Archive for February, 2012
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
Being at the Air Canada Centre, it was a sight (and obviously) sound that’s all-too familiar to Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Early deficits in critical playoff-stretch games. Mock cheering of a young goaltender who was the figurative toast of the town twelve months ago. And the considerable desire, maybe overwhelming, for a fanbase to rid itself of its head coach — a man with far more accomplishments, bar none, in the sport of ice hockey than any of his players, any of his assistants, and certainly any of his bosses in a crowded Maple Leafs executive box.
You can have Burke’s lone Stanley Cup ring — credit for that, it certainly was an impressive accomplishment, I mean that. Burke gets credit for being on the positive receiving end of the Chris Pronger trade which Pronger and agent commandeered to get himself out of Edmonton after one lone season when Pronger and company won fifteen playoff games — fifteen more than Edmonton (or Toronto, for that matter) has won since then. Burke convinced Scott Niedermayer to join his brother Rob in Anaheim and the Pronger/Niedermayer combo, together and or separate was fearsome, and with Burke inheriting a truly elite goalie at the time in J.S. Giguere, and young and developing players like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Chris Kunitz, along with hungry-to-win veteran Teemu Selaane, it was a great recipe for success.
Ron Wilson has no Stanley Cup ring, and it’s very, very unlikely he ever will have one. Pat Quinn doesn’t have one. Bryan Murray doesn’t have one. Pat Burns got one very late in his career in New Jersey in 2003. Would you honestly think LESS of Pat Burns and his coaching acumen if he didn’t have one? Exactly. If I could think of a team Ron Wilson’s had with even close to the ammunition necessary to win the Stanley Cup, I’d offer it up to you.
As it was, Wilson got a rag-tag group to the Finals in 1998 with the Washington Capitals. It was mostly an aging group, but Olaf Kolzig caught fire, and the Eastern Conference was notably weak, with Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Boston yet to really rise up as they would at the end of the 20th Century. Wilson, two years, prior won the 1996 World Cup with what many thought was an inferior club to Canada’s, Russia’s, and even Sweden’s. Jeremy Roenick missed the tournament as he was unsigned and he was never in better form than in the 1995-96 season and the playoffs as well.
Wilson would repeat that international success two years ago in Vancouver, taking a team many pegged for 5th, with the unspeakable tragedy of Brendan Burke’s deadly car accident casting a dark spectre over the team’s grieving general manager, and by osmosis, all of USA Hockey, and they were a bounce away from defeating Canada for not only the Gold Medal, but also a second straight victory over Team Canada on their soil in seven days.
So you won’t convince me Ron Wilson cannot coach. But you’ll also struggle to convince me he can now coach THIS Maple Leafs team, and coach it successfully. The walls are closing in, the demons are conspiring, and the villagers are at the gates, with torches light. They want blood, and they want a scalp, and I won’t even tell you that a coaching change isn’t justified. It very well may be.
But I know Ron Wilson can get a team to overachieve and win sudden-death hockey games. We’ve seen it. I know Ron Wilson can get a team to overachieve and make a Stanley Cup Finals. We’ve seen that, too. What I have yet to see is that Brian Burke can build an NHL roster from scratch after imploding it and even now RETURN it to the mediocrity is was mired in when he arrived. The mediocrity that allows over half of the teams in the NHL to make the playoffs. Not 38 percent like the NFL, not 26 percent like Major League Baseball…..54 percent of NHL teams make the playoffs every year. His haven’t yet in three successive springs, and we’re all dreading the notion that the dawning of the fourth straight empty spring in the Burke regime is upon us, and the seventh for the Leafs, and the eighth since there was an actual playoff game.
Think about it, autumn will come and three ENTIRE Summer Olympics (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012) will ALL have passed without the Maple Leafs having played a single playoff game. 28 teams of the 30 have played in them. 19 of the 30 teams have won at least a playoff round, and 10 of the 30 SINCE the lockout have played in the Stanley Cup Finals. We already know that 90 teams have played in Stanley Cup Finals since the Maple Leafs last did. Brian Burke likes to remind fans (besides the fact that the media strongly influences how you think and feel about the sport you’ve grown up with) that he’s not operating on the same clock most Leafs fans are.
No, but he is on his own clock. And for all the things, like him or not, we have seen Ron Wilson do. We’re still not sure, as I mentioned if Burke can win here. We’re not even sure if he can make the playoffs here. We’ve been told over and over again by Burke apologists that the 91 point team he inherited was awful, so terrible, so dreadful and it needed to be detonated. He’s done that. A good move here, a bad move there. A skillful trade here, a bizarrely awful UFA signing there, and I don’t think at this point in time I need to elaborate any further on his goaltenders. In his entire run as GM in the NHL, over a dozen years now — you can only point to Giguere as an A-list goalie and he was well-entrenched, and had gone to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals already when Burke arrived. Ask yourself this? Who’s the second-best goalie Burke’s ever had play for one of his teams and if you even have a name, was the goalie even remotely in his prime? You’ll wrestle with yourself for days on that one, trust me.
And then there are the players? I never question effort, but I’m happy to question skill, and more than happy to question when players seem to be losing focus and drifting. Many a Maple Leaf is right now. Mikhail Grabovski is about to scoreless for FEBRUARY. No goals. None of any kind. No deflections. No power-play goals. None that bounce in off his ass. NONE. Oh, Mikhail — here’s that $22 million you wanted guaranteed over 4 years!!! Are the Happy Meal toys for girls or boys? He’s vanished. All after being night in and night out the best player the Leafs had last season.
Nikolai Kulemin, like him a lot — had an idea he’d score 35-38 goals this season. He has an outside chance now of reaching double-digits. I can’t possibly find record of a player in his 20s, fully healthy, not traded, no great reduction in ice time, slipping from 30 goals to single-digits. Ever. History of the modern era. I can’t explain it and no one can.
Luke Schenn’s had a terrible season. John-Michael Liles…a lot to like, I suppose, was gift-wrapped by Burke a pricey 4-year contract while out of the lineup long-term with a concussion, and I’m still not sure he’s as right as he’d like to be out there….he is working his way back into “game shape” as well. Colby Armstrong’s been an absolute zero since becoming a Leaf. A complete and utter waste of a $9 million contract, and despite my protestations, it’s clear the player Mike Komisarek was, is likely never to be again and an awful lot of GMs knew that on July 1, 2009, with the exception of Brian Burke.
