Fumble Road

February 2, 2009


'Tomorrow is Super Bowl XLIII, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals will open for [Bruce] Springsteen," Seth Meyers said during "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live."

And that's pretty much the way it played out Sunday evening -- though not even the Boss' time-honored and well-rehearsed feel-good bombast could match the drama of James Harrison's interception and historic 100-yard touchdown return, which immediately preceded it.

The music started in Tampa during the pre-game show as glossy country crooner Faith Hill delivered an unremarkable "America the Beautiful." Then Jennifer Hudson took the field and stepped onto the television screens of an estimated 100 million viewers, struggling to choke back a tear before powering through a bravura performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

As if the emotions of singing the national anthem at this point in time, after the inauguration of her fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama as president, weren't overwhelming enough, the Super Bowl also marked the first high-profile appearance by the 27-year-old singer since the killings of her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in October. Dressed in a classy but casual black jacket and white top, Hudson seemed to put all of her pent-up feelings into her performance, and the crowd was with her for every soaring note.

As for the Boss, he filled his 12 minutes with vintage E Street Band histrionics.

"I want you to step back from the guacamole dip!" Springsteen said at the start, imitating the cadence of a revival-tent preacher. "I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up! And what I want to know is: Is there anybody alive out there?"

Actually, a significant portion of the audience probably was not alive when Springsteen first recorded and released three of the hoary oldies that dominated his four-song medley. It opened with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" (during which Bruce slid across the stage on his knees, smashing crotch-first into one of the cameras) and "Born to Run," both of which date back to 1975, and it closed somewhat jarringly (given the tune's subject matter of an aging jock who can't stop reliving the past) with "Glory Days," which was originally released in 1984.

The one tune that was fresher than a quarter-century old was the title track of "Working on a Dream," the album Springsteen released last Tuesday. It got a mere 60 seconds of air time as the Boss, his wife, Patti Scialfa, and the absurdly do-rag-sporting guitarist Steven Van Zandt mugged for the cameras on a platform jutting into the crowd while a gospel choir was marched out behind them in an attempt to add some of the soul the tune otherwise sorely lacks.

Ironically, during a pre-game chat, when Bob Costas asked the Boss why he decided to do the halftime show this year after he'd passed several times before, Springsteen cracked, "I have an album to promote, dummy. It's not rocket science."

Given the staggering cost of advertising time during the Super Bowl, the Boss essentially scored a $36 million commercial for his mediocre new album and his upcoming concert tour. No wonder he closed the set by proclaiming, "I'm going to Disneyland!"