The circus is in town.
On the eve of the Super Bowl, we dutiful followers of actual football close our eyes and brace for the carnival sideshow we know is coming, yet are powerless to stop.
The Super Bowl, once the gritty, hard-nosed grudge match between the NFL's most elite teams, is now under the control of dark forces: the three ring circus of public relations, advertising and the media.
I assume the University of Phoenix stadium, come Sunday, will be revealed to actually be a large circus tent. Will it pack up and move next year? Is Dumbo in a cage out back? How do you explain advertisers scraping their coffers to fund a 30-second ad spot that will make or break their product for the next year? Will Super Bowl commercials really influence the brand of beer you drink this year? A gazillion dollars in advertising revenue for Fox says you bet they will. Scared? Don't worry, it gets worse.
Ladies and Gentlemen, beware the halftime show.
During this frightful break in the game, glittery, sinfully excessive spectacle appears on the field to thrill and delight football fans who don't like football, and to horrify those real fans who waited all year to see the season's biggest game but didn't know the contest was being played in Disney World. Or maybe in the case of the Janet Jackson incident, somewhere on the Las Vegas strip.
Football ignorants sit next to us on the couch they haven't used on a Sunday since July, drinking frozen drinks, wearing I heart Tom Brady shirts, and scolding "shhhh....you have to be quiet for the next 2 minutes, or we'll miss the commercials!". Then post-commercial break, right back on the cell phone. All of this leads in to the crowning moment of sponsored idiocy blanketed in rhinestones and pleather: That infernal mid-game torture session that is halftime.
I don't blame the faux-fans who are only watching the game for the Us Weekly elements between actual play for their lack of interest in the game. I blame the diabolical media and advertising ringmasters that have them watching this circus in the first place. Or maybe this is just God's way of punishing me for drinking on a Sunday. Regardless, I have stopped watching halftime shows on principle. Its bad for the sport. It's like steroids filled with confetti. If performance-enhancing drugs are destroying baseball, clown suits and monkeys in tiaras are destroying football.
The program is predictable: some poor musician, usually of marginal talent, sacrifices him or herself to the cause. Want to perform? Only if you peaked in the 80's or are a reality show veteran. It would help if you look good in spandex and sequins, but your chances are even better if you looked good in spandex and sequins 20 years ago, but now don your costume and look more like a linebacker in a swarovski-studded wetsuit.
While this poor sap sings some slightly off-key medley, scores of random people who have inexplicably been allowed onto the field crowd the stage and demonstrate that the only instructions they have been given are "dance poorly".
Then each seat-holder raises a colored card. Visible only via blimp-cam, somehow this results in a mosaic of cuddly forest animals, smiley faces, or block lettering of something really profound and original like "peace on earth". You know, because football is so peaceful. Let's all join hands, bow our heads, and then beat the crap out of eachother for another 30 minutes while fighting over a ball. I just can't believe UNICEF isn't begging to sponsor this.
I'm not by any means saying I am against any sort of entertainment elements being included in the Super Bowl and I accept that advertising has its place in the world of sports. I always liked the Bud Bowl. I abhor strict celebration penalties. Spectacle does have its merit. But the Super Bowl is starting to look like a bad Christmas pageant.
So, because Roger Goodell hasn't consulted me on this matter, I'll offer my best idea here: if you're going to do it, for god sakes do it right. More is more. Let's see the biggest, most excessive display ever. And then let's end it. Know when to quit. Its kind of like Coney Island: Everyone should go once. No one should go twice.
In the interest of picking my battles, I'll let the commercials go, and I propose we do the halftime to end all halftimes, and then let's bury it forever. In the future, let's move to a halftime show of video highlights of the season. Or even blooper videos. I'm ok with punt, pass and kick contests. Maybe nap time? Football fans are like kindergartners with beer. A little doze might makes us all more agreeable during the second half and less likely to beat up opposing fans in the parking lot after the game. I'm open to anything at all that doesn't involve shameless product placement coupled with lip-synching, tutus, or trained animals wearing costumes.
But for our last hurrah in 2008, I proposed we do it up like the carnival it is. Halftime Apocalypse. Whoever manufactures bibles can sponsor it. Acrobatics! I'm sure you could easily set up a trapeze act using the goal posts. Fortune Tellers! Apparently there is a camel in New Jersey named Princess who makes picks with a great track record who chose the Giants. No, I didn't make that up. Think of the carnival games we could play for small stuffed likenesses of that creepy Patriots mascot! Each team gets a station.