So I know what Ron Wilson is and has accomplished. He may not ever get into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but his candidacy and merits for such will be discussed. He will be a lock for the US Hockey Hall Of Fame. And it’s possible, oh extremely possible — who am I kidding, that his friend and current boss, Brian Burke, who will soon fire Wilson if not later, then sooner, will politick his way into the Hall as well, and in all honesty, he probably does belong there, but NOT as much as Wilson does.
So Ron Wilson will get the heave-ho soon enough, and I admit, it isn’t working out here, but at no point has he ever been given a roster which has been in the upper half of the NHL in terms of talent, and for that alone, he should bear little responsibility for the lack of playoff games at the ACC. Making the playoffs any of the previous three seasons would have been a staggering overachievement. I’d also point out his much-maligned San Jose Sharks days are well in the rearview mirror when he had to fight off powers like Detroit and Colorado and Dallas, and one-year wonders like Calgary in 2004 and Edmonton in 2006. Since Wilson was fired four years ago, Sharks coach Todd McLellan has gotten San Jose no closer to the Stanley Cup Finals than Wilson got them, and the Sharks have crashed embarrassingly so in the last two Western Conference Finals, even after acquiring a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender in Antii Niemi, a luxury Wilson never had in San Jose, making do with middle-of-the-roaders like Evgeni Nabokov and (gulp!) Vesa Toskala.
It’s the right thing to do to fire Ron Wilson soon and it may happen even before the Saturday game in Montreal. Burke will bluster on about pressures in Toronto and sometimes there needs to be “change for the sake of change”, but Wilson faced an unwinnable battle here, despite at times, being far too combative with some of the swamp rats and sewer creatures who exist in the Toronto media (there are more good people than bad people in it, I swear….).
He’ll leave being considered for long-term honours and Hockey Halls, as mentioned. Will any of his current players which Brian Burke has assembled? You might want Phil Kessel (who’s had an impressive year given his God-given abilities) as an outside bet for the HHOF someday, but if I look real hard, I have a tough time finding busts of Rob Brown or Tony Tanti. OK, ok…low blow…Phil’s better than they were, but collecting three points out of a possible twenty-two is leaving everyone with frayed nerves, don’t you agree?
Friday, February 17th, 2012
I wouldn’t call it “dirty pool” and I’m not, but the news leaking out of the Maple Leafs adminstration’s pre-deadline “Camp David” that the team has an “offer on the table” for Leafs centre Mikhail Grabovski is intriguing for a number of reasons. It is, however, a type of “pool” that some GMs shy away from, and an equal amount find is not the best way to do business.
Grabovski has turned in a centre of considerable quality in the NHL. Not too sure he’s a bonafide #1 and I think he’s too inconsistent and too streaky to ever lob 75-80 points up consistently in a season, and sure the quality of your linemates and the power-play time you receive factors into that. Matt Stajan was a 14-40-55 centre on a moribund 2008-09 Toronto Maple Leafs team and got plenty of even-strength time, almost always on the #1 power play unit (remember, this is the year BEFORE Phil Kessel arrived). Is Matt Stajan getting that time and can he put up those points 0n any of twenty other teams that season? Real doubtful. So let’s accept Grabovski for what he is, for some of that you can certainly use numbers and great statistics like even strength points over 60 minutes, but of course, powerplay scoring still MATTERS, no question about it. Teams succeed or fail because they convert or don’t in special teams scenarios.
But with this latest news, it’s not too terribly hard to sniff out what’s happening here. Brian Burke wants to get Mikhail Grabovski signed and locked-in before the trade deadline on Monday, February 27th. Grabovski and his agent are rumoured (and I’ll give you one blue-and-white guess where the rumours are emanating from, and it ain’t the agent) to be seeking “Kessel money” which is a nice and round $5.4 million on the cap. The Leafs would like to get Grabovski well south of $5 million/year, but given their recent summertime free agent signings of Tim Connolly (similar position), and Mike Komisarek (in the press box more frequently than on the ice), that’s going to be a tough sell for Grabovski to accept taking between Connolly’s $4.75M and Komisarek’s $4.5. I wouldn’t be too into that either if I was your team’s best centre for two years running and about to approach the 60-point plateau for a second straight season, especially when one of my wingers, Nik Kulemin, has been the sag-back story of the ENTIRE league, going from a 30-goal campaign, to almost certainly a SINGLE-DIGIT goal year while getting only slightly less ice time and being healthy all season.
My read on the Leafs is that this is an obvious leak, aptly reported by Darren Dreger (full disclosure: a former co-worker at AM640, consider him a friend, and have immense respect for what he does – he just doesn’t miss in terms of accuracy, never seen it). The Leafs are perfectly happy to do two things here: 1) turn up the hot lights on Grabovski to sign before the deadline, strongly hinting, using the media and concurrently, the fanbase as a conduit, that he COULD be dealt if he doesn’t agree to terms with the Leafs in the next 10 days, and 2) underplaying the value of what the trade market would offer for Grabovski as a “rental” over the next couple months, provided there’s playoff activity for him.
If I’m Grabovski’s agent, I’m incensed, but probably not surprised. Again, I have to believe there ARE agents who wish a scenario like this didn’t play out publicly. Brian Burke told myself and Bill Watters in the winter of 2009, that they had no plans to extend Nik Antropov and would be trading him before the deadline. I’m not sure how that helped Burke maximize the value of what he got back for Antropov from the New York Rangers (a second-round pick). Listen, if I KNOW that you desperately want to buy a house on my street, who’s got the upper hand in negotiations? That’s right — it’s not you. Burke is measured and again knows how to put spin on an issue, and I’m impressed by the majority of Leafs trades he’s made and equally so to how he’s brought back Leafs of RFA status for reasonable amounts of money as he’s already done with Grabovski once, and Nikolai Kulemin, and James Reimer.
