XLIV

Despite the high scoring, Super Bowl XLIV was pretty quiet. And as much as I'd like to waste your time talking about the value of an offensive coordinator on the Colts or how Sean Payton's supposedly "ballsy" play calling is actually incredibly fruitful (backed up by some of the finest statisticians in the blogosphere), it's worth dwelling on (and more relevant to the purpose of this blog) the halftime entertainment, the Who.

The last time the Super Bowl hired modern acts to perform at halftime, they put a boob on the screen. So from a PR standpoint it makes a lot of sense to keep the training wheels on pop music for a while. And to be fair, it's not like many modern acts could have one-upped the performances of Prince, Springsteen or even Tom Petty, but at some point there has to be a transition. Eventually, the "oldies" will be the "really oldies," and the NFL will be left looking for performers who aren't also health liabilities.

A main factor is agreeability of the acts—the most niche-oriented band to perform at a halftime is probably either No Doubt or ZZ Top. So as great as it would be to see the Hold Steady or Modest Mouse on top of a flourescent island, we're probably stuck with a more VH1-friendly group. But there's no reason to think a band like Wilco or Radiohead couldn't make it. Neither have the universal sing-along choruses or seminal nostalgia attachments, but they seem to have broad enough appeal to keep people tuned in during the downtime. On the other hand, the Flaming Lips seem like a band built for the sole purpose of playing the Super Bowl halftime (if they could ever clean up the mess before the second half, or if Wayne Coyne could ever shut up long enough to actually play some songs).

Of course, the true descendents of halftime glory are likely artists like Alicia Keys and Jay-Z—the future is a place of Disney-produced urban strife, and what better encapsulation than a Rhianna/Chris Brown kiss and make-up performance? Mariah Carey even sounds reasonable.

But this vision is a troubling one in the way it ascribes a culture to the NFL. The NBA re-gained relevance by embracing the culture of its players. In a period of hopeful yet aimless canonizing, Allen Iverson was once heralded the next MJ, and in a big way he was. MJ had transcendental value because he was the greatest to play the game, but his tangible (and reasonably repeatable) relevance was that he made people care about the league. By bringing his tattoos and dreadlocks, Allen Iverson did the same. But the NFL isn't in as bleak of a dark age as the NBA was, and there's no point to exclude fans that are already there.

But after booking bands like the Who and the Rolling Stones, bands almost entirely washed out by gentrification and old age, the NFL has refused to let itself embrace a similar potential. The NFL is the most successful professional league in America right now (if only because they allow playoff games to be held without Joe Buck), and for the time being they don't need to rely on an image to put fans in the seats. But if the talent falls off like the post-MJ NBA experienced, they could be backed into a corner that only Wilco could squeeze them out of. Of course, the Packers are enough proof to suggest that this downward trend is nowhere near us, but it's the kind of thing I think about during the commercial breaks.

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