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Super Bowl XXXVII: No Sale

Just a few final words about Sunday's Super Bowl, before ABC airs its final Alias promo, before the last whiff of burning tire wafts over from Oakland to my office, and before Shania Twain has to return her half-time show outfit to Vivid Video so that filming can resume on the 10 movies that are scheduled to be shot today...

ABC's coverage of the game itself was pretty solid, thanks in large part to the chemistry between the first-year announcing team of Al Michaels and John Madden. No longer weighted down by the forced and phony camaraderie with Boomer Esiason or the strained gimmickry of Dennis Miller, Michaels works well with Madden, playing off the ubiquitous ex-coach's bluster and adding the occasional insight to the telecast. The two of them don't distract from the game itself, at least, and that's all you can really ask for. Along with the Greg Gumbel-Phil Simms pairing over on CBS, the Michaels-Madden tandem means that viewers get above-average commentary from the top announcing crews on two of the three broadcast networks covering football. Sadly, the nation is still forced to endure the emotionless play-by-play of human replicant Joe Buck, the monotonous second-guessing of Cris Collinsworth and the forgettable utterances of Troy Aikman over on Fox, but at least we've been given a reprieve until August.

The pre-game coverage? Way too long, but there's not much we can do about that, save for turning off the TV until kickoff. Actually, we're lucky that ABC kept it to four hours this year -- we're not far from the day when the pre-game show runs for 72 hours, and we're treated to hour-long up-close-and-personal segments on the punters, game analysis incorporating old electric football sets and periodic updates from Melissa Stark on what the players had for breakfast on Saturday morning.

No, the only major gripe with the broadcast itself is the NFL's strange decision -- after years of marching bands and Up With People performances -- to turn its championship game into Chris Berman's Rockin' Super Bowl Sunday. Rock music at half-time? Fine, though we could do without the planted teenyboppers who rush onto the field and surround the stage in an effort to simulate crowd excitement. Pop stars performing the National Anthem? No problem there, especially when Cher is left out of the mix. Celine Dion's pre-anthem warm-up performance of "God Bless America?" We've already made our feelings known about overwrought Quebecois chanteuses, but there was probably some housewife in Utah that got all teary-eyed by the histrionics, so no harm, no foul. Santana's pre-game performance? Seems a little bit much. The Goo Goo Dolls giving a pre-game performance of their own? Bonnie Raitt? Um... fellas? Wasn't there supposed to be a game or something happening at some point?

The absolute last straw occurred after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished their ceremonial pasting of the Oakland Raiders, when the NFL delayed the presentation of the championship trophy in favor of an on-field performance by a Bon Jovi tribute band. Hmmm? What's that now? That was actually Bon Jovi performing? Oh. My bad.

Not to tell the NFL and ABC their business, but delaying the climactic denouement of your season so that Jon Bon and Richie and those other guys who's names I didn't bother to learn in the '80s and I'm certainly not going to bother now can sing one of their little ditties merely makes a long broadcast even longer. People who have just sat through a game that was effectively over before the second half commenced just so they could see the winning team exult in their triumph will simply be irritated at the further delay. Folks who might have hung around to catch the post-Super Bowl episode of Alias will flip off the channel in disgust. And all because some would-be hipster at NFL headquarters convinced Paul Tagliabue that America is just dying to hear an encore performance by Bon Jovi when they could just as easily flip over to VH-1 and see one of the band's videos over there.

Now, this is the point where we normally run through the Super Bowl ads and heap praise upon the commercials we enjoyed while offering the substandard advertisements a hearty serving of derision and scorn. We're not doing that this time around because, frankly and candidly, it'd take us about 30 seconds to mention the good ads and roughly another week for a point-by-point analysis of the commercials that made us instinctively reach for the TiVo remote.

Advertisers of America, we ask one thing of you and one thing only: produce enough entertaining commercials for Super Bowl Sunday so that we will be amused and diverted should one or both of the teams decide to play as if they were taking mob money. You failed us, advertisers, and because of that we now hate you, the products you were advertising and, by extension, the very concept of capitalism.

So -- the best ad? That'd be the one for Reebok, with its spot featuring an amped-up linebacker menacing meek middle-manager types. Sadly, it aired some time during the third quarter, long after we had given up hope for either a close game or an entertaining afternoon of commerce. Nevertheless, the "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" ad had the right blend of comedy and violence and, therefore, takes top honors. Step up to the window and accept your prize, Reebok. Don't be too disappointed if it looks like a Big Box of Nothing.

Those Visa Check Card spots -- one with Yao Ming, the most underrated comedic actor of his generation, and the other with the Barber brothers -- earn an honorable mention, even though the latter offering was an older commercial redubbed with Super Bowl-relevant dialogue. Budweiser's ad featuring a zebra deliberating over an instant replay while those football-playing horses stood around was worth a chuckle or two. Four out of five Vidiots approve of any advertisement in which Alias star Jennifer Garner parades around in her skivvies. And we'll never object to a commercial that prominently features monkeys, though that doesn't make Sierra Mist any less undrinkable.

That's all. The balance of the commercials were bland and forgettable. Just two days after the big event, we're straining to remember what most of them were even promoting, and didn't those companies get a lot of bang out of their advertising dollar?

There was that one with the unfulfilled employees singing a particularly dreary cover of "Rainbow Connection" -- was it an advertisement for HotJobs? For Yahoo? For some sort of booze or antidepressant? In the end, it doesn't matter -- it still made me want to open a vein. FedEx had a nice parody of "Cast Away" in its ad -- that would have been even funnier if the movie hadn't come out, like, a decade ago. Next year, maybe FedEx can lampoon "Shine" or "Pay It Forward" or "Choo-Choo and the Phillie Flash" -- those motion pictures haven't entirely faded from memory, either. Oh, and the public-service announcement that intimates teenaged girls who smoke marijuana will lose the ability to think clearly and wind up having sex with total losers? I don't want to put a dampen on the Feds' anti-dope zeal, but I spent much of my high school and college years around my fair share of stoned girls, and I can assure you -- it doesn't impair their judgment that badly.

Those ads were simply terrible. The prize for actively attempting to repel potential customers goes to Bud Light, for a series of spots as tasteless as the beer-flavored water it was promoting. While I'm for truth in advertising as much as the next guy, I'm not sure it's in Bud Light's best interest to portray its base of core customers as leering, sniggering jackasses whose only concerns in life revolve around affordably priced light beer and the width of their girlfriends' hips -- in other words, just the sort of fellows you'd want your stoned teenaged daughter to avoid if the world were anything like its portrayal in a Bush administration anti-drug ad. Even worse, the generally nasty, uncivil and sexist tone of the ads made me feel like a humorless old man, like I should start pulling up my pants to my sternum and yelling at the neighbor kids to get the hell off my lawn. I can't forgive that any more than I can forgive Anheuser-Busch for selling terrible beer. As it stands, whenever I think of Bud Light in the next year, the only thing I'll remember is that it's the brew of choice should I ever find myself needing to drink beer through a clown's ass.

Hopefully, the ensuing public revulsion -- the Bud Light ads were among the worst received, along with that Dodge commercial where the guy spits up a wad of jerky -- will force Anheuser-Busch to rethink its advertising strategy by the time the next Super Bowl rolls around. The company had better hurry -- I believe pre-game coverage for Super Bowl XXXVIII kicks off next week.


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