The good, bad, empty on Super Sunday
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

I turned on the set early Sunday (my coach always told me it was important to warm up before a big game) and caught Vin Scully calling the Champions Skins Game between Lee, Hale, Jack and Arnie.

Beyonce got everyone into an early groove during the pregame show.
Vin was running down the scoreboard and when he got to Palmer, who'd been shut out, he said, "And Arnie's got a pocketful of empty."

Best line I heard all day.

If you were hoping the Bucs and Raiders would cook up a classic game, by the end of the night, you knew exactly how Arnie felt -- pockets jammed full of empty.

If you came in with no such illusions -- if you were just in it for the extras, for big-budget entertainment, bigger-budget commercials, a cold drink and some good guac -- well, if your beer was tasty and your avocados were ripe, your pockets might not exactly be full of it this morning, but there is most definitely some empty jangling around in them.

Here's a breakdown of everything but the game (because that looked pretty broken down from the get-go): the good, the bad, and the empty.


The Good
The Dixie Chicks singing the "Star-Spangled Banner": Strip it down to a cappella, work a little three-part harmony, sing from a simple, straight-forward place, and damned if the national anthem ain't a beautiful thing.

Beyonce giving her all on the "Yea-ahh" parts in her appearance with Carlos Santana. (Bonus points because she and her that's-the-way-to-move-it dress had my 14-month-old daughter dancing in her high chair.)

Somebody in the production truck tag-lining Arnold Schwarzenegger in a pregame interview with Robin Roberts as a "7-time Mr. Olympia." Only thing better would have been, "Former Chairman, President's Council on Physical Fitness."

Bob Griese saying "Hi, Mom" during introductions before the coin flip. Why? Because nobody saw it coming, that's why.

Gwen Stefani, Sting
There's no doubt that Gwen Stefani and Sting made for a solid duet.
Can't believe I'm saying this, and can't say why, but the Kid Rock-Hank Jr. thing worked for me.

The Bad
Celine Dion singing "God Bless America." In her face, sincerity is a sickness, and the woman never met an overdone production value or elongated high-note she didn't like.

Santana -- who I'm pretty sure makes some decent green these days -- saying he was at the game as a representative of the ghetto.

The Empty
That bizarre, spastic field-goal signal thing Celine kept doing in interviews. She looked like Sargent Schulz at an Australian Rules match.


The Good
No Doubt and Sting. Gwen Stefani doesn't have the sweetest pipes in the world, but she plays hard. She made Sting step out of his cool. They both came off ragged, but in a good, live, way. (Extra credit to Sting for playing the old-school "S.O.S")

Shania Twain
Shania Twain felt like a woman ... a woman who was lip-synching.
The Bad and The Empty
Shania Twain's whole thing. Excuse me, Ms. Twain? Cher called, she wants her outfit back. Plus, 15 yards for lip-synching, 15 more for the Hall-and-Oates over-the-shoulder keyboard thing in the band, and 15 and loss of down for the gratuitous ride up the cherry-picker -- and by the way, who brought her down? Is she still up there? Can I hope?

The Commercials

The Good
The Budweiser Zebra spot. A cowboy saying the word "zebra" is funny. That's fundamental. Add to that the dig at NFL officiating, some lovely atmospheric photography, and an edge-of-your-seats, one or two-hoofs-in sideline call and we're talking gold. Best spot of the night. (Runner-up goes to the Gatorade MJ vs. MJ bit -- which I wrote about here -- but it actually debuted late last month.)

Pepsi Twist Osbournes ad. Screw the twists (though the Florence Henderson thing is a nice touch), the key to this is Ozzy's gentle, layered performance as the man living a life of quiet desperation.

FedEx "Castaway" spoof. This is old-school, Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy kind of stuff -- nothing quite as funny as the other guy getting a swift kick in the gut. Don't ask why it's funny, don't ask yourself whether maybe you should feel pity or sorrow instead, just laugh at the poor bearded simp and feel the good, natural, in-the-tradition rightness of the laugh that is yours to experience in this moment, on the couch, and with the beer, that are also, rightly, yours.

Willie Nelson
You don't need an audit to know that Willie Nelson's H&R Block ad was a hit.
H&R Block and Willie Nelson. The first time he says "My face is burning," I chuckled. The second time he said it, with a sad little squeak in his twang, I cracked up. My name is Eric, I'm a Willie Nelson fan, and I have a problem. There ... that feels better.

The Yo, Yao, Yogi Visa riff. The big man has range -- first he's the shy, flirtatious giant with a little Apple laptop, and now he shows us an angry Yao, fed-up with a world that can't, that won't, that refuses to, understand him. Stirring stuff. What's next? "Death of a Salesman"? "Cabaret"?

Reebok: Terry Tate rampaging in the office. Works because it's only slightly hyperbolic, and anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world knows it.

Sierra Mist's monkey launching himself into the polar bear pool. When he came up out of that water and shook his head and his hair stood up and alive, I felt his joy and got a taste of his freedom -- I think we all did.

Honorable Mention: "Rainbow Connection" and Trident "Four out of Five Dentists Surveyed."

The Bad
I don't want to seem obsessive or cruel or anything, but I have to say, I have my doubts about whether Ms. Dion actually drives a Chrysler. I'll just leave it at that.

