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Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Did anyone catch the Super Bowl last Sunday? (Yes, I know. I was being facetious.) The NFL has done everything it possibly can to drown the game in a sea of non-football entertainment-- not only do we have a pop music act singing The Star Spangled Banner, but we have another (Canadian) pop music act singing God Bless America. Before that, several other pop music acts played on a stage on the field. More bands played at halftime, with "fans" (in reality, extras) shown on the field in front of the stage cheering on the performers. And Bon Jovi was inexplicably invited to play after the game and before the trophy presentation-- when thousands of people were leaving the stadium, and when those who were staying wanted to see the trophy presentations and not Bon Jovi! Always a good atmosphere for musicians to work in. (It was reminiscent of an old story Jay Leno tells of working as a struggling stand up comic at a strip bar called "The Mine Shaft", where it was dark inside and the patrons were given miner's helmets with flashlights on top when they entered. All the helmets, of course, were pointed towards the strippers, while Leno worked in the dark.)

As far as I can tell, the big halftime show was a concept originated by the Orange Bowl, which decided years ago that it would differentiate itself from the other bowl games by staging a prime-time made-for-television halftime show instead of just featuring marching bands while the networks cut away to show scores and highlights from other games. Those early Orange Bowl halftime shows got a lot of attention, both because they were well-done and also because the Orange Bowl was not always the best bowl game on January 1, so the halftime show provided a reason to watch even if you weren't interested in the teams that were playing.

I really believe that all this stuff started with the Super Bowl because they got a major case of Orange Bowl envy. Obviously, whatever the NFL does has to be bigger than some podunk college bowl game, so the Super Bowl set out to out-Orange Bowl the Orange Bowl halftime show. Of course, they succeeded; nobody pays attention to the Orange Bowl halftime anymore. But they also missed the point. People watch the Super Bowl because it is the biggest game in the biggest sport in America. The ratings were big even before they booked the Dixie Chicks and No Doubt. (Indeed, the ratings peaked in the 49 range in the early 1980's, before all these musical acts were added to the bill.) Perhaps some people also watch for the commercials, though I don't find the reports that large numbers of the football-indifferent tune in to see the ads credible.

I'd like to see them try putting on the Super Bowl without repainting the stadium and covering it with banners, without any musical acts (save, perhaps, a national anthem singer distinguished by talent rather than his or her place in the current Top 40), with no halftime show (other than some highlights and analysis), and with a modest trophy presentation in the locker room, as was done until recently. The show wouldn't drag on as long (people on the East Coast, including Tampa, had to stay up past 11 p.m. on Sunday to see the trophy presentation and interviews), and it would still get a blockbuster rating and make tons of money. Heck, it might even make more money (if that's possible), because the NFL's expenses would be lower.

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