Say what you want about Thanksgiving or Christmas, I am convinced that the true American holiday is the Super Bowl. And it has earned its spot at the top. Christmas has borrowed its cache from St. Nick, Xmas trees and wintertime. Thanksgiving gets its lift from harvest time, the beauty of fall and Norman Rockwell fantasies of the American family. But the Super Bowl has worked its way to the top spot of holidays through grit, grind and hard work. The Super Bowl is an American phenomenon.
This year’s Super Bowl featured The Kansas City Chiefs against The Philadelphia Eagles led by two young charismatic quarterbacks with talent to spare. Everyone understands that a big buildup of anything can lead to disappointment but not so for the Super Bowl. Over the last 57 years it has been played, the NFL has understood that it usually takes three things to make something special. And the three things that the NFL has focused on is football, advertising and the halftime show. Let us review the three in order.
FOOTBALL: Long gone are the days of Y.A. Tittle, Frank Gifford and Dick Lynch being rough- and-umble and powering their way to victory. The game now is in hands of guys who must have the grace of ballet dancers, the speed of track stars, the power of locomotives and the know-how of mathematicians. Football is now filled with guys who are super-fast, fearless, creative and smart. And that’s only the beginning. A famous NY Jets quarterback once told me that the most important thing in football today is the ability to run fast, hit hard and learn the 220-page playbook you are given every week.
TELEVISON ADVERTISING: Super Bowl ads now cost a company $7 million for a 30-second TV ad but do not fear: They are not wasting money. These ad campaigns are run by art directors, TV production crews and directors who are as talented as Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola. To give you an idea of the quality of the actors they now hire to participate in these Super Bowl ads, here is a list of who I saw just in the first half. There was Ben Stiller doing a very funny Pepsi ad, Bradley Cooper and his mother doing an hysterical ad for T-Mobile, Kevin Costner narrating a pre-game ad for the Tillman Foundation, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez doing a McDonald’s ad , or was it for Dunkin’ Donuts?
Tony Hawks the skateboarder did an ad and so did Serena Williams, who parodied the Al Pacino halftime pep talk in the film “Any Given Sunday.” And let’s not forget John Travolta singing one of those old songs from “Grease” for yet another T-Mobile ad. There were many more, I assure you. And all these ads were done with humor and style. In other words, what you have are ad agencies who hire the world’s best directors and camera crews, script writers and production crews to create 30-second pieces of art.
THE HALFTIME SHOW: The last piece of this glorious puzzle is the halftime show. This year it was Rihanna, who was center stage. Now if you did not see the show, let me describe this to you. Long ago we had people like Michael Jackson or Bruno Mars, who did some cool moves on the ground surrounded by a few hip dancers. But the show that Rihanna put on was on an entirely different level. It had such high production value that it made the opening ceremonies at the Olympics look like amateur hour.
You had her entrance from some kind of glass stage that was way high up over the stadium and her crew of maybe 200 dancers descend from the heavens on their own glass stages. She was dressed in some kind of red outfit and the rest were in white outfits. She looked like maybe she was a little pregnant, which was confirmed later. The entire impact that the show made was actually jaw-dropping. Some said that Rihanna successfully demonstrated the most impressive power move of the year.
The NFL deserves lots of credit. Whoever has been running the show is doing things correctly. Football is clearly America’s sport in that it captures our need for aggression, for action and our need for spectacle and to make or spend money as we do it. But sorry, I have to stop now. The halftime show is over and I want to see if Patrick Mahomes and the KC Chiefs can overcome that 10-point deficit from the first half and see how bad his ankle injury was.
Epilogue: Patrick Mahomes did come back to win. And quite a game it was. So congratulations to Rihanna, Patrick Mahomes, the KC Chiefs, the NFL and all those creative TV ad script writers.