The Bud Light clown drinking out of his ass. Read that sentence. No explanation necessary.

Quiznos obsessive chef. Lots of build-up, no payoff -- not especially funny, shocking, smart or memorable. That's a little thing we like to call drawing the advertising collar.

Charles Schwab's "Join the movement" spot. Here's what I don't want to do: make my investors and employees look like lemmings. Here's another thing I don't want to do: use the word "movement" in my ad, ever. "Movement" says two things -- politics and cults -- and neither of them sell.

Bud Light Rasta-dog man. Bud light mom with hips like battle ships. Bud light seashell stuck to guy's face. Bud Light 3-arm guy. The advertising equivalent of fart jokes.

The Empty
Levi's bison thing. Two problems: 1. Made absolutely no sense. 2. (And I'm quoting my wife on this one) Those are some ugly-ass jeans.

AT&T Wireless "Gilligan's Island" bit. Felt like an Old Navy rip-off, only nostalgia making me want to buy clothes I can see; nostalgia making me want to spend my hard-earned cash on your fancy little phones? Not so much.

Cadillac, "You Could Have Seen It Coming." If I had, I would have taken another train. I'm not saying Jimmy Page and Robert Plant would never sell their music to sell cars, and I'm not saying they'd never drive a Caddy, but I am saying this: there's no way they ride the train, so enough with the song already (didn't you guys use it last year, too?).

Extra Points

Warm weather and blue sky. Before kickoff, the game was an idyllic thing, wrapped in soft air, trimmed in bright hope and promise. Sitting at home, we were fans, not just of one team or another but of the whole magical enterprise, of this time and this place, of the grace and kindness the universe shone down upon us one and all. After the kickoff, by the time the Bucs were up 17, it was like, yeah yeah, sun, rain, indoor, outdoor, whatever.

Jimmy Kimmel's goodbye to cable. I don't want to get to excited, and I know he works for our parent company, and he's working with The Sports Guy, and this can't sound like anything but shameless plugging and pandering, but that was some funny stuff.

(And while we're talking in-house promotion, that Jennifer Garner, she's what my grandfather used to call, um, easy on the eyes, ain't she?)

Nobody asked but, the movies I'm most likely to see based on in-game previews (in order of preview effectiveness): "The Matrix" flicks, "The Hulk," "Anger Management," "The Recruit" and "The Life of David Gale." (The over/under on number I'll see before they all go to DVD? One, because my daughter likes Beyonce, but she's not so keen on nights out at the theater. The over/under on weeks I'll have the Netflix DVD of "The Life of David Gale" before I finally get around to watching it? Eight. That return-it-at-your-leisure thing, that's like crack to a guy like me.)

"Shaqcessories." Just like saying that. "Shaqcessories."

Just a question about these Nextel walkie-talkie commercials: If Kristen Davis' so-called boyfriend isn't answering on his cell, what makes her think he's going to answer his walkie-talkie? Forget a new phone -- looks to me like she might need a new beau, one who appreciates her for who and what she is, one who answers the phone when she calls.

Here's one vote against having the stage stuck out in the middle of the field for pregame concerts. Santana's set reminded me of old films of the Beatles playing Shea, only without the Beatles, or the frenzied fans getting a desperate, long-distance look at their idols, or of Billy Graham revivals, only without the devoted getting desperate, long-distance looks at their idol.

Tagless T-shirts are a good idea. It was a bad ad -- this is the best we can do with Jackie Chan and MJ? -- but the shirts are a good idea, and one somebody should have thought of a long time ago.

Prediction: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" will not be good.

Prediction: "Charlies Angels: Full Throttle" will be.

Dear lords of all things advertising, Dear High Council of Pop Culture: I haven't asked you all for much -- there was that 10-10-220 cease-and-desist plea, but otherwise I've been pretty quiet -- but now I come to you, on bended knee, asking, nay pleading with you to please, please, please baby please, make the Subway sandwich guy go far, far away. Grant me this wish, I beg of you, before I have to appeal to the dark lords of Low Council and have the weight put back on him.

It was a little thing, but it was nicely done: somebody in the production truck playing the Stones' "Get off my cloud" coming out of commercial and neatly summing up the Bucs' feelings for a momentarily surging Raider team.

Real life made two bold appearances at the game this year: Every catch Joe Jurevicius (whose prematurely born son was back home) made was sweet, feel-good stuff. And every catch Tim Brown (whose wife is expecting twins any minute) didn't make was extra poignant.

Best/worst slo-mo of the night: Warren Sapp and Frank Middleton going heads-up in the fourth quarter. Men that big moving, shaking, surging and spinning? Impressive/terrifying stuff.

And finally, I know they're silly and pointless, but I say let us never get so sophisticated, so high and mighty, so contemporary, that we are too cool to have inflatable helmets, players and Lombardi trophies at the big game.

Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.



Eric Neel Archive

The List: Best Super Bowl commercials

Neel: Grading the Super Bowls

Page 2: Sex and the Super Bowl

Neel: Matters of the heart

Critical Mass: MJ's ready for his close-up

Email story
Most sent
Print story

espn Page 2 index