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Sunday, February 5, 2012
Updated: February 6, 3:57 AM ET
Super recap: Glitter! Gesture malfunctions! Gisele!

By Heather Havrilesky
Special to espnW

Super Bowl XLVI seemed destined to unfold just like any other Super Bowl, with lots of trumped-up melodrama, congealed cheese dip, and Faith Hill singing her terrible football song and shaking her shiny, suffocating silver pants.

But before the night was over, we would overturn several commonly held beliefs: (1) Supermodels don't always bring luck to their Super Bowl quarterback boyfriends/husbands; (2) polar bears are charming when they slide down icy hills, but not quite as charming when they wear scarves and sigh loudly and chug several bottles of Coke in a row; (3) that "Thor" movie was actually a two-hour-long trailer for "The Avengers"; and (4) even Madonna can't dance very well in 12-inch heels.

Gisele Bundchen
Supermodel curse? We believe it.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Remember when we were young and hopeful and we had never seen a car bungee jump or a Saint Bernard go on a diet? Those were the good old days, back when we were naïve and thought only Toni Basil would construct an entire performance around cheerleaders with glittery pom-poms. Back then, we thought the Patriots had a pretty good shot at winning the Super Bowl, mostly because Cris Collinsworth said that in recent interviews Eli Manning was his usual calm self, but Tom Brady seemed "fired up." Back then, we thought Madonna had a good shot at putting on a great halftime show, mostly because she had Nicki Minaj, Cee Lo Green, a gospel choir, marching band and an army of beefy gladiator men at her disposal.

What could possibly go wrong?

But before we get to the striking of poses by Madonna, let's travel back to a simpler, better time. A time when the New York Giants were striding confidently down the hallways toward the field to the strains of that song designed to sound exactly like Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" that's in all the car commercials these days; or when the New England Patriots chose some very tragic, opera-sounding tune like "Ride of the Valkyries" or "Dies Irae." (Is this ominous soundtrack really meant to conjure victory? What does it all mean?)

Get used to this state of confusion, because we will spend much of the next four hours trying desperately to claw our way out of this sort of pop-cultural fog.

• Will Arnett is charming. Will Arnett in Hulu ads? Not so charming. But you know what's even less charming than Will Arnett in Hulu ads? Nonsensical hashtags (#mushymush #notevenalittleintrigued). On the other hand … Jay Leno? Not very funny. Jay Leno in an elevator with Madonna, or flying through the air to snatch a car key out of Jerry Seinfeld's hands? Almost a little bit funny.

Kristen Stewart
Someone get Bella an Audi ... STAT!

• Next, in celebration of our beautiful country, we are offered an "America the Beautiful" duet by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton. Shelton has a giant, wavy helmet of silver hair that matches Hill's pants, and he's wearing a suit that seems to include a sweater vest. Lambert looks like a cross between Hayden Panettiere and a small woodland animal; her hot pink glitter microphone matches her gigantic hot pink glitter earrings. After those two sing about amber waves of grain, here comes Kelly Clarkson, some snare drums and a choir filled with lovable-looking choir nerds to collaborate on the national anthem. Clarkson also has a glitter microphone, but hers is red. Glitter microphones are the must-have accessories of the new millennium.

• The broadcast cuts to a Verizon commercial, in which a Verizon phone gets encrusted in glitter. Glitter phones are the glitter microphones of the last five minutes! Then, there's a promo for that making-of-a-Broadway-star drama called "Smash." Quick, someone get Katharine McPhee a glitter microphone. Instant stardom!

• More questions arise: Why is Bud Light in a blue bottle called "Platinum"? Do Audi headlights really kill vampires, and, if so, can someone please buy Bella one? Instead of referring to a play as "un-Patriot-like," wouldn't it make more sense to call it "unpatriotic"? And, finally, do only middle-aged men with close-cropped hair create things?

• Before our brains start piecing together answers to these pressing questions, we zoom in on Gisele Bundchen in a luxury box. Something tells us this doesn't bode well for her husband, Tom Brady. Sure enough, Brady throws an incomplete pass that gets called as intentional grounding, and it's a safety because Brady's in the end zone. The first safety in a Super Bowl in 21 years, in fact. Personally, I blame the Brazilian supermodel.

It's a good game, though, which means the commercials must be disappointing. But instead of feeling disappointed, we should try to focus on the important life lessons we're learning here. For example, if you want to survive the apocalypse, drive a Chevy Silverado. If you want to sing live on national TV, get a glitter microphone. If you want to be a really good wide receiver, rock a cop 'stache. (Hello, Wes Welker.) If you have a little-known product, it's usually best not to associate it with peeing in your own pool. (Hello, Also, if you want people to go see a movie, don't name it after a really boring board game.