Just a few of the possibilities: In the Patriots booth, kick a field goal with Tom Brady's boot. Bonus if the people in the Jets booth get it on video. The Giants will sponsor a hall of mirrors: can you find Jeremy Shockey?
The Steelers invite you to ride your dirt bike in a halfpipe with no helmet. If you want to lay down and take a nap, stop by the Seahawks tent. They've been sleeping there since week 17. In the Colts section, try the oreo licking faceoff with Peyton Manning, then pretend to retire with Tony Dungy.
The Titans and Redskins still can't figure out why anyone gave them a booth, but they're pretty sure it was a gift from the Colts and the Cowboys, personally delivered by their starters, who had plenty of time to do favors since their coaches removed them from the field during week 17. Oh, and if you'd like to coach the Redskins, feel free to stop by for an interview. Everyone else is doing it. The igloo belongs to Green Bay. Yes, Brett Favre's been in there since Media Day. Don't worry, he's fine.
Hey, it could happen. After all, the Giants won three playoff games which they theoretically should have lost. Green Bay lost at Lambeau in the playoffs for only the third time. Ever. Somebody let Carson Palmer play an entire season. But assuming no one cares what I think (which is a good bet), and the halftime madness comes back next year, take heart football fans—it could be worse.
The Super Bowl was not in fact home to the worst halftime spectacle on record.
That honor belongs to a regular-season game I attended back in 1993, a Monday night matchup of the the Belechick-helmed Browns and the dynasty-hangover-era 49ers. The game went in favor of the Browns, 23-13. The score is not relevant in any way, because no one in the 86,000 strong, filled-to-capacity Cleveland Stadium saw the second half of the game. Why, you ask? Satan, thy name is halftime.
The halftime show was the oh-so-generous donation of a car company looking to promote a new redesign of one of its models. Disclaimer: In the unlikely event that I become a famous writer whose works are one day published in some sort of anthology, I must be covert about the identity of the offending party. I don't wish to be sued for libel over a game I attended when I was 13. The Browns did enough damage to my childhood as it is. So let us call this car the Tord Faurus.
This debacle masquerading as entertainment consisted of several Fauruses driving around destroying the field in the midst of what turned out to be a shower of defective fireworks. The result? Aside from giving 86,000 people a sudden urge to go buy a Chevy, no one saw the second half of the game because the whole stadium was filled with thick, visually impenetrable smoke that wouldn't clear. I assume they actually did play the second half. I couldn't tell.
Back then, especially in the regular season, a scene such as this was an anomaly. The Super Bowl commercials and the halftime circus were indeed already seeking inspiration from the icecapades, but the gross excess was still in its infancy and provoked more of an eye roll than the urge to shoot flaming arrows at the Nike logo.
Techincally, this mess was worse than the for-profit song and dance disasters seen now. We had no idea we were buying a ticket to half a football game. At least this Sunday during the Super Bowl you can hide in the bathroom during the halftime musical number with the comfort of knowing you still have another 2 quarters of football to watch.
However, should there be a surprise Tord Faurus-funded redux this Sunday of the 1993 pyrotechnic malfunctions, I suppose it could 1) prove relevant to our carnival theme: A magic show! Watch the game disappear before your very eyes!, and 2) preserve the dignity of one team in the event that the game shapes up to be a virtual blow-out before the end of the first half: If I can't see it happening, then it isn't happening! Why not? It worked for baseball. What steroids? I didn't see any steroids!
So who will win that pesky game that's always interrupting the media and advertising circus? Odds support the undefeated Patriots. Chaos Theory supports the Giants. The Manning formerly known as the red-headed step child led a team that looked hopeless at the beginning of the season to an almost perfect road record and a chance to win the Super Bowl. The aforementioned camel who picked the Giants apparently has nearly as good a rate of success making picks as Dave Goldberg, the guy who makes picks for the Associated Press. Clearly, the circus has made its prediction.
But the Patriots are at present still The Greatest Show On Earth. People are whispering things like "best ever" about their quarterback. They have the best group of receivers in the NFL according to everyone but Plaxico Burress. Their defense is nearly impenetrable. They had a perfect season, for god sakes.
It will be a tough go for the Giants. Still, if I'm going to see a circus, I expect to be amazed. The Patriots may look destined to be champions, but the Giants are fighters. The Giants stuck their collective head in the lion's mouth again and again, and they haven't been eaten yet.
The Giants just keep pulling rabbits out of a helmet. Illusion, stroke of luck, or magic? Maybe I've stayed too long at the fair, or maybe I've just seen too many halftime shows, but I'll go with the underdog. Let's hope the Giants can conjure one more rabbit.
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