43 Observations on the Super Bowl

The cute puppies, Al Michaels, Obama’s fireside chat, and other moments you might have missed.

The Cardinals’ Aaron Francisco leaps for the ball

I. NBC’s five-hour Super Bowl XLIII pregame show began yesterday at 1 p.m.

II. NBC Sports’ Bob Costas led what he termed a “very deep active roster” of personalities from the NBC Universal family. Al Roker was in a place called the Super Suite, Tom Colicchio at the Top Chef tailgate party, and the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore up at the top of the stadium, promising “super weather.”

III. After introducing all the key personalities, Costas turned to the hour’s other momentous sports story. Roger Federer showing welcome signs of human emotion? No: the great Michael Phelps bong rip of ‘09. This was super comic relief of the day. It kind of stood in for the delinquent behavior of Super Bowl players of infamy. (Throughout the pregame show, reporters and analysts remembered the coke binges and paddy wagons of yore, not without nostalgia.)

IV. Keith Olbermann looked like an early favorite for the worst-dressed award. It was partly that he had the misfortune of reporting from the Cardinals locker room alongside the exquisitely sharp Tiki Barber, and partly that his suit jacket bulged as if concealing one or two vests. Explain yourself, sir.

V. Around 1:30 p.m. or so, Alex Flanagan reported on the spiritual health of quarterback Kurt Warner from the “undisclosed location” of the Cardinals’ hotel: He was on schedule for Mass.

VI. The Super Suite was an intimate showbiz experience featuring a small studio audience. Al Roker brought all his jolliness to the fore for what looked like a modest, tastefully produced charity telethon.

VII. But instead of sick children, the Super Suite brought on the personalities of NBC Entertainment, which is ailing in its way. Stars dropped in and hyped their shows, with Jimmy Fallon mumbling by to promote his upcoming late-night show and Hayden Panettiere, the Heroes starlet, snatching the worst-dressed award from Olbermann. Panettiere was only dressed appropriately for a flight back from Sundance. “What’s up with the Uggs there for Hayden?” wondered Costas.

VIII. Out at the Top Chef tailgate party, Dan Patrick and Tom Colicchio squinted in the sun and introduced a cooking challenge. Antonia and Andrew, honoring Arizona, whipped up some roast pork tacos. Spike and Richard repped Pittsburgh, identified as the home of Heinz. Here, NBC missed a cross-branding opportunity: Olbermann should have been on the scene with a John Kerry joke.

IX. In other cross-branding news, there was a promo where the excellent Al Michaels touted CNBC: “The stock market is like fantasy football times 100.” This was a curious claim on several levels—though it’s true that in neither case do you want to get behind Detroit.

X. In other cross-branding news, Al Roker interviewed Will Ferrell about Land of the Lost.

XI. Then there was Puppy Bowl V (Animal Planet). This was counterprogramming for young children, wacky aunts, et al.

XII. Puppy Bowl V unfolded in a miniature football stadium, where shelter puppies romped and tugged at chew toys and (we saw through the water-bowl-POV camera) sated their adorable thirsts. It was really cute.

XIII. I didn’t catch the final moments of the Puppy Bowl, but I imagine that one puppy triumphed as the cutest and got adopted, and all its inferiors were put to sleep.

XIV. Matt Lauer interviewed Barack Obama in the Map Room of the White House, literally a fireside chat!

XV. Lauer and Obama flirted at some length, the newsman warming the president up with a mother-in-law joke before turning to “sleepless nights” on the national security watch. We watched soldiers in Iraq watching this on a feed.

XVI. Obama, who picked the Steelers to win in a close game, is easing into the pop-ceremonial part of the job with great confidence. Lauer produced a copy of Us Weekly with the president’s wife and kids on its cover, and Obama read to the nation about Jessica Simpson, wryly, like a sitcom actor—the tone somewhere between Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart.

XVII. The Jessica Simpson exchange cracked the soldiers up.

XVIII. The broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII—identified by Time Warner Cable with a fine simplicity as NFL Football—started at 6 p.m.