We can debate thoroughly whether the Leafs playoff hopes go up in smoke if Grabovski is traded and his spot’s effectiveness on the roster is, in essence, eliminated, or greatly nullified, but it’s fairly clear that Burke cannot get this one wrong. I also reject the notion that the Maple Leafs could not and would not get as much as they got for either Tomas Kaberle or Kris Versteeg (although Versteeg was not a pending UFA when dealt to Philadelphia last season). There’s a 0.0% chance Mikhail Grabovski is worth LESS on the trade market or an equal value than he was when he was an enigmatic (at best) and cancerous (at worst) malcontent on a mess of a Montreal Canadiens roster. I’m not buying it — it’s Leafs spin, and nothing else. Burke also has been extremely good at keeping trades under wraps, with the possible exception of Kaberle-to-Boston, so I find it quite far-fetched the offer the Leafs say is out there is the one they’d accept.
Grabovski has a Canadian-born wife, and two kids born in Toronto. This is the city where he’s grown up as a man, and where he’s matured as a person and a hockey player. Though there’s always more to the story, I think he won’t be deterred by the idea the Leafs would deal him in the next several days. I’d call the Leafs as bluffers on this one. He has no leverage right now, but he will in a few months and unless it’s a tremendously lowball offer before the summer from the Leafs, I’d be shocked if he bolted, even for MORE money in another city where he’s not comfortable. I get what the Leafs are trying to do, and again, it may be effective, but they’re not fooling everyone with this tactic — we’ll soon find out if they’ve spooked Grabovski Incorporated into signing an extension quickly.
Friday, February 10th, 2012
Sure, I’m excited about the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Not that anyone living in the GTA really NEEDS snow tires anymore, although Bridgestone makes their fair share of all-season radial tires, I should point out. We now have, in essence, TWO Novembers and TWO Marchs in terms of weather, and December, January, and February basically combine for 28-30 days of weather that isn’t late fall or very early spring.
Though many have referred to the Winter Classic announcement as being the “worst-kept secret in sports”, the buzz of the announcement and Brian Burke, Ken Holland, and the Ilitch family announcing what should be an amazingly fun festival of hockey and just plain being outside, did get me excited. I’m well aware many Maple Leafs fans have registered for a ticket presale, booked hotel rooms from downtown Detroit all the way to Ann Arbor and points in between like Novi and Livonia (more my residential stomping ground during the nine years I lived there).
I was very fortunate to attend the Michigan State/Michigan “Cold War” game in November 2001 — a certain Ryan Miller was in net for the Spartans and the game ended in an overtime TIE (yeah, remember those…boy those were so unsatisfying….or actually they were just fine, minus the gimmick shootout), and it was quite a spectacle to see. Then two years later, Montreal and Edmonton made history by playing in 2003, and the whole “Alumni Game” concept was crafted. There’s an argument to be made for photos and an all-around “enjoyable customer experience” that the Alumni Game between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Comerica Park on New Year’s Eve could and will be the better experience.
First off, you’re looking at a slightly cheaper ticket. Second, FAR more comfortable seating, given at least 70,000 of the 115,000 for the Michigan Stadium game will be cold metal benches, so Bridgestone better start making seat cushions now. Instead of bringing your best friend from college, or that hottie from accounting (umm, if you’re a single guy), you’re better off taking with you a chiropractor or acupuncturist to make sure you can make the 35-40 minute walk at dusk back to wherever you parked your vehicle for $50 or $60 in a remote part of Ann Arbor. School’s out (not for summer) in Ann Arbor on January 1st obviously and parking for the game will be far more of an issue than anyone suggests, given most student attendees for Michigan football games simply walk to the games and back to their dorms or houses.
Second, if you just want fantastic photo opportunities or the potential for autographs, I’m going to guess a game that feels a LOT less business-like (because it is, obviously) will be instantly attractive for many. A game that could feature all of: Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Mats Sundin, (maybe/hopefully) Borje Salming, Tiger Williams, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Dominik Hasek, Mike Vernon, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Osgood, Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Fedorov, Dino Ciccarelli, and Mike Foligno MIGHT draw a lot of camera clicks and FLIP video, right?
Third, the setting at Comerica will be a little more considerable to look at. You’ve got bars, restaurants, and probably some great musical acts playing either the nearby State Theater or Fox Theater. Casinos within walking distance, great restaurants. At Michigan Stadium, good luck walking somewhere besides CVS in case you need some petroleum jelly to unfreeze your face.
Hey, if I can, I’m going to both games. As a fan – and with my unique circumstances, I kinda now root for BOTH teams to succeed. I have great memories of covering the Red Wings and watching them do a lot of winning, but now I can assure you I want the same thing now I’m planted firmly in Toronto. It’s been too long and the recent results have been far too painful. Anyone in my fortunate position who gets to transmit information and give opinion and flatteringly to some is the first voice people hear when they get in the car in the morning if they’re a huge sports fan, would WANT the Maple Leafs to make deep playoff run after deep playoff run. Most people are clamoring for even one home playoff game and that’s fine, but I’d settle for nothing less than the first Stanley Cup FINALS game in 45 years. The Maple Leafs have had dreadful results in the Semi-Finals/Conference Finals — 5 wins, 20 losses since that spring of 1967. Either way, this game will mean a lot to me to attend and the passion on both sides will fuel just an incredible atmosphere. We forget how close a Detroit/Toronto Stanley Cup Finals was in 2002 and it was crushing given I was covering the Red Wings on the road then that Carolina edged Toronto out — despite having a good time in humid Raleigh and getting to a Durham Bulls game the sleepy afternoon after that triple-overtime Game 3 of the Finals!
But if anything, the excitement for the Winter Classic suggests to me how much Leafs fans, Wings fans, and the entire league has just missed out, and terribly so at that, with these teams separated in different conferences since the 1998-99 season. I don’t think Leafs fans noticed it at first, because it was clearly exciting to make the playoffs and win playoff rounds and reignite rivalries with Philadelphia and Buffalo and even Pittsburgh, but we’ve been truly robbed going on fifteen seasons now from Toronto and Detroit playing frequently. I can almost handle them not meeting in the postseason, but playing any fewer than four games a season is simply unacceptable and though I know there’s no perfect NHL schedule on the horizon, even with a potential realignment, we’ve really been shortchanged by having this rivalry fall dormant.
