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Super Bowl XXXIX

As a football game it was often a sloppy, blue-collar kind of Super Bowl, but I sure as hell want to see "Batman Begins." So it goes with this secular celebration of advertising, patriotism and football (in roughly that order), where fallout from last year's overanalyzed halftime debacle yielded the inevitable disappointment that nothing worthy of protest or even water-cooler chat materialized.

With:
Play-by-play, Joe Buck; commentators, Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman; studio host, James Brown; analysts, Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long.

As a football game it was often a sloppy, blue-collar kind of Super Bowl, but I sure as hell want to see “Batman Begins.” So it goes with this secular celebration of advertising, patriotism and football (in roughly that order), where fallout from last year’s overanalyzed halftime debacle yielded the inevitable disappointment that nothing worthy of protest or even water-cooler chat materialized. Despite “Fox attitude,” then, score this as a victory for the NFL, whose hypocrisy is matched only by its antipathy toward controversy. Mission accomplished.

Indeed, the prevailing game plan, which even extended to the two coaching staffs, seemed more along the lines of simply surviv-ing the game than taking risks to win — about as spontaneous as the applause lines at a State of the Union address.

Fox spent an inordinate amount of time promoting its halftime show, perhaps too sensitive to the perception it was going to be “Bland on the Run,” with the knighted Paul McCartney brought in to clean up Janet Jackson’s mess. To his credit, Sir Paul delivered, singing a few favorites before disrobing to a long-sleeve T-shirt (yes, it was that kind of night) to belt out a flaming, fireworks-spiced rendition of “Live and Let Die,” followed somewhat awkwardly by a “Hey, Jude” sing-along.

Fox Sports’ rock ‘n’ roll graphics remain the industry standard, but beyond its in-studio antics and quirky camera angles (on the pylon? Really, is that necessary?), the announcing team was solid and sober. Cris Collinsworth, for example, rightly flagged the referees for two blown first-half calls that were overturned upon further review. “Instant replay has been huge thus far in this ball-game,” he noted.

In similar fashion, advertising within the game felt a bit more restrained than last year, as well as less distinguished. Budweiser, in particular, might want to bring the flatulent horses out of the paddock. With the exception of an emotional corporate spot in which airport travelers applaud U.S. troops, the brewer churned out mostly forgettable spots, which also applied to Pepsi’s presence except for a “Stayin’ Alive” riff that daringly (compared to other ads, anyway) incorporated a “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” reference.

Hollywood studios fared somewhat better, from the single-scene approach of Columbia’s “Hitch” (using one of the better moments in the movie) to the tantalizing, rapid-fire “Batman” tease and the jaw-dropping image of a freeway exploding in Paramount’s “War of the Worlds.” Other pics capitalizing with lesser success on the showcase included “The Longest Yard,” Disney’s “The Pacifier” (a Vin Diesel comedy?), Fox’s “Robots,” Warner Bros.’ “Constantine” and Par’s “Sahara.”

If anything, though, the product-category gold star belonged to dot-coms, which dominated this annual showcase a few years ago before their bubble burst. Although I have no idea what Godaddy.com is, its spoof of “Broadcast Censorship Hearings” — with a buxom woman addressing ancient solons — perfectly captured the hysteria surrounding last year’s events, and Careerbuilder.com offered the better of two campaigns that featured chimpanzees.

Creative kudos also to Heineken for a Brad Pitt ad, in which he ducks paparazzi to buy beer; and Ameriquest Mortgage, with two clever spots cautioning not to judge what one sees too quickly.

Flag-waving spectacle and the Super Bowl go hand in hand, but the game’s red, white and blue countdown was impressive even by Fox News’ yardstick, with so many military personnel past and present crowding onto the field it seemed as if someone might be preparing to invade Orlando.

Among the pregame lowlights, meanwhile, was the over-caffeinated Jillian Barberie, whose tight-fitting top didn’t really need to malfunction as she drooled over musical act John Fogerty. On the plus side, there was a well-produced retrospective of key plays from Super Bowls past, demonstrating the matter of inches that stand between glory and goat-hood.

With so much time to fill, Fox did the expected shilling for studio-aligned properties — from “Robots” to “American Dad” — and still squeezed in former Presidents Bush and Clinton, whose pitch for tsunami relief inevitably drifted into final-score predictions. Leave it to Clinton to split the difference, saying it was hard to choose between two teams situated in areas that “voted for me twice.”

Then again, much like a political campaign, this year’s Super Bowl appeared determined to play defense, make no mistakes and avoid departing from the predicted outcome.

Just the way God, or at least the NFL, intended it.

Super Bowl XXXIX

Fox, Sun., Feb. 6, 3:35 p.m. PT

Production: Broadcast live from Jacksonville, Fla. Executive producers, David Hill, Ed Goren.

Crew: Senior producer. Bill Brown; coordinating producer, pregame show, Scott Ackerson; director, pregame show, Bob Levy; game producer, Richie Zyontz; coordinating director, Artie Kempner. Running time: 3 HOURS, 41 MIN.

Cast: Play-by-play, Joe Buck; commentators, Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman; studio host, James Brown; analysts, Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long.

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