The Super Bowl draws the largest television audience in America every year and this year's estimated audience - 93 million viewers, the second most-watched Super Bowl in pro football history - was no slouch. Perhaps the oddest thing, then, is TV coverage rarely focuses on the football.
Only one network wins the right to broadcast the game. Everyone else, pushed by the weekend's Super Bowl frenzy, is forced to air something - anything - Super Bowl-related.
Take NBC, for example. While it had two stories that vaguely touched on football, this was NBC's list of Super Bowl side stories: picking the right high-definition television set; Super Bowl sandwiches; the Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl" promotion; the latest game gadgets like massage chairs; and the new trend in $12 commercials made by everyday Americans. To top it all off, NBC featured a story on the halftime flush, "an estimated 350 million gallons going down the drain, enough water to flow over Niagara Falls for 39 minutes."
For football fans, it was an enjoyable game in sloppy, rainy conditions, and many were pleased that a long-time star like Peyton Manning could finally win a championship. But that was quickly forgotten. The post-game chatter focused on the ads and the half-time show.
The game aired on CBS for the first time since Janet Jackson flashed America. So the NFL's choice of Prince as the half-time entertainment might have raised a few eyebrows, given that he rose to fame on a formula of envelope-pushing funk and bracing sex talk. It was odd, then, that somehow Prince seemed like just another oldies-station choice, since he hasn't had a real radio smash in at least a dozen years.
For its part, the NFL claimed Prince would please positively everybody. "We look for acts that resonate with the largest possible demographic, from 8 to 80 years old," said Charles Coplin, the NFL's vice president of programming, leading one to conclude that if the NFL thinks Prince could wow the crowd at an assisted-living facility, then its optimism knows no bounds.
Prince's actual performance drew most chatter for his attention-grabbing guitar solo behind a flapping white curtain. As powerful spotlights focused on his silhouette, the pop star played his oddly shaped guitar in a way that was sexually suggestive. Talk radio and the Internet buzzed.
Calm down, folks. Unlike the Janet Jackson incident, it was not an actual body part being exposed. It's also quite possible that most young children (and their parents) missed the fleeting symbolism. I know it went right by the Bozell household. Besides, it's probably several light years removed from the sex-drenched concerts Prince performed in traditional concert venues in his prime.
But this mini-controversy didn't cause half the hubbub of a commercial for Snickers candy bars. In this one, two burly mechanics start eating the featured candy bar from opposite ends until they meet in the middle in an accidental "kiss," then ripped out their chest hairs in disgust.
Some might find the ad to be funny. Some might consider it just plain stupid. But the homosexual lobby was outraged, and its lobbyists pushed the Snickers company into complete retreat, dropping not only the commercial, but an entire website geared to draw the ad's viewers to pay additional attention to Snickers.
The Snickers website did include other versions of the ad, which were even dumber than the broadcast TV commercial. One had a long-haired elderly man wander into the picture and ask "is there room for three on this love boat?" The other two had the kissers drinking motor oil and doing violence to each other to prove their manliness, making it more idiotic to some, even funnier to others.
But the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation decried videos on the Snickers website showing Super Bowl player reactions to the ads, and lamented negative reactions as "overt expressions of prejudice." The player reactions were pretty mild, not a parade of hate. Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad scrunched up his face in disgust. Colts linebacker Cato June thought the ad "crossed a line" and went "full throttle." Bears tight end Desmond Clark said after he was told the kissing men had to do 15 takes, "I hope they got paid a lot of money."
All in all, the 2007 Super Bowl ad-fest was a dud, and no one will miss them. So let's hope for a better set of Super Bowl ads next year, and a better Super Bowl - with the Washington Redskins in it.