Will the 2013 Winter Classic change that? Perhaps not, true rivalries get built through the playoffs, and though the Red Wings and Maple Leafs have had starkly different levels of success since they last met in the 1993 playoffs in a remarkably memorable first-round series that stands up to this day for the quality of play and pure drama of it, it might spark a point to where we never have to live through a meagre one or two games a year between these great rivals again. If anything, the Leafs and Red Wings fans of my generation — born in the 1970s, actually do share one thing in common. Pure and utter inconsistency, if not out-and-out misery for much of the 1970s and 1980s.
1970s +.500 Playoff Rounds Playoff Games Missed Playoffs
TORONTO 7 6-9 22-38 2
DETROIT 2 1-2 3-8 8
1980s +.500 Playoff Rounds Playoff Games Missed Playoffs
TORONTO 0 (!) 2-6 14-23 4
DETROIT 2 4-5 21-24 5
1990 +.500 Playoff Rounds Playoff Games Missed Playoffs
TORONTO 3 6-6 35-39 4
DETROIT 9 15-7 73-48 1 (2 Cups/3 Finals)
2000 to present +.500 Playoff Rounds Playoff Games Missed Playoffs
TORONTO 7 (of 12) 5-5 32-31 umm, 6 (straight)
DETROIT 12 17-9 84-64 none (2 Cups/3 Finals)
Pretty stark, huh? I admit I thought I’d just break down the 1970s and 1980s numbers and then just because of lack of sleep decided to keep going. Either way, these teams need to play more often and the more important the game, the better, and that means playoffs. The Maple Leafs have oddly since the 1993 playoff win over the Red Wings, have played twenty playoff series — only TWO against Original Six opponents (the Blackhawks twice). They haven’t played Montreal since 1978, Boston since 1974, and the Rangers since 1971. It’d be nice to see all of these dry runs updated in the very near future. Either way: here’s ten recommendations from someone who knows Detroit and Toronto intimately:
1. The obvious: book a hotel room in advance. I’m booking the 31st of December and 1st of January today.
2. Every time I go back and stay, I stay in the Novi/Livonia area. Right around 10 mile/Novi Road or 8 mile/Haggerty, there are countless hotels, tons of shopping, great restaurants and sports bars and easy access to all the highways.
3. If you’re going to Michigan Stadium: plan to walk a LONG way from your car….umm, the same on the way back. Save the “what if someone’s stolen it by then” bit…old and tired.
4. Try and extend out that credit card and HOPE the Detroit Lions will play their 16th game of the season at home on Sunday, December 30th – no disrespect to the OHL games or the CCHA’s GLI tournament, but hitting Ford Field, Comerica Park, and Michigan Stadium in a 72-hour span would be a trip for the ages.
5. Don’t count on a lot of video replays at Michigan Stadium. Take your OWN TV if you can. The video screen isn’t great at Michigan Stadium, but it’s slightly better than the one that wasn’t there at all fifteen years ago.
6. Plan on Ann Arbor bars being packed to capacity all day long on January 1st. If the game goes at 1pm, there’ll be three college football games on, potentially ALL involving Big 10 teams, and obviously if Michigan’s in the Rose Bowl immediately following the Red Wings/Maple Leafs game, look out. Reserve any table you can, that is, if any joint is actually taking reservations — could be every humanoid for themselves.
7. Bring as much of your own food and drink into the stadium as you can. Don’t be obvious about it but don’t PAY for water and soft drinks. There will be security lines but as long as you don’t try and smuggle a 12-pack of Milwaukee’s Best into the Big House, they can’t be bothered to see if that 750mL bottle of Dasani is realy Absolut vodka.
8. Get gas on the way back BEFORE you cross the border. You’ll save loads of money depending on the size of your ride. The math gets complicated, but you’ll save up to a dollar per gallon if prices stay about the same and the dollar remains close to parity. Even if the price of Regular Unleaded climbs to FOUR dollars a gallon, and it’s nowhere near that right now, that’s the current equivalant of paying $1.09 a litre….so yeah, you’re much better off. Don’t forget this.
All in all, it’s going to be fantastic — let’s all hope the lockout some anticipate for the start of the 2012/13 season doesn’t happen and all parties work things out like it took them a good 10 months to do last time around. (Dear NHLPA: if you could realize you’re bringing a butter knife to a gunfight a touch EARLIER this time around, that’d be just swell).
Wednesday, February 8th, 2012
I don’t get it. I want to, but I can’t. Somehow, getting CLOSE to victory in this day and age is worse than getting nowhere near it. When did this happen? Why doesn’t it happen when we judge great musicians, actors, or artists? Sean Penn was a 3-time nominated actor for the Oscar (Dead Man Walking, Sweet And Lowdown, I Am Sam) before winning for performances in Mystic River and Milk. Was Sean Penn a guy that just couldn’t “get it done” on the big screen? Did he need better writers? Better directors? A better supporting act? Did you think any different about his acting ability after winning for Mystic River than you did after watching him act rings around all others in Dead Man Walking?
I doubt it, but this is sports, and this is what we do. Tom Brady had a borderline-brilliant performance Sunday. His 16 for 16 stretch, including a 10 for 10, 98 yards touchdown drive before halftime, is one that should live on in infamy and I challenge anyone to argue that he would have failed to win the game with just three, or maybe four more plays, meaning with another 60-70 seconds on the clock. This also takes nothing away from Eli Manning. Manning IS an elite quarterback — he did what is so rare nowadays in our sporting culture, and in the culture as a whole: he backed up his words. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said when claiming he was indeed a “top flight quarterback” in an interview back in September.
He impressed the hell out of me, and my experiences close up watching or commentating on Eli Manning performances hasn’t been overly impressive. Just this past season alone, Darren Fletcher & myself called the Giants/Redskins opening weekend matchup on BBC Five Live Sports Extra and Manning was thoroughly outplayed by, umm, Rex Grossman. Not exactly setting the bar high after not getting your team to the playoffs in 2010 AND leading the entire NFL in interceptions, for the second time in, at that point, a seven-year career. Manning in the 28-14 loss to the Redskins was 18 of 32 for 268 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception which directly led to seven Redskins points. Manning was sacked four times and was helpless after the Giants took an early 7-0 lead to look settled or confident.
