Ladies and gentlemen, Madonna Ciccone. And M.I.A’s middle finger.
No matter who does the Super Bowl halftime show, opinions will vary wildly amongst the audience. Perhaps only a Beatles reunion in the 1970s – say, the year the Raiders dismantled the Vikings – would have been a universally beloved halftime performance. Who wouldn’t have enjoyed watching John, Paul, Ringo and George rock out, conjuring up memories of their famous shows when they first arrived in America?
But no matter who you get, there’s going to be a lot of amusement about the act, a fair amount of hate and maybe a bit of love. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Janet Jackson’s nipples, Madonna’s varicose veins, Tom Petty’s hair, Up With People’s grins or ZZ Top’s beards. The shows will all come off as fairly ridiculous. It’s the nature of any halftime show, but especially one that’s broadcast to hundreds of millions or billions of people or whatever made-up number the NFL conjures up when discussing the Super Bowl audience.
The most infamous halftime show is probably Michael Jackson’s from the 1993 Super Bowl. To be fair to organizers, how were they supposed to know that eight months after surrounding the King of Pop with hundreds of adoring children who sprinted onto the field to be closer to the legend, he’d be accused of child molestation. Still…
But the Super Bowl doesn’t hold a copyright on bizarre halftime acts. It doesn’t matter if it’s an NBA game in front of 18,000 or a girls basketball game in front of 18. Everyone trots out a halftime show. Long gone are the days when the school band cranked out “Tequila” and “The Final Countdown” in the 10-minuter interlude and called it a night. Now you have singers in big events and Russian gymnasts at small ones. Shooting competitions are always popular, as are guys who jump off trampolines and throw in reverse dunks.
None of those compare to the two strangest halftime performances I’ve ever seen in person, one at a Division II football game, the other at a junior college basketball game.
When I was a kid, I went to many Mankato State University football games at Blakeslee Field.
One halftime, members of the school’s ROTC showed off their military skills. Quite simply, the ROTC invaded Blakeslee, swooping in from both end zones in a barrage of shells and smoke, guns, explosions and war cries. I kept looking to the sky, waiting for someone to parachute down. We waited for a tank to obliterate the goal posts. Were there snipers above us, perched on top of the press box, waiting for anyone who dared to rise from their seat for a halftime snack?
I don’t remember what the objective was, if they were attempting to capture a flag at midfield or win the hearts and minds of the crowd. The smoke made the whole scene look like, well, a war zone. We couldn’t see the other side of the stadium, but we could see the collegiate warriors battling each other between the hashmarks. Football as war is usually simply a metaphor; this was reality. A bizarre reality. It’s amazing the NFL – which would fly F-16’s inside domes during pregame ceremonies if the fire marshal allowed it – hasn’t put on a show like this during a halftime ceremony. Imagine the thrill 60,000 people would feel as they watched an infantry assault at the 20-yard line.
The smoke at the Mankato State game lingered. The fog of war. Or, in this case, the fog of football. I sat in the stands with my dad, stunned by the display, confused by its purpose. I don’t remember who won the game, but I remember leaving the field comforted by the fact that if the Soviets invaded Mankato, took over the city and put their red headquarters at Blakeslee, our boys would get it back from them without much trouble.
Now here’s a halftime display of military might that makes more sense and contains 100 percent less smoke and explosions.
At high school or college basketball games, shooting competitions remain the most popular halftime entertainment. I’m a simple guy, I still enjoy these as much as anything outside of a performance by the Fargo-Moorhead Acro Team.
The most enjoyable remains the standard hit a layup, make a free throw, drill a 3-pointer, launch a halfcourt shot, all in 45 seconds or a minute or whatever time frame organizers choose. The last few times I’ve seen people do this, it seems they’ve gotten lazy, especially if it’s teenage boys, as if they’re too cool for a lowly shooting competition that will land them a $50 gift card from a local pizza shop. They toss the layup in with indifference, meander to the free throw line with a smirk, chase after loose balls with the intensity of a Pro Bowl safety going after a fumble and ultimately have to rely on a gofer to help them retrieve long rebounds, which a purist such as myself might consider cheating. Hustle people, hustle. I had the chance to do this at a Mankato State game – although I can’t remember if it was before or after I witnessed the ROTC assault on the football field – but I missed the halfcourt shot. Still haunts me.
Back to strange performances. One year we went to Rochester to watch my uncle’s junior college women’s team play. The old Rochester gym was infamous for being the biggest mess in the upper Midwest. It must have had 150 lines on it, creating a visual hell. Hoops lines, volleyball lines, badminton lines, floor hockey lines, random lines. One night, the school put on a shooting competition but it was nothing like anything I’d ever seen.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say students involved in a Rube Goldberg competition created the design for the contest, which involved multiple people shooting at the same time from about six different places on the court. Also, no one understood the rules, even after they were explained. Shoot from the baseline, then run and touch the free throw line, then go to a circle located on the wing, shoot from there, run to the paint and touch a block, go back to the 3-point line and shoot from a circle and do all of this while avoding collisions with your fellow competitors. There were also prizes of some type scattered at various spots. The shooters ran around aimlessly, giggling, flailing, firing up bricks that landed with a thud on the ludicrously designed floor, while fans in the stands tried shouting out their interpretations of the game’s rules. Chaos prevailed, but nobody won.
Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime was only slightly less baffling, though for very different reasons. I haven’t read any stories on who might be the musical performer next year. But if the league is looking for some ideas, I have a suggestion: Send in the Marines.
Or the ROTC.