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History the main topic of CBS’s 4-hour Super Bowl pregame show

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Jack Whitaker (center), who called Super Bowl I, is flanked by this year’s broadcast team, Phil Simms (left) and Jim Nantz.
Jack Whitaker (center), who called Super Bowl I, is flanked by this year’s broadcast team, Phil Simms (left) and Jim Nantz.Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Few New Englanders require a reminder that the Patriots came up 3 points short of a second straight Super Bowl appearance and what would have been the seventh of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era.

With that lost opportunity still a matter of lingering frustration as the Broncos and Panthers prepare to square off in Super Bowl 50, even fewer probably care that the broadcast tandem for Sunday's game is the one that has narrated approximately 90 Patriots games since 2004.

The familiar voices are in Santa Clara, even if the familiar local team is not. Jim Nantz will call his fourth Super Bowl and Phil Simms his eighth, and for better or worse, you know what to expect with that broadcast, friends.

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"I think once we get to the game coverage, it will pretty much be what you're used to seeing [on Super Bowl coverage]," acknowledged CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus.

The game itself undoubtedly will draw an enormous audience; the Patriots' victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on NBC was the most-watched broadcast in United States television history, with an average of 114.4 million viewers. The game is such an ingrained cultural event that it would draw massive numbers even if Gilbert Gottfried handled play-by-play and Sofia Vergara provided the color analysis.

"It's always by far the highest-rated show of the year, and nothing even comes close to it in terms of viewership," McManus said. "It's more than a television show. There's no other day like it in terms of people coming together, families and friends, to watch something, and hopefully they're doing it over five or six hours, which means they're also watching the pregame show."

The more compelling aspects of CBS's broadcast should come during that four-hour pregame show, which begins at 2 p.m. and is hosted by the venerable James Brown. He is joined on "Super Bowl Today" by analysts Tony Gonzalez, Boomer Esiason, Bill Cowher, and Bart Scott, as well as insider Jason La Canfora and officiating expert (CBS's term, not mine) Mike Carey, live from Santa Clara. Guests will include Saints coach Sean Payton, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., and Jets receiver Brandon Marshall.

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With the NFL emphasizing and celebrating the milestone Super Bowl this year (gold 50-yard lines and all), it's no surprise that the pregame show will focus on history. While there will be the standard interviews — Simms with John Elway, Cowher with Peyton Manning, and Brown with Cam Newton — CBS also has six significant features planned, as well as several shorter vignettes.

Belichick will contribute to one of the vignettes, narrating a piece on NFL Films founder Ed Sabol and his son Steve's contributions to the league. That should qualify as must-watch. But there are other interesting segments planned, including a gathering of the six living men who have called Super Bowls: Nantz, Joe Buck, Dick Enberg, Greg Gumbel, Al Michaels, and 91-year-old Jack Whitaker, who called Super Bowl I for CBS in 1967, the first of the network's 19 Super Bowl broadcasts. (The game also aired on NBC that year.)

During a couple of the features, CBS will attempt to bolster them with technology. "A Revised History of the Buffalo Bills" looks at Scott Norwood's missed field goal that would have won Super Bowl XXV, and the Bills' tortured history since, including four consecutive Super Bowl losses. The segment reimagines how Bills history might have gone had the kick not sailed wide right. It sounds like more what-if torture for Buffalo fans on top of the superb recent "30 For 30" titled "The Four Falls of Buffalo."

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CBS also says it will recreate one of the most famous plays in football history — "The Catch," by 49ers receiver Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship game — but with a technological twist: CBS is presenting it as the longest touchdown catch in the world. I haven't seen how they will go about accomplishing this, but The Catch seemed memorable enough without adding bells and whistles.

Then again, diehard football fans aren't always the target audience on Super Bowl Sunday, as Brown notes.

"I think we've found the right balance for the length of the pregame show,'' said Brown. "There are so many casual fans who haven't watched football all year long. So you have to have elements that appeal to the wide range of the audience that will set the stage for what they see in the game itself."


Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.