Manning would win his next three games, and eventually get the Giants to a 6-2 record. He’d then lose the next four games — some would argue he played well in those contests, and the numbers dictate that, but part of the problem was matchups, both with solid defences and against “elite” quarterbacks, including Saints QB Drew Brees, and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Manning threw 11 interceptions in a 7 game stretch and still went into the must-win January 1st matchup against Tony Romo (with a broken finger no less) and the Cowboys as probably being the somewhat “less respected” quarterback.
We were all wrong, and now Eli’s created a legacy for the ages. In seven prior playoff games, all of which he finished, he’d never had more than 21 completions in a game. In all four playoff games this season, he had 23, 21, 32, and 30, with a 61.5 completion percentage, NINE touchdowns, and just the one interception. He is amongst the “Big Four” – there’s no question and belongs in conversations with Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and potentially, Ben Roethlisberger. We’ll leave big bro Peyton out of the equasion — as I’ve documented before, Peyton is certainly two things: one of the best ten quarterbacks ever to play the sport with a myriad of impressive accomplishments, and also grossly overrated by anyone who believes he’s the best, the second-best, or even, the third-best quarterback ever to toss the pigskin around.
But why is Super Bowl 46 being documented by some as “Brady’s failure”? I’m lost. Would Brady have been the Super Bowl MVP for a THIRD time had the Giants failed to score at all on their last possession, or if the Pats had scored on theirs? Yes, absolutely, no question about it. The conversation ends right here and now if you are illogical or challenged enough to argue otherwise. Would Brady win the game with the aforementioned three or four more plays? I can’t guarantee it, but I think so — you might think he doesn’t, but you also can’t guarantee it. He played well enough to win. Did Eli “play better” — I mean, I suppose the numbers might dictate that, but he also has far more significant weapons. You can sell me on Wes Welker all you want, but I’ll take Mario Manningham — you know, the Giants THIRD-best wide receiver, simply because he gives you an option Welker does not. The ability to go up (without the aid of a stepladder) and catch a football.
Brady can count the safety against himself and a ball intercepted by Chase Blackburn, the Giants linebacker, on a tremendous and not-talked-about-enough athletic play, beating out a hobbled Rob Gronkowski to pick a ball off, that if Gronkowski IS healthy, he catches, or at worst, knocks away. Brady hasn’t benefitted from matching up against Eli Manning, I’ll give you that. This isn’t Jake Delhomme or even Donovan McNabb that Brady’s trying to outplay. Eli is “money”. Eli is “clutch”. All these adjectives are true. John Elway got to go against Chris Chandler for one of his Super Bowl wins. Ben Roethlisberger got Matt Hasselbeck. Joe Montana won two tight games against the Bengals in different eras and you can like Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason all you want, but clearly outplaying Dan Marino and John Elway in his other two wins is clearly a tad more impressive.
Brady became on Sunday the second quarterback to even PLAY in five Super Bowls and he’s 3-2 and John Elway’s 2-3, but because Brady’s lost his most recent two, and Elway won his last two, some are taking the simple (ton) route out of this and suggesting Elway’s “legacy” is better? I won’t ever knock Elway, not at all — what a player. But do note the following stats from his two Super Bowl wins. Tom Brady would knock his grandma over to be able to hand the ball off to a running back the calibre of Terrell Davis in the past two Super Bowls.
Super Bowl 32: Denver 31, Green Bay 24
John Elway: 12 of 22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 rush TD
Terrell Davis: 30 carries, 157 yards, 3 TD, 2 catches, 8 yards receiving
Super Bowl 33: Denver 34, Atlanta 19
John Elway: 18 of 29, 336 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Terrell Davis: 25 carries, 102 yards, 2 catches, 50 yards receiving
SOO….I mean…..that takes nothing away from John Elway, if you win the Super Bowl you WIN the Super Bowl, but Elway was handing the ball off to Sammy Winder and throwing it to Ricky Nattiel in his prior three attempts, I mean, seriously.
So, for all those hammering Brady and the criticisms are plenty from those who either don’t watch these games or must reek of alcohol during most of their public appearances (the drinking kind, not the rubbing kind), keep it up. Enjoy it. Think what you want. I’m trying to figure out how Joe Montana is even GREATER now than Tom Brady because of Sunday. Because Brady made it to one more Super Bowl and while older on Sunday than when Montana last made the Super Bowl, annihilating the Broncos in January 1990. Brady’s had far fewer Hall of Famers and All-Pros to work with on offence for all five Super Bowls, and the last two, has no stars, and no playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, unlike when he won his first three.
And the running game? You need MORE wacky statistics? OK, fine. Here’s the lead runningback totals for all five of Brady’s Super Bowls:
Feb 2002 – Antowain Smith, 18 carries/92 yards/0 TD (Patriots 20, Rams 17)
Feb 2004 – Antowain Smith, 26 carries/83 yards/1 TD (Patriots 32, Panthers 29)
Feb 2005 – Corey Dillon, 18 carries/75 yards/1 TD, plus 3 catches/35 yards receiving (Patriots 24, Eagles 21)
Feb 2008 – Laurence Maroney, 14 carries/36 yards/1 TD (Giants 17, Patriots 14)
Feb 2012 – Benjarvus Green-Ellis, 10 carries/44 yards/0 TD (Giants 21, Patriots 17)
Amazing, huh? Tom Brady’s NEVER had a 100 yard rushing game to help him win a Super Bowl, and he nearly won two Super Bowls with #1 running backs going UNDER 45 yards rushing in a game. Go back to Terrell Davis/John Elway Super Bowl wins for the Broncos and note Davis had 259 yards on the ground in two Super Bowls — Brady’s lead backs have a combined 330 yards in FIVE.
