SBJ/Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2011/Opinion

And now for your halftime entertainment …

America’s preoccupation with sports helps define us, enriching our language and imagery and connecting us with our countrymen in a tradition that crosses all barriers of generation, class and creed. It has given us rest and recreation, myths and memories, heroes and history, magic and miracles.

The same can be said of our unique musical history. The two are deeply woven into the fabric of our society. It’s been said that it’s easier to understand a nation by listening to its music than by learning its language.

The relationship between sports and music has never been stronger. At every type of sporting event we celebrate the perfect pitch between the two. Think about the unique power sports and music hold in our everyday lives:

• There are musical athletes and athletic musicians. Every entertainer wants to be an athlete and every athlete wants to entertain. For example, New York Yankee Bernie Williams, former Cincinnati Bengal Mike Reid and the late NBAer Wayman Tisdale have all had musical success after their playing careers.

• There are songs associated with a sport or team. “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the Harlem Globetrotters. The national anthem, “God Bless America,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and baseball. Hank Williams Jr.’s “Are you ready for some football?” and “Monday Night Football.”

• Then there’s the music that inspires us to cheer, sing, move and chant: The theme from “Rocky,” “Who Let the Dogs Out?” “Celebration,” “We Are Family,” “Thunderstruck,” “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions,” “Let’s Get It Started,” and many more.

Nowhere is the synthesis of sports and music more evident than halftime shows at the Super Bowl. Super Bowl halftimes are a lyrical roadmap of how we have changed as a country. The event has morphed into a massive national holiday, TV ratings bonanza, monetary marvel and gluttonous celebration.

In 1967, at Super Bowl I, those of us who are old enough watched Grambling and the University of Arizona marching bands, Jazz trumpeter Al Hirt and the Anaheim High School Drill Team.

Not to go all Simon Cowell on you, but having been around since day one for the ultimate football music mashup, I do have some opinions.

The good
• By the time Super Bowl XLI rocked and rolled around, halftime shows had been living in the shadow of the Great Costume Malfunction of 2004. The NFL and its broadcast partners went conservative, scheduling entertainers who were AARP all-stars, along with five-second delays. But Prince and his “Purple Rain” let us all “Go Crazy” with a high-energy, slightly edgy show highlighted by “All Along the Watchtower” and “Best of You.” He brought back high octane.

The bad
• Can you imagine Up With People, who appeared four times at Super Bowls, in 1976, ’80, ’82 and ’86, showing up on stage with the Rolling Stones? Up With People was the group of pastel-costumed, smiling singers and dancers who offered a bubble-gum-sweet pop serenade while dancing to routines choreographed by your grandmother.

The ugly
• Since musical taste is so personal, use your imagination in this category. But Elvis Presto in 1989? Really?

The NFL listened to public opinion, and that’s why it decided to get younger with the Black Eyed Peas this year in Dallas. I’m predicting that Fergie will be wearing a suit of armor over her long underwear and Justin Timberlake won’t be allowed to deplane off his private jet. The Peas will be performing their show on the largest HD video board in the galaxy. In a few years we will be watching the shows in 3-D.

There is no better American Bandstand than the unique combination of sports and music. Millions of American sports fans will continue to rock out in stadiums and arenas from sea to shining sea, season after season, generation after generation, no matter how gray their hair may be.
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