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Posted: Wednesday January 28, 2009 11:00AM; Updated: Wednesday January 28, 2009 3:29PM
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Coming to terms with Bruce Springsteen playing the Super Bowl (cont.)

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Former Mets pitcher Al Leiter joined The Boss on stage during a 2003 concert at Shea Stadium.
Marc Levine / SI

This gets to the heart of why Liz feels betrayed, because the Super Bowl is not a place to make music. It is the great American Hailstorm. There are more parties on Super Bowl Sunday than New Year's Eve. There are fewer weddings in America on Super Bowl weekend than any other weekend and yet, according to various sources, more strippers make house calls. Every year, Super Bowl officials proudly trot out mind-bending statistics about how many people will watch the game, how many toilets will flush at halftime (90 million last year according to some sources, though nobody really knows), how much commercials cost ($3 million per 30 seconds this year), how much money will be gambled (incalculable), how much food will be consumed (15,000 tons of chips, 4,000 tons of popcorn, 12 million pounds of avocado, etc). The Super Bowl, like World Wars and Rocky movies, charts time in Roman Numerals.

"I'm taking it very hard," Liz said. "I know people will think I'm being silly. If you asked 10 people why this upsets me, all 10 would get it wrong. It's hard for me to put into words. But if Bruce personally came to my door and said he wanted to explain why, well, I don't think there's anything he could say that would really change my mind."

She pauses for a moment.

"And," Liz said, "Bruce doesn't even LIKE football."

*****

Nils Lofgren has a rarity. He has a Bruce Springsteen football story. As Liz rightly points out, Springsteen is not a football fan. Baseball is his thing, even if he made that regrettable "speedball" word choice in his song Glory Days. Lofgren, though, remembers watching Super Bowl XXII with Bruce. They were at some party, Lofgren doesn't even remember who hosted it. What he does remember is that it was Washington playing Denver, and everyone in the room except Nils was rooting for the Broncos. Nils grew up in Washington, and he remains a fanatical Redskins fan. He's such a big football fan that, for years, he played the music for John Madden's All-Madden Team show.

Well, you might remember, Denver led that Super Bowl 10-0 after the first quarter. Everyone was ripping Lofgren. They were all trying to get him to make bets. And then, all of a sudden, Bruce spoke up.

"Bruce was on the fence, you know?" Lofgren said. "He was just there for the party, he's a nosh and beer guy. But everyone was destroying me, they all wanted to make a bet. And Bruce watches all this, and all of a sudden he said, 'I'll tell you what, I'm with Nils. We'll take the bet.'"

Washington scored 35 points in the second quarter and went on to destroy Denver.

"It's Bruce," Lofgren said gratefully. "Anything he touches ..."

So yes, Lofgren is thrilled to be playing the Super Bowl. He is thrilled that Springsteen, after all these years, finally decided to take on that challenge.

"I guess it was last year," he said, "and we were rehearsing for the Magic tour. And I remember we were all standing on stage together, and we were talking about what a great job Tom Petty did at the Super Bowl.

"Listen, we're all pros. I've been on the road for 40 years. Clarence [Clemons, the Big Man] has got even more time. We're grizzled veterans. And the unsaid elephant in the room was, hey ... you know, we've got the best band, and we could have played for 150 million people, and we didn't. Just by all of us talking about that, talking about how well Tom Petty came across, I think that might have helped Bruce come to this."

Lofgren appreciates why Springsteen had never played the Super Bowl before. Let's be honest: Super Bowl halftime used to represent something horrifying. You have Janet Jackson's clothing malfunction, and Paul McCartney implausibly shouting out "Hello Super Bowl!" and 88 Grand Pianos around Chubby Checker and the Rockettes and the It's a Small World Disney thing. And Up With People. Three times.

My personal favorite halftime show -- one of my favorite Super Bowl moments, period -- was the 1989 halftime show, called "Be Bop Bamboozled." The show, in keeping with the '80s, was a mishmash of about 50 different things that had nothing to do with each other. Dancers. Doo wop. Primitive computer graphics. OF COURSE, there was an Elvis impersonator, "Elvis Presto," who, in a rather bold break from the genre, did not actually sing. He performed magic. He tried to pull off the world's biggest card stunt.

But, this being the Super Bowl, all of that was a prelude ... to a commercial. Coca Cola was featuring a 3-D commercial -- they had been handing out glasses for weeks -- and this led to the moment when Bob Costas, who in my opinion is the most thoughtful and honest sports broadcaster ever, had to introduce the commercial by putting on the glasses.

He looked at the camera and said, deadpan: "I want you to do know this is the single proudest moment of my life."

"Thank you SO much for reminding me of that," Costas said now, deadpan.

That was the Super Bowl. In so many ways, that IS the Super Bowl.

"I know all the things Bruce doesn't like about it," Lofgren said. "There's the corporate thing, and you only get 12 minutes, you have chop up the songs, it's made for TV and all that. But, hey, if you're good at what you do, you want to do it. And God bless Bruce, we have a new album coming out, so at this point, why don't we just go and do that, turn on some existing fans and find a few new ones?"

*****

Steve Sabol thinks the match -- Springsteen and the Super Bowl -- is perfect. Sabol is president of NFL Films and he has been there since the beginning, since the first NFL Championship in 1962. He has a great eye, of course, and a great sense of what makes football dramatic. He also has a connection to Springsteen, as you will see.

"You can't get anything more American than football," Sabol said. "And as far as performers go, you can't get anything more American than Bruce Springsteen. I think they both speak to the same thing: Being a part of something bigger than yourself, hard work, teamwork, sacrificing for what you believe in."

Sabol is one of a handful of people who has been to every Super Bowl, and he finds himself stunned every year when he sees what it has become. His favorite halftime show was when they restaged the battle of New Orleans back in 1970. There was so much smoke, as Sabol said, "it was the first time that the British actually won." He remembers the first Super Bowl, when the most important thing was making sure they had enough balloons. "Pete Rozelle loved balloons," he said.

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