Eli Manning deserves all the credit in the world for what he’s accomplished, no question. You can still give me Brady (and admittedly maybe not for more than a year or two longer) in a huge game. It’s HARD to win — it just is. Ask Joe Montana, even. Note his non-Super Bowl playoff record and stats:
Joe Montana’s Super Bowls: 4W, 0L, 83 completions, 122 attempts (68.0%), 11 tds, 0 ints
Joe Montana’s Other Playoff Games: 12W, 6L, 377 completions, 612 attempts (61.6%), 34 tds, 21 ints
Tom Brady’s Super Bowls: 3W, 2L, 127 completions, 187 attempts (68%), 9tds, 2 ints
Tom Brady’s Other Playoff Games: 13W, 4L, 372 completions, 606 attempts (61.4%), 29 tds, 18 ints
Not much to choose from, huh? Brady has an extra Super Bowl appearance, Montana has an extra Super Bowl win and both players have 16-6 playoff records. Montana played his last playoff game
Brady is 34 years, 5 months old. Montana played his last playoff game at 38 years and 7 months. He WON his last playoff game at 37 years, 7 months. So….I won’t try any longer to convince you about Brady v. Montana or “legacies”, etc., but Brady’s right where he wants to be to erase any doubt that he’ll be the most “accomplished” QB ever when his career ends.
Wednesday, February 1st, 2012
Look, we all have opinions on the Super Bowl halftime show. Who should play it, who shouldn’t, who’s hot, who’s not.
It’s also a total no-win situation for an artist also (ooh, umm, except for the usual seven-figure paycheck for ripping off 3-4 songs and then being back at a hotel suite before the halfway mark of the third quarter of the game). It’s big business, big sponsors, and massive artists. Following the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction in 2004, big-time heavy-hitters were brought in to provide relatively safe yet huge shows for mass appeal, unless you’re 25 or under and the Rolling Stones are as much your grandfather’s band as your father’s. Also, men who aren’t confident in their sexuality won’t admit to the fact that they like at least 5-6 Prince songs, and NO women really adore The Who. It’s a scientific fact — The Who and Rush — very few female fans.
Madonna gets the task this year and though she would have been considered a more “dangerous” artist if she’d played Super Bowl halftime around 1992 and 1993 when she hit the triple-crown of “trying too hard to be naughty” (The “Sex” book, starring in “Body Of Evidence”, and the “Erotica” album – underrated and maligned because she was, yes indeed, “trying too hard to be naughty”…her follow-up “Bedtime Stories” was far far more plagued with inconsistencies.).
She’ll be fine — it appears she’ll throw in her new single, “Gimme All Your Luvin’”, along with “Ray Of Light”, “Vogue”, “Music” (not a fan), and “Holiday”. I’d expect some big explosions and special guests and hopefully there’s not the credibility-destroying moment that occured last year when Slash appeared during the Black Eyed Peas gruesome set to duet with Fergie on “Sweet Child Of Mine”. Axl, no jury alive would convict you if you murdered Saul Hudson in his sleep, and used the Super Bowl XLV halftime show as your motive. Just err on the side of minimal gore.
But it got me thinking, what if we’d ALWAYS had big-budget Super Bowl halftimes with huge musical acts — this is barely a ten-year tradition in a nearly fifty-year tradition of games. If you run down the list, New Kids On The Block (for better or worse, ok, worse) are the first real “name act” to get the call and handle the halftime show. A few years later, if anything, the most dangerous Super Bowl was allowing Michael Jackson to perform four songs with nearly 100 teenage boys as part of the background at the Rose Bowl in 1993. Seven months later, Jackson would face the first round of child molestation accusations, to which he settled for a large amount of Thriller-generated residuals. But that changed things, and there was a conscious and definitive effort to attract “big names” and put on big shows. No more Up With People. No more Grambling State Marching Band. No more Elvis impersonators (yes, it happened in 1989 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami).
So let’s imagine as much as we can how this could have worked. Strap in, you’ll love some of these choices and yes, as always with me, you’ll nod quietly to yourself and never admit approval.
SUPER BOWL I – January 1967, Los Angeles
Game: Green Bay Packers 35, Kansas City Chiefs 10
Artist: The Beach Boys
Setlist: California Girls/Help Me Rhonda/Good Vibrations/I Get Around
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: A total home run, it’s LA, it’s the times, discontent over Vietnam yet to really get rolling, and let’s face it — the Super Bowl was NOT the Super Bowl yet, but this helped it. “Pet Sounds” probably far more a classic in retrospect than some critics deemed it at the time, had been released six months earlier. The songs work, the atmosphere makes it happen, and the Beach Boys give a big assist to a yearly event (NFL vs. AFL) that many thought might be very short-lived.
SUPER BOWL II – January 1968, Miami
Game: Green Bay Packers 33, Oakland Raiders 14
Artist: THE BEATLES
Setlist: Day Tripper/Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/Magical Mystery Tour/I Am The Walrus
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: C’mon now, it’s the freaking Beatles. They’d almost had it as a group at this point with each other and the bubble they lived in (oh, and that chick whose name rhymes with BOCO), and they’d certainly had it with touring. Their last US gig was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in August of 1966, but seventeen months later, the allure of a one-off in Miami at the Super Bowl proves too much to resist. They were eight months off of releasing “Sgt. Pepper”, and only eight weeks or so off releasing their final EP, “Magical Mystery Tour”. After this gig, they’d hunker down and get done Let It Be and Abbey Road, but besides the rooftop Apple performance, Super Bowl II would be their FINAL gig. The release on DVD of some backstage footage and these four songs would break records. It’s science.
SUPER BOWL III – January 1969, Miami
Game: New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7
Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Setlist: Purple Haze/All Along The Watchtower/Foxy Lady
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: A bold move for the Super Bowl planning committee…sure, other artists were selling more records, but Hendrix brought a certain cache and was one of the first black “rock” artists who didn’t have to get into white households and onto record players by playing “the blues” or straight up “R&B”. We’d like to think that with the greatness of James Brown, he was popular everywhere and smashed barriers of both big concerts and radio play, but it’s just not true. Hendrix did do that. DJs then could slide a Hendrix record in between the Stones and Led Zeppelin and not even blink. This show was a blazer, as was the Namath/Jets upset win. Got a feeling a chance hallway meeting in the hotel that week with Joe Namath and Jimi Hendrix would have been one of the most talked-about photo-ops of all time.