Nicki Minaj, Madonna & MIA
Madonna's halftime show couldn't be saved by guests Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., even with the latter's gesture malfunction.

Let the record show, I appreciate any movie trailer that features families sitting in traffic on the freeway being pelted by high-speed chainsaws from outer space. But I'm not sure the title "Battleship" does this picture justice. Did they consider the title "High-Speed Chainsaws From Outer Space"? I found the "John Carter" trailers similarly confounding.

"You're John Carter of Earth? Our world is dying."

"No, lady. I'm Tim Riggins of 'Friday Night Lights.' I can't help your dying world. I can't even clear the empty beer bottles off my coffee table."

• But forget all of that, it's time for the main event: Madonna's halftime show. At first, it looks promising enough: Chariots, gold lamé and an army of bulky men in gladiator sandals. But when Madonna actually starts to "sing" and "dance," that's when the trouble begins. Apparently, lip synching instead of singing wasn't enough for the Material Girl. She also has to wear heels so preposterously high, she won't be able to dance, either. So Madonna spends her entire performance pretending to sing and pretending to dance, smiling broadly the whole time. This lends her halftime show the rawness and authenticity of a 20-year-old cat food commercial. It also means Madonna stumbles and almost falls backward off the top of her faux-stadium set. It takes a few minutes of staggering and arm-flailing before she regains her balance.

• Perhaps this explains why M.I.A. tried to spice things up by flashing everyone the bird, with NBC helplessly rushing to blur the picture after the fact. But it's going to take more than a quaint little middle-finger to wake us from our stupor. ("In the olden days, kids, long before Faith Hill put on those awful pants, that middle-finger gesture meant 'I know this show has all of the edge and spontaneity of a junior high pep rally, so I'm going to keep it real by telling you all to get stuffed and the like!'")

Wes Welker
Wes Welker and the power of the 'stache.

• Didn't that baby in the E*TRADE ads flip us off a few seconds ago? Or was that the baby in the slingshot who loves Doritos? Or the baby-voiced dimbulbs in the GoDaddy ads? Why does GoDaddy have roughly the same marketing plan as Hooters? And do nerdy men really love their sub-compact Italian cars just as much as they love their sub-compact Italian supermodels?

"I hear your voice," Madonna sings. "It's like an angel sighing." No, that's the crowd sighing. They just realized they spent their tween years worshipping a street mime who just got upstaged by a middle finger.

"I close my eyes. … Oh god, I think I'm falling … out of the sky," Madonna sings. Uh, oh. Madonna's already having traumatic flashbacks of falling backward off the stage. Could she really develop PTSD that quickly, you ask? This is Madonna we're talking about. She's the kind of woman who can pick up a British accent in the cab from Heathrow to the Dorchester. Anyway, next time, maybe Madonna will consider ballet flats. And "Holiday." And "Like a Virgin." Even "Ray of Light" would be better than her You Luv Me medley.

• After Madonna disappears into the floor, Wicked Witch-style ("My world, my beautiful world!"), Clint Eastwood wants us to know he understands our disappointment. "It's halftime in America, too," he says. "People are out of work and they're hurting." But "Detroit's showing us it can be done." The Lions aren't playing in this Super Bowl, Clint.

But then, something funny happens. After Eastwood tells us the American economy needs to make a trip to the bathroom and grab another beer and some more snacks and then we'll all feel a lot better, we do feel a lot better. We push M.I.A. and Madonna out of our heads, and things start to look up. John Stamos even gets brutally head-butted in a yogurt commercial. (How did they know America wanted to see that?)

In fact, even though, from here on out, the ads seem to get worse and worse in direct proportion to the game getting better and better (moon-walking, Skecher-wearing dogs battling it out against spectacular plays by Manning and Mario Manningham), we've come close to accepting the Super Bowl for what it is: a miniature, four-hour tour through the joys and disappointments of American life itself.

Some of us get too fired up. Some of us wear shoes that are too tall. Some of us fake it pretty badly. But others of us stay calm. We resist the urge to flip off an entire nation. We surge forward, to victory! Like Clint says (or maybe it was GE, or the NFL, or Newt Gingrich): We're Americans. We're tough, and we're committed to making the next century safer, more exciting and more filled with bacon.

God bless us, glitter microphones, beer-fetching rescue dogs, middle fingers and all.

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to New York Times Magazine and the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness."