By Andy Behrens
Special to Page 3

It's 4:20 p.m. Eastern Time and six hours and 20 minutes well into Fox's Super Bowl coverage. The kickoff is still more than two hours away and studio host James Brown announces, "We're getting close to kickoff."

On any other Sunday, we wouldn't even be close to the start of the pregame show. But on Super Bowl Sunday, time is relative -- and everything is bigger, louder, drunker, tawdrier and more expensive.

Black Eyed Peas
Where's Justin Timberlake when you need him?
Prevailing cultural wisdom dictates that the Super Bowl has become a de facto national holiday. And while the world tunes in for the absurdly long pregame, halftime extravaganza, and of course, for the commercials, the game itself has become relatively incidental. In fact, if the game gets too dull, one click of the remote and $14.95 will get you the Lingerie Bowl on pay-per-view.

But is all of this hoopla necessary? Does the Super Bowl really need all of these sideshows to prop it up?

Let's see, Super Bowl XXXIX offered two dominant East Coast teams, a pair of bad-ass defenses, two of the best quarterbacks in football, the Notre Dame head coach and the most controversial athlete in the world risking his career by playing on a broken leg -- nothing too compelling there.

It's hard to believe that for nearly three decades, the game was the main event -- when the halftime entertainment involved marching bands and the advertising didn't merit postgame analysis. In fact, ten of TV's 20 highest-rated events are Super Bowls and the game has averaged a Nielsen household rating of at least 40.0 in 32 of the last 33 years.

Simply put, folks would watch the Super Bowl regardless of the hoopla, sideshows and wardrobe malfunctions. The game would get ratings even if halftime featured Anne Murray singing French folk songs and the only commercial was a re-occuring ad for Craftmatic Adjustable Beds.

It's not an event that requires hot chicks and rampant nakedness to draw viewers.

Hey, I'm no prude. I'm certainly not saying the Super Bowl should be entirely stripped of it's off-the-field appeal. We know going in that we're not tuning in for a church sermon, even if there is just as much praying going on.

And it's not as if I have a problem with debauchery. Though, even if I did, the makers of Cialis spent $2.4 million to let me know I can still debauch for 36 straight hours if I take their pills.

However, I do have a problem with the fact that an event that has unified and fattened Americans for years, now needs boat loads of gimmickry to boost interest. Folks, if you need salaciousness to enjoy the Super Bowl, look no further than the players themselves.

Scott Norwood
Eugene Robinson got burnt, in the Super Bowl and the night before.
Heck, for pure shock value, no scripted halftime stunt can compete with the misdeeds of actual NFL athletes. Was the split-second glimpse of Janet's boob really more shocking than Cincinnati running back Stanley Wilson doing a loaf of cocaine on the eve of Super Bowl XXIII?

Or how about Eugene Robinson getting arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover cop before Super Bowl XXXIII? Of course, there's always Ray Lewis being charged with murder after Super Bowl XXXIV and Barrett Robbins taking a goodwill tour of Tijuana before Super Bowl XXXVII.

To paraphrase Don Cheadle, moments like these become legends. They are infinitely better than choreographed acts of quasi-decadence.

In the wake of last year's wardrobe malfunction and Monday Night Football's towel malfunction, the NFL and its broadcast partner played things "safe," but they still played things excruciatingly long.

The deathless pregame show featured Tony Hawk, John Smoltz, Dale Jarrett, Tom Arnold, John Fogerty and a collection of other celebrities united only by two salient facts: they had no relevance to professional football and they were dedicated to not offending you.

Then, country star Gretchen Wilson -- and her giant, all-seeing belt buckle -- performed "Here for the Party," while actors conducted a fake party at her feet. Charlie Daniels joined her. Then, the Black Eyed Peas performed alongside Earth, Wind and Fire.

But hey, we're getting close to kickoff ...

At this year's pregame show, in a tribute to the late Ray Charles, young students from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind accompanied Alicia Keys and a recording of Charles on a very moving rendition of "America the Beautiful."

Soon after, a somber Michael Douglas led a tribute to the veterans of World War II. Ecstatic applause greeted the Tuskegee Airmen, survivors of Iwo Jima and soldiers who served during the Normandy invasion. Douglas introduced President George H. Bush -- a former Navy pilot whose plane went down on a bombing run in the Pacific in 1944 -- and President Bill Clinton.

George Bush, Bill Clinton
What's better than the Super Bowl -- a game that brings everyone together?
And then, members of the Armed Forces sang the patriotic National Anthem.

All of this was very heartfelt and patriotic, but it would've been more emotional and uplifting had it not been squeezed into hours of programming.

Whew! The game finally begins, as did the ad blitz. Across America, you could almost hear people shushing each other during commercial breaks.

Here are some of the main commercial attractions:

  • GoDaddy.com: A Web site, that no one has use for, treaded closest to titillation.
  • Anheuser-Busch: The beer distributor pitched the perfect heart-warmer.
  • FedEx: Packaged a nice, light critique on advertising strategies.

    Overall, the 2005 Super Bowl commercials inspired little audible laughter. But they did teach us a few things.

  • Apparently, Ameriquest is not a mortgage lender that preys upon people with questionable credit. They are some kind of ultra-violent mercenary/animal extermination group.

  • CareerBuilder: There is a segment of America that believes monkeys are absolutely hysterical, no matter what they're doing.

  • The '85 Chicago Bears endorse Silestone countertops: Likely to be the most dominant countertops in the history of kitchens, but after one glorious year, they'll be destroyed by internal dissention and the owner's stinginess. Enjoy them while you can.

  • Napster has based their entire marketing strategy on the assumption that you won't find the idea of downloading 10,000 songs per month completely ludicrous. Executives at iTunes are sleeping well.

  • If we never see that Mustang ad again, that'd be okay.

    The halftime show, featuring an unthreatening and well-clothed Paul McCartney was quite possibly one of the best halftime shows to date. The former Beatle performed "Drive My Car," "Get Back," "Live and Let Die," and "Hey Jude" amid constant fireworks.

    But picking the best-ever Super Bowl halftime show is like picking the best-ever Paul McCartney solo album. And that's an entirely separate column.

    Finally, the game itself thankfully eclipsed the carnival that surrounded it. The players provided the most excitment of the day -- on the field.

    It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. Because in the end, the game is still the main event.