SUPER BOWL IV – January 1970, New Orleans
Game: Kansas City Chiefs 23, Minnesota Vikings 7
Set List: Magic Carpet Ride/Rock Me/Born To Be Wild
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: The first “Canadian” content at the Super Bowl halftime show (some Toronto members, John Kay is actually on Canada’s Walk Of Fame). Now, let’s be honest, not a great game, and Steppenwolf, though starting to play some really big gigs, just wasn’t one of the best halftime acts. Two huge songs in their repertoire, but finding a third is difficult. Think about how many commercials “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Born To Be Wild” have been in. AND movies. AND television shows. But besides those two, I think we all look back on Steppenwolf and think they had a hell of a lot more success than actually did happen.
SUPER BOWL V – January 1971, Miami
Game: Baltimore Colts 16, Dallas Cowboys 13
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Setlist: Fortunate Son/Up Around The Bend/Down On The Corner/Bad Moon Rising
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: What a blazingly good set this would be! I think it would have been looked back upon as one of the great Super Bowl halftime sets of all-time. By the date of the game, CCR had lobbed up NINE Top 10 hits — great energy, fantastic rapport, and Fogerty (I’ve seen it first-hand) can play the big rooms as well as he can the small rooms. Outside of the Beatles, one of the great, great bands that broke up far too soon. It’s a shame it got so rancorous, but no one would have bitched about this set. Vietnam uprisings and protests in full gear, so I’m sure there’d have been some controversy starting with “Fortunate Son”.
SUPER BOWL VI – January 1972, New Orleans
Game: Dallas Cowboys 24, Miami Dolphins 3
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Setlist: Heartbreaker/Bron-Y-Aur Stomp/Whole Lotta Love/Rock And Roll
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Well, it was finally time. Thought to be too dangerous, not mainstream enough, not enough hit singles — it was finally time for the Super Bowl folks to cave and New Orleans and Tulane Stadium (a city where the band’s bluesy style mixed with crunching rock was embraced before many parts of the Midwest and East would do so). They’d tighten up the set — no 10 + minute tracks like those that dominate “The Song Remains The Same” (great tracks for 1970s DJs to spin to hit the bathroom, have a quick smoke, or do one’s laundry down the street…and get back before the track ended). Led Zeppelin IV (ZOSO) hit store shelves two months earlier, so the time couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s a shame halftime couldn’t have been 30 minutes. It wouldn’t have made much difference to the Dolphins, but their time would come.
** Note: The NFL would insist the band not perform “Immigrant Song”. They DID comply….begrudgingly. Probably the most common show-opener for Zeppelin. Also noticed Led Zeppelin played a September 4, 1971 gig at Maple Leaf Gardens. I was born August 6th that same year. If my parents had dumped with a grandparent and hoofed it up from Strathroy for that gig, I’d have had no issue with it. I’d probably have down a podcast specifically about that already by now.
SUPER BOWL VII – January 1973, Los Angeles
Game: Miami Dolphins 14, Washington Redskins 7
Artist: The Who
Setlist: I Can’t Explain/Baba O’Riley/Bargain/Won’t Get Fooled Again
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: The Super Bowl returned for a second time to Los Angeles, and game officials expressed great regrets behind closed doors given they never booked LA favourite, The Doors for this type of gig. Given Jim Morrison passed away two years earlier, there was never a way to rectify this. They had thoughts about The Doors three years previous when the band was WHITE hot, but they thought: “No, we’ll wait until they can play their hometown again”. Morrison’s death would prevent that from happening. As for The Who. Times were getting quieter for them — “Quadrophenia” didn’t let itself to smooth and tight hit singles like their masterpiece, “Who’s Next” possessed. I love “Bargain” so selfishly I included it in the setlist. Clearly some folks would miss out on “My Generation”, but it’s the first Peyton Manning-esque quirky audible I’m calling here. There will be more. And yes, Townshend smashed a guitar delaying the second half kickoff by the Redskins given the shards of guitar that got lodged in the turf.
SUPER BOWL VIII – January 1974, Houston
Game: Miami Dolphins 24, Minnesota Vikings 7
Artist: The Kinks
Setlist: Lola/All Day And All Of The Night/You Really Got Me/Sunny Afternoon
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Admittedly, the Kinks were even a bit “retro” by 1974. OK, very retro. Their last Top 40 single before this date was June 1970′s “Lola” and nothing they did followed up with any success, so they jumped at the phone call, and clearly other artists must have rejected the call. But again, I’m being selfish and Ray Davies knows how to put on a show. The gig would be almost a last-ditch effort to regain a massive US audience (The Monkees would have been the choice had the Kinks not agreed), but despite strong reviews, it wouldn’t do much to change the band’s fate until a mild revival with “Come Dancing” and “Destroyer” in the early 1980s. Still not sure why the Kinks weren’t bigger in North America…it’s a mystery.
SUPER BOWL IX – January 1975, New Orleans
Game: Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6
Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings
Setlist: Jet/Rock Show/Lady Madonna//Band On The Run
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Well, McCartney was flying high at this point. Really might have been the right call to snag him the prior Super Bowl (far more prominent an act than The Kinks) but just not many gaps in a massive worldwide tour for the monster album, “Band On The Run”. McCartney snuck in the rather sub-standard “Rock Show” into a great setlist and disappointed some by not tossing in even a second Beatles nugget – after all, he had a new album to plug. The Minnesota Vikings took the high road and didn’t blame Linda McCartney’s microphone being turned up too loud (or, umm, on at all) for another dismal Super Bowl performance.
