Bowling For Dollars
Why do relationships fail? Because they grow stale. Why do sweater-wearing TV critics give the majority of movies a big thumbs down? Because they're too predictable. Why do voters embrace a shape-shifting Arkansas hillbilly while giving the bum's rush to guys like Paul Tsongas? Because one's a lovable rogue, and the other was as dull as dishwater. We want our newsmakers colorful. We want the killer leaping out of the broom closet, shouting, "Booga booga!" We want our sweethearts to be just unhinged enough to make life interesting, though not so unbalanced as to require protective gear.
I bring this up because of the Super Bowl, America's day-long paean to sloth and over-indulgence. It's a day when thousands of men and women consume their body weight in guacamole and bean dip to answer a question that has baffled humanity for well nigh a generation: Which team did you say the Falcons were, again? Once, the Super Bowl loomed large on our cultural landscape as an event where anything could happen -- and usually did -- whether it was Joe Montana leading the 49ers on a last second drive to beat the Cincinnati Bengals or Bob Costas doing a sideline interview with Mr. T to promote the upcoming premiere of The A-Team. ("I pity the fool who don't tune in tonight, Bob.")
And now? Now, everything about the Super Bowl seems as formulaic and predictable as a Jay Leno monologue, whether it's the game on the field or the broadcast itself. As sure as night follows day, as inevitable as the tides, as certain that I will be unable to get through this annual Super Bowl postmortem article without making an off-handed reference to doomed Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian, you can bet that three things will happen every year on Super Sunday. I will throw the full weight of my support behind the eventual loser. I will make way too much pasta salad for the annual Super Bowl party. And the Super Bowl commercials will fail to live up to their pre-game hype.
It was no different this year. Continuing a proud tradition that includes backing such dubious horses as the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, I embraced the Atlanta Falcons as the can't-miss upset team of the century. I'm now varying the routes I take home to avoid running into my bookie. As for the pasta salad, it's been a week since the big game, and I can't give the stuff away. Even the food banks are no longer taking my calls.
And the commercials? Just as the Falcons ran on to the field of Joe Robbie-Pro Player-Your Name Here Stadium full of piss and vinegar only to have their heads handed to them by the far superior Denver Broncos, the Super Bowl commercials debuted to much pomp and circumstance only to be crushed under the weight of their own expectations, fading from memory as soon as the final gun sounded. I only wish the bowl of pasta salad congealing in my refrigerator could disappear so quickly.
It's not that the Super Bowl commercials were uniformly bad. There were even a few clever spots that stood out from the steady flow of blandness that dominated the breaks during last week's game. But for the most part, the commercials came off like a wobbly Chris Chandler screen pass, tipped and battered and falling well short of the target. Hell, most of the spots seemed to be dusted-off repeats that advertisers trot out on any given Sunday to sell beer and cars and no-load mutual funds.
Well, that approach may work for the Federal Express-St. Jude Classic or the big Villanova-Boston College hoops showdown. But this is the Super Bowl, folks. Everything about it should be big, gaudy, overstated. Which more than explains the presence of Cher during the pregame festivities.
In case you missed it, the pop singer -- or at least, her cyborg replicant -- was led out on to the field by a small child (or possibly her newest boyfriend) to lip-sync to the national anthem. While the almost lifelike Cher convincingly mouthed the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner," dozens of young people provided a sign language interpretation of the song that looked like some sort of mass epileptic fit, no doubt causing millions of deaf people around the country to feverishly sign to one another "What in the hell is that about?"
That's just the sort of excess the Super Bowl needs to live up to its reputation as this nation's greatest one-day sports spectacle. Seven hour pregame shows! A halftime extravaganza that inexplicably merges the talents of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan! A Navy jet fly-over! Many, many Garo Yepremian references!
Fox -- network motto: It's not self-promoting if you do it often enough! -- tried its level best to live up to the challenge. It gave us Jason Priestley giving a tour of the Miami party scene. It featured Keith Olbermann in a shameless cross-promotion for Fox's ESPN knock-off cable channel. It even managed ham-fisted references to its own programming with spontaneous crowd shots of Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart enjoying the game from the stands. (I'll believe Calista Flockhart would willingly attend a football game about the same time I'll believe she willingly chews her own food.)
I think the seminal moment of Fox's coverage came just before halftime. There was a shot of the Fox NFL set housing James Brown and Terry Bradshaw and flanked by a big "Fox Sports" banner. In the upper corner of the screen, there was the game score, bracketed by a Fox Sports logo. On the bottom of the screen, a caption informed the audience of what was coming up at halftime... on Fox! Which must have been a great comfort to all the people watching the game who mistakenly thought they had tuned into NBC.
Yes, Fox got into the garish spirit of things. But the commercials... they just blew. If you're going to pay $1.6 million a pop to hawk your wares to a captive audience, the least you could do is to make sure that the ad might, at some point, inspire people to buy your product as opposed to, say, doze off. Sadly, as the result of the game became even more of a foregone conclusion, the ads similarly petered out, until people at the Super Bowl party were begging -- pleading -- for John Elway to take a knee and end this tragedy of a farce.
That, or bring out Cher for some more high-spirited sign language fun.
This simply will not do. So in the hopes that our nation's advertisers can get their act together in time for next year's contest at the Georgia Dome between the Broncos and whatever patsy the NFC puts up, here's a review of the commercials from last week's Super Bowl -- the good, the bad and the ugly. And if it seems a bit late to be doing a Super Bowl review a week after the game, bear in mind that a week is how long Fox's pregame show seemed to last.
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