The Three Strike Rule: Super Bowl XLIII

Written by Television, The Three Strike Rule

logoAlthough sports aren’t covered much here at Popdose, the Super Bowl extravaganza is beyond a mere football championship. The stars, the commercials, the halftime show, and finally the drama of the game itself can make the Super Bowl great television entertainment if everything clicks. Yesterday, everything did click in Super Bowl XLIII between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, making it one of the most enjoyable Super Bowls in recent memory.

Of course getting to the game was a long journey, as NBC broadcast a six-hour pre-game show that featured Bob Costas, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Al Roker, and a slew of former football players and coaches including Cris Collinsworth, Jerome Bettis, and recently retired coaches Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts) and Mike Holmgren (Seattle Seahawks). Most of the banter between the hosts was similar to the programming you’d catch on NBC’s Sunday Night Football pre-game show, but slowed down considerably.

The bloated NBC pre-game telecast gave us an abundance of over-analyzing what each team had to do to win, interviews with some of the key position players, an interview with President Obama (in which he predicted a Steelers victory in a squeaker) and a one-on-one between Costas and halftime performer Bruce Springsteen. There were also a couple of season-in-review features done by Olbermann and Patrick, essentially recreating the shtick they mastered years ago on SportsCenter. The banter still works between these two after all of these years; NBC was smart in bringing them back together. But seriously, Keith, sweater vests? You can afford something a little better than that.

Rounding out the six hours of numbing nonsense (yet I couldn’t stop watching! What does that say about me?) were constant updates from the only two female reporters on the sportscast, Alex Flanagan (who amazingly tried to pull a Costas by quoting Fitzgerald when discussing Kurt Warner’s “Second Act”) and Andrea Kramer. To give the impression of this being an EVENT, NBC also held a Top Chef cook-off and had Al Roker interviewing B list stars out to promote NBC series like Heroes (which is apparently rebooting… AGAIN!) and Universal films such as Fast and Furious (starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker…AGAIN!). We could have done without the fluff. A two-hour show would have been enough to feed my football hunger. 

Finally, around 6:00 ET, game time approached. Faith Hill (she who is responsible for butchering Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You” into some kind of Sunday Night Football monstrosity anthem) sang “America the Beautiful” in a slick, straightforward arrangement. That she slipped in “God Bless America” at the tail end of the song was a little sneaky, though I’m sure it appeased her country fans. After that, the crew of US Airways flight 1549, who miraculously and skillfully landed their jet on the Hudson, was honored before the game. This was a classy touch and I was happy to see the NBC cameras catching the gridiron stars applauding true heroes. When it was time for the National Anthem, Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson made her first public performance since the tragic murders of her mother, brother and nephew that occurred last October. Hudson delivered a powerful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” that was full of emotion and beautifully sung. Traditionalists probably hated the soulful rendition of the song, but Hudson was respectful of the anthem and when it came time to soar for the final refrain, she restrained herself from going on multiple vocal runs as so many popular singers are apt to do. Bravo.

Seth Meyers had a funny line (or maybe the funny line) on Saturday Night Live this week when he announced “The Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals will be opening for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.” (I’m paraphrasing). He wasn’t that far off. The first half of the football game was pretty lackluster. For entertainment purposes, this left the much-lauded commercials to keep viewers interested until a) something exciting happened in the game or b) Springsteen finally came on. Most of the commercials were pretty good — nothing that will stand the test of time, though. My favorites were the Doritos snow globe ad, the Conan O’Brien Bud Light spot, and the nifty Coke “Heist” commercial that features insects stealing a sleeping man’s bottle of Coca-Cola on a summer day. Speaking of Bud Light, is it just me, or is this “drinkability” promotion a bust? It’s just not doing it for me. I’d rather see the Geico cavemen than these ads that are as stale as warm Bud Light. The first half of the game would have been a complete dud had it not been for James Harrison’s spectacular 100-yard interception return for a rsz_harrisontouchdown as time expired. Finally something to get me off of the couch and away from that fantastic sandwich my wife cooked.

Halftime arrived. Springsteen and his expanded E Street Band, which included the horn section from the Max Weinberg 7, whipped the stadium into a frenzy with a 12-minute preview of what people can expect when he begins touring in April. Through abbreviated versions of four songs, Springsteen and company kicked ass. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” segued into a solid “Born to Run,” then a choir came out for a pleasant version of “Working on a Dream.” The show finished up with the whole band down front rsz_brucefor the set closing “Glory Days.” The mini-concert was so great it made me want to slap down my money and buy a ticket for his upcoming L.A. show when they go on sale today. This was the best Super Bowl halftime show ever, or at least a tie with Prince’s jaw-dropping set from last year.

After halftime, it was like the two teams decided it was time to put on their own show lest they be upstaged by the Boss. Although the third quarter was notable for the Steelers’ inability to score touchdowns and the Cardinals’ inability to stop committing penalties, by the fourth quarter, we had a football game. The Cardinals finally took over the lead with minutes left after Pittsburgh had led the entire game. It appeared that an upset was on hand and that the Cardinals would stage the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. But the Steelers still had life in them. On their final drive, with 35 seconds left in the game, Pittsburgh stud quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass through three defenders and Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes made a miraculous catch in the corner of the end zone. After it was reviewed that Holmes had dragged his toes just enough to call the play a touchdown, the Steelers regained the lead and were on their way to becoming champions once again.rsz_holmes

The President’s prediction came true, and anyone who stuck around for the entire game witnessed some of the most exciting television this side of Lost. Thankfully, NBC had a double order of The Office to bring us down after all of the confetti and champagne had been poured.

You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate a game like this one; in fact, the NFL and NBC were counting on people who don’t watch football to tune in. They know all of the fanatics will be watching. What they’re hoping for is the casual fans and those people who only turn in for the spectacle. Those are the viewers they hope will begin coming back once a week or once a month to check out games. If only every football game were as much fun as this one.