XIX. Faith Hill, getting away with too much eye shadow, did a crisp “America the Beautiful.”

XX. Capt. Sully and his crew showed up to add an authentic touch to the pregame pageant of teamwork, community, and American power.

XXI. Capt. Sully is my new hero. To be precise, Capt. Sully’s tailor is my new hero. Ditching a commercial plane in the Hudson is impressive, true, but what a sharp jacket!

XXII. Capt. Sully surpassed Tiki Barber to win the best-dressed award.

XXIII. Matt Lauer of NBC News interviewed Will Ferrell, but this time it was in a commercial for the movie that Al Roker of NBC News had interviewed Ferrell about earlier.

XXIV. By the way, Ferrell correctly predicted that there would be a safety in the game, though he had firmly said that the final score would be 2-0 after double overtime.

XXV. Jennifer Hudson, wounded but resilient like America herself, performed an excellent “Star-Spangled Banner.”

XXVI. She reportedly lip-synced? So what? There are all sorts of authenticity. You wanna make something of it?

XXVII. By the way, I want to hear the good gossip about Ben Silverman’s Super Bowl party behavior.

XXVIII. I watched the game at home alone, so when I spontaneously shouted “OH MY GOD!!!” at the end of the first half, no one heard me except the neighbors in a 100-yard radius.

XXIX. What a run! What fun to watch replays, replays, replaaays of James Harrison heroically skipping and then skidding into the end zone on his neck.

XXX. In further branding news, Brian Williams of NBC News brought a sensitive reading to what could have been a stale line in a local promo: “I’m 4 New York. You got a problem with that?”

XXXI. At halftime, Bruce Springsteen told me to turn the television all the way up, and I did.

XXXII. Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band began the set by laying down a martial beat, Larry Mullen Jr.-style.

XXXIII. Springsteen—who at times evoked Johnny Cash, James Brown, and Jerry Lee Lewis in his righteous cool—was sexier than Janet Jackson will ever be. Now I want to see a battle of the bands between the Boss and Prince, the only artists in the same class as half-time performers.

XXXIV. (Two years ago, playing in the heart-rending purple rain in Miami, Prince converted “All Along the Watchtower” into an epic squall, among other majestic tricks.)

XXXV. Politically active Springsteen was performing as a kind of co-president. When he lunged into the crowd, I found myself scanning the screen for his Secret Service detail.

XXXVI. Up in the booth, Al Michaels was magnificent. He turned the word alacrity into onomatopoeia.

XXXVII. Best Al Michaels filler: When the camera spotted Cuba Gooding Jr. in the crowd, Michaels spoke of getting a Jerry Maguire residual check for $28 in the mail.

XXXVIII. I wonder how many degenerates switched promptly at 10 p.m. to Wipeout Bowl 1: Cheerleaders vs. Couch Potatoes (ABC), which was either an astonishingly crass Japanese-game-show-type reality special or a devastating satirical critique of American culture ghostwritten by George Saunders.

XXXIX. Either way, it was hilarious. The cheerleaders were 13 young women in microminiskirts (“I’m 20, but everyone tells me I look 16”). The couch potatoes were 13 flabby guys. They fell in mud and bounced off foam-padded pillars and were pelted with paint-soaked Nerf footballs and that sort of thing.

XL. The knee socks on the Wipeout cheerleaders were an essential touch. Sadly, they switched into wet suits by the grand finale, which culminated in contestants braving a “1,000-gallon sports-drink tidal wave.”

XLI. How perfect was the footage of Santonio Holmes in his No. 10 jersey? (Personal to NBC Sports and NFL Films: Let’s sit down on the record some time and discuss the debts that you owe to Leni Riefenstahl. It’ll be fun, and everyone will understand that you do not intend any cross-branding with Nazis.)

XLII. How perfect was Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt in accepting defeat with grace? Forget all the macho posturing on and off the field on Sunday. The way Whisenhunt said, of his team, “This is a group of men …” made you thrilled to be a man.