Coming to terms with Bruce Springsteen playing the Super Bowl (cont.)
But now, it's so big, there's so much spectacle, there is so much surrounding the game that Sabol finds himself in awe.
"I was at one Super Bowl, it might have been in Tampa," Sabol said. "I remember going out on the field on Saturday, to check our positions. And then I was in the tunnel, and I heard someone say something that captured the Super Bowl. The guy was saying, 'Well, what are we going to put on the elephants' feet so they don't tear up the field.
"That's what it has become. People worry about what to put on the elephants' feet. It's amazing."
But Sabol also believes that underneath it all, there's something real. That's where the Springsteen connection comes in. About 20 years ago, Bruce hired NFL Films to film several of his videos, including his concert video for Born to Run.
"We covered his concerts like they were football games," Sabol said. "We didn't overcut, we didn't have that frantic camera movement, we didn't have any mindless graphics or special effects. We just sent our cameras out there, and we told our guys: OK, cover this like you would cover the Super Bowl.
"That's what Bruce wanted. I remember he told me, each song is a story, like a football game, and he wanted to be sure we were able to capture the energy and interaction and the environment. And he said, 'I know you can do that because you do it for football games. This is the same thing.'"
Same thing? The Super Bowl? Bruce Springsteen? Well, it's hard for many people who have followed Bruce all these years to see that.
"People are really, really upset," said Caryn Rose, who sometimes writes for Backstreets and sometimes writes her MetsGrrl.com blog focusing on the New York Mets. "Or if they're not upset at the Super Bowl performance, they're upset that the NFL is promoting it or that they played a snippet of a song as a 'World Premier' behind the halftime report on Monday Night Football."
Caryn is not upset about it. She figures that after Tom Petty performed at the Super Bowl, the whole idea of a Super Bowl halftime show changed. "Tom is one stubborn guy, who also is no slouch on the credibility front," she said. "I mean, so what? It's a football game. People watch it. People get excited about it. It's a party. Bruce is playing the party."
Also, Caryn said, there's something else. Bruce Springsteen turns 60 later this year. Two of his closest friends -- Federici and his longtime assistant Terry McGovern -- have died in the last two years. Time chases you like a linebacker in football and in rock and roll. And sooner or later, it sacks you.
"It's 2009 and none of us are getting any younger," Rose said. "He doesn't just belong to me. He belongs to everyone."
It's funny, I wrote this essay many different ways, and always ended with this notion that I understand why Bruce Springsteen is doing the Super Bowl. He's doing it for love. He's doing it because he needs people and the Super Bowl has the most people. He's doing it because he believes in his music and wants to reach the largest audience. He's doing it because he's getting older and there aren't that many Super Bowls left, not for any of us. He's doing it because it sounds fun. He's doing it for the money, for the fame, for the attention. He's doing it to promote a record. Is there anything wrong with that?
But, in the end I realize I don't know. It could be any of those reasons. It could be all of them. It could be something down in his soul. He was asked about retirement when he was in London last year. He said he has no plans for it.
Springsteen said: "I've got a big ego and enjoy the attention. My son has a word: Attention whore. ... When it comes down to it, I like the way it makes me feel. And the way that I can make you feel when I do it. ... It thrills me, excites me, it gives me meaning, it gives me purpose."
I have spent more than half of my life rooting for Bruce Springsteen. He has been like my favorite sports teams, only he has won more than he has lost, and he has given me as much as I gave him, and, well, he actually made it to the Super Bowl. I have to keep rooting for him. Sure, maybe this is a sign of his age. Maybe this is a sign of surrender.
Or maybe ... two years ago, Prince performed Purple Rain in the Miami rain. Early in the week, Prince held a Super Bowl press conference.
"Contrary to what you've heard," Prince told us journalists. "I'd like to take a few questions."
Yes, it was contrary to what we had heard. A reporter raised his hand to ask a question of Prince -- who was allowing people to call him Prince at that time rather than referring to him by a former name or having to draw a symbol to address him. He asked Prince the obvious question: How do you feel about playing the Super Bowl?
Prince opened his mouth, like he planned to answer it. And then, he picked up his guitar and launched into one of the most familiar openings in rock and roll history. He sang: "Way down in Louisiana, down in New Orleans, way back up in the woods among the evergreens, there stood a log cabin made of earth and wood, where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode."
And that was his answer. Maybe there are no answers. Maybe it's just rock and roll.