lot of work.”

By 8, she was doing
commercials and then small TV roles. At 11, she was rejected for
“Brady Bunch” at first, she said; then producers began matching
hair color – dark for the guys, blonde for the girls. Plumb became
Jan, the middle Brady girl who once groaned “Marcia Marcia Marcia”
when her big sister got all the attention.

Afterward, she had a
strong start. “Eve had scored a couple of good breaks (in TV's)
'Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway' and 'Little Women,'” Barry
Williams wrote in “Growing Up Brady” (Harper, 1992). He and
Maureen McCormick got some work, he wrote, but the others mostly
dropped out. “Casting directors refused to see any of us as
anything but Bradys.”

Plumb skipped the
“Brady Bunch Hour” variety show (“wisely,” Williams wrote),
but did the other reunions. Now she lives in New York with Ken Pace
(a technology guty) who's her husband of 20 years. She's a painter
and has been fairly busy doing theater, TV and movies. “I keep
playing it one day at a time. ('Grease') was just another audition.”

It turned out to be
a promising one, landing the role of the auto-shop teacher (played by
Alice Ghostley in the film). Plumb, a theater buff, was suddenly
working with Thomas Kail, fresh from raves for “Hamilton” on
Broadway. “He's a wonderful director, very supportive and concise,”
she said.

For more than two
months, people have rehearsed for one big night. She was surrounded
by a cheery group of young people -- Julianne Hough, Vaessa Hudgens,
Aaron Tveit, Keke Palmer, Carly Rae Jepsen and more – most of them
born two or three decades after the “innocence” of 1959 America.

-- “Grease: Live”

-- 7-10 p.m. Sunday,
Fox; live on the East Coast, live-on-tape on the West


"Grease" adds some quirky-Frenchy fun with Carly Rae

In front of us was a stage full of pretty people -- the stars of Fox's upcoming (Jan. 31) "Grease: Live." Still, I kept being drawn to Carly Rae Jepsen. Short and slight and cute and almost giggly, she seemed like the 1950s dream of a girl-next-door girlfriend. In short, she's perfect to play Frenchy in "Grease." I talked to her after the session and sent this story to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Carly Rae Jepsen
recalls a long-ago chat that helped propel her career.

She was 8 or so, on
a car ride. “We were listening to Bob Dylan and I asked my mother
what it would take for me to become famous as a singer,” she
recalled. “And she told me, 'Just have a weird voice.'

“I remember taking
that to heart and not trying to sound like anybody other than how I

It's not your usual
rock-star, pop-star sound, but it's served her well. In 2011, her
“Call Me Maybe” was the top-selling song worldwide.

And it's not your
usual rock-star persona. Jepsen, 30, is short (5-foot-2) and slight,
with a gentle manner, just this side of giggly. That makes her
perfect to play Frenchy – the overwhelmed beauty-school drop-out --
in Fox's live “Grease” musical.

Back in her
high-school production, Jepsen starred as the sorta-perfect Sandy. “I
could not walk in heels the way” Julianne Hough, the current Sandy,

She was growing up
in a folky family in Mission, amid the mountainside, Canadian beauty
of British Columbia. “It was very much a musical home We would get
costumes and put on our shows.”

In high school she
did “Grease” and “Annie” and “The Wiz”; along the way,
she said, she felt encouraged. “My parents would always make me
believe the world was my oyster.”

It almost wasn't.
She needed part time jobs – barista and bartender and such – to
get through performing-arts school in Victoria. She finished third on
“Canadian Idol” and had to release her first album independently.
Then “Call Me Maybe” made her famous.

Now she's surrounced
by others who grew up in musical worlds.

“I feel like
'Grease' has just always been a part of my life,” Vanessa Hudgens
said. She plays Rizzo now and started this TV-musical surge a decade
ago with “High School Musical.”

Hough – who stars
in this one alongside Aaron Tveit – remembers doing the show in her
basement when she wasa 5. “I was Sandy and then, during the dance
scene, I turned into Cha Cha, and then I went back to Sandy.”

Kether Donohue, who
plays Jan, was Frenchy in an 8th-grade production. Now
it's Jepsen's turn to be Frenchy, which means she:

-- Has the only new
song. “I was really surprised when they said, 'We're writing a song
for Frenchy.'”

-- Is crooned to
reassuringly by Boyz II Men. “They made the song their own,” said
producer Marc Platt, but “it's still 'Beauty School Dropout' ....
It's been really, really fun.”

-- And shows off her
hairdo misadventures. Frenchy “gets to rock many a 'do,” Jepson
said, “from red to pink to yellow and beyond ....She is just not so
skilled in beauty school She tries and tries again.”

So did Jepsen, back
when she didn't sound or look like a pop star. Then she became one.

-- “Grease: Live”

-- 7-10 p.m. Sunday,
Fox; live in Eastern time zones, tape-delayed in the West

-- Directed by
Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”) onstage and on several Warner Brothers
spots; then the characters converge for the final, carnival scenes