February 1st, 2015

Sports announcer for 1st Super Bowl, Jack Whitaker, on CNN’s Reliable Sources

Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources hosted by Brian Stelter, sports announcer, Jack Whitaker, joined Brian to talk about the mystery of the missing footage from the historic Super Bowl I, what that game was like, and how sports journalism has changed since then. Reliable Sources airs Sundays, 11 a.m. to noon (ET).

Full transcript after the jump.

STELTER: I mentioned Jack Whitaker a moment ago. He’s a legend among sports announcers. He’s covered all the great sporting events of our time, from the Olympics to the world Cup. He was there on the sidelines for Super Bowl I calling the plays for CBS.


STELTER: Jack, thanks so much for joining me.

JACK WHITAKER, SPORTSCASTER: You’re quite welcome. Welcome to Super Bowl weekend.

STELTER: That’s right. That’s right. We’re less than eight hours away at this point.

When you were on the sidelines that day, did you ever expect Super Bowl to become what it is today? We’re expecting over 110 million people to be tuning in tonight.

WHITAKER: No. We thought it was going to be a very important game, the cap of the season to crown a real champion. And we never dreamed it would turn into what it has today, which is just a big social event.

STELTER: Right, as much for the ads as for the game itself.

WHITAKER: Well, that’s it.

I think you could really describe the Super Bowl today as being too exhausted teams playing second fiddle to a half-time show and the TV commercials.

STELTER: So it’s been so many years now. Do you have any recording, any record of that first broadcast?

WHITAKER: No. No, I don’t, nothing at all. All I have is what’s in my memory.

STELTER: There’s no real tape that can be watched, none that anybody has, except for one private owner who is anonymous. That is wild to me. How could that have happened?

WHITAKER: Well, I don’t know.

We didn’t have much people who were interested in the history of our industry in those days. We lost a lot of important tapes and recordings of important events. I think that’s been corrected now, thank goodness.

STELTER: For you as the broadcaster, what was the scariest moment of the game?

WHITAKER: Well, for me, it was the beginning of the second half. Ray Scott did the play by play on the first half and I did the second half.

So the second half kickoff goes, the ball gets into the end zone. All of a sudden, the whistles blow and play stops. And I look down. There’s no flag. I can’t see anything. I looked over to Frank Gifford. He gave me his, “I don’t know.”

What it was, NBC was still in commercial and they missed the kickoff.

STELTER: Oh, geez.

WHITAKER: So, they did the kickoff a second time.

STELTER: Yes. That’s one of the strange things about the first Super Bowl. Both NBC and CBS televised it. How did that come about?

WHITAKER: Well, NBC had televised the AFL games and CBS had done the NFL games, so who was going to do the Super Bowl? So, Pete Rozelle, in his infinite wisdom, said both — both networks will do them.

STELTER: And you were on CBS, along with Frank Gifford. You were doing the CBS broadcast. There was a pretty wild rivalry between NBC’s and CBS’ teams, right?

WHITAKER: Yes. Oh, yes.

And that got as much print as the two teams did leading up to the game. And that was the beginning of a part of the Super Bowl. There’s always a backstory that’s almost as big as the game.

STELTER: So what do you remember about the telecast? Where were you in the stadium? And what was it like to be broadcasting to so many millions of people?

WHITAKER: Well, it was kind of scary, yes. It always is.

But you have to be a little scared to be any good. And I think after the — that incident in the beginning of the second half, things calmed down for me and we were OK.

STELTER: Do you think, over time, over the decades, journalists have changed the way they cover sports in an important way? And you worked for both ABC News and ABC Sports in the 1980s. Have you seen a real change in how journalists approach this topic?

WHITAKER: Yes, I think so.

Again, I think it’s because of the culture change. Some people ask questions that we would never ask. Or let me put it this way. They ask questions in a manner in which we would never ask a question.

STELTER: Tell me what you mean. What’s the difference?

WHITAKER: And, well, they just get right down to it and get kind of rude sometimes.

And, I know it’s good journalism to ask the tough questions, but there’s a good way to ask a tough question.

STELTER: When you see a scandal or a perceived scandal like Deflategate dominating the press, do you roll your eyes at that, or do you think that is an important story?

WHITAKER: Well, you’re supposed to report what’s happening.

And sometimes they overdo it, like I think this inflation story has been overdone. But I think generally they do a better job today than we did back then.

STELTER: You covered so many different sporting events. Where does the Super Bowl rank for you?

WHITAKER: It’s important because I did the first one.

Secretariat’s Belmont was much more important, or just as important, and many other things I have done over the years. And certainly the other Super Bowls I did, I did about 12 of them, I guess, none of them kind of measure up. The first one does because it was the first.

STELTER: Jack Whitaker, thanks so much for being here. Great talking with you.

WHITAKER: Thank you very much. It was great talking to you. Brought back a lot of memories.


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