SUPER BOWL X – January 1976, Miami
Game: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17
Setlist: Killer Queen/Now I’m Here/Bohemian Rhapsody
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Mixed reviews…typical Queen, right? Those who love this band adore it, and those who think the act’s a touch too theatrical and there aren’t quite enough “hooks” didn’t care for this show very much. What couldn’t be denied was that “Bohemian Rhapsody” had a streak at #1 to end 1975 and for the first four weeks of 1976 as well, so this was the go-to song. Super Bowl entertainment committee members couldn’t have picked a hotter band and hotter song. Though, a fuller and more stadium-oriented show would have taken place had Queen not been booked until “The Game” was released (“Another One Bites The Dust” and “We Will Rock You” were stadium-made and your grandchildren’s grandchildren are going to hear them in stadiums – I truly believe that), they’d have to make do here, and they did.
SUPER BOWL XI – January 1977, Pasadena
Game: Oakland Raiders 32, Minnesota Vikings 14
Artist: The Eagles
Setlist: Hotel California/One Of These Nights/Witchy Woman/Take It Easy
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: I mean, just too easy a call, right? Same as The Beach Boys for the first-ever Super Bowl. Eagles were swinging for the fences every album, every single, every song of every gig and despite the critics not digging them terribly, the crowds kept coming, and men and women adored them equally. Probably the most debate and controversy yet about what songs they’d play and because of all the hits, some folks would clearly be disappointed. I actually enjoy Don Henley’s solo stuff more than I do the Eagles themselves — I find Frey to be kind of a lightweight vocalist and obviously his tunes don’t do for me what Henley does. My setlist probably indicates my preferences. This set would feature a live debut of “Hotel California” — a song that would be released the following month and rocket to Number One.
SUPER BOWL XII – January 1978, New Orleans
Game: Dallas Cowboys 27, Denver Broncos 10
Artist: David Bowie
Setlist: Young Americans/Rebel Rebel/Changes/Fame (w/ John Lennon)
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Another selfish call on my part because I love David Bowie in all his incarnations. Older Bowie fans will despise me because I really first discovered him with “Ashes To Ashes” in 1980 and then worked backwards, but give me a break, I was EIGHT years old! I’d also caught Bowie with my grandfather’s fave Bing Crosby doing “Little Drummer Boy” and finding that just so fascinating as a young kid. Who organized it? Who called who? Did Bowie call Crosby? Did Crosby respond with a letter? David Bowie just turned 65. Of all rock birthdays, this one MIGHT make me feel the oldest. Anyway, the Super Bowl Entertainment Committee got assurances that Bowie wouldn’t do anything too out of left field, and secured a commitment from John Lennon to come onstage and sing “Fame” along with Bowie — the first Super Bowl “cameo” for the halftime show. It would hardly be the last. You’re still an idiot, Slash.
SUPER BOWL XIII – January 1979, Miami
Game: Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
Artist: Foreigner/Van Halen Double Bill
Setlist: Runnin’ With The Devil/Dance The Night Away/Feels Like The First Time/Hot Blooded
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Some great US rock bands emerging in the late 1970s and Foreigner and Van Halen were two of them. Organizers were too wary of the punk movement (look I’d love to allow The Clash to play a Super Bowl halftime but it wouldn’t have gone over well with mainstream America, you know it and I know it) and disco’s acceptance was still 18-24 months away, so this worked and worked well. Both bands were selling out arenas, both bands had albums coming out or just out to promote (both second releases, “Double Vision” for Foreigner, and “Van Halen II” for, umm, yeah, like, Van Halen). Big voices, big guitar solos — huge home run. I’d have dug this so much at this point in time, and I bet I’d have watched it on Betamax for years on end after the initial broadcast.
SUPER BOWL XIV – January 1980, Pasadena
Game: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19
Artist: Fleetwood Mac
Setlist: Rhiannon/Don’t Stop/Go Your Own Way/Tusk (featuring USC Marching Band)
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: They couldn’t time it properly to pull off a Fleetwood Mac Super Bowl halftime during the run the Mac went on during “Rumours” and besides, how would there be any cocaine left for the NFL players? I kid, I kid Fleetwood Mac. Sadly, not many female voices were given rock credibility post-Janis Joplin but Stevie Nicks changed that a great deal. Women wanted to BE here and guys wanted to…..”spend time” with her. People who know me get I’m a massive Lindsey Buckingham fan and that was obviously decades before SNL’s “What Up With That?” made his name actually better-known to a newer generation. This gig would have been great. Did I mention the USC Marching Band made it onstage for “Tusk” — yeah, you didn’t see that shocker coming, I gotcha.
SUPER BOWL XV – January 1981, New Orleans
Game: Oakland Raiders 27, Philadelphia Eagles 10
Artist: Billy Joel
Setlist: It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me/Only The Good Die Young (dedicated to John Lennon)/Piano Man/You May Be Right
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Look, just thank me now AND later that Christopher Cross didn’t pick up the phone and agree to the gig. Because sadly, he WAS the artist of the prior year, 1980, and sweeping the Grammy Awards in February 1981. The music world was still reeling from the assassination of John Lennon seven weeks earlier and the freeing of the Iranian hostages obviously had a huge impact on this contest (note the yellow stickers). Billy Joel made sense for this — the Super Bowl Entertainment Committee thought a lot about Bruce Springsteen, and even Bob Seger, but Joel had more selling power, more crossover appeal, and didn’t disappoint with a dynamite set mixing fast and slow, poignant and sarcastic.
SUPER BOWL XVI – January 1982, Pontiac
Game: San Francisco 49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21
Artist: Motown Jam with Stevie Wonder/Diana Ross/Smokey Robinson/Aretha Franklin
Setlist: Superstition (Stevie Wonder), I’m Coming Out/Stop In The Name Of Love (Diana Ross), Tracks Of My Tears (Smokey Robinson)/Respect (Aretha Franklin)/Master Blaster-Jammin’ (Stevie Wonder)
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Yeah, yeah, I know….Detroit…Motown…what a cliche. Fine and good, but don’t tell me it wouldn’t go over well and it’s not like we’re bringing in C-listers. DeBarge isn’t here, it’s Stevie Wonder. I didn’t wait four years for Rick James’ Mary Jane Girls – I’m giving you Diana Ross. Deal with it. This is a fantastic setlist. Get down. Get down tonight.
SUPER BOWL XVII – January 1983, Pasadena
Game: Washington Redskins 27, Miami Dolphins 17
Artist: John Cougar/Daryl Hall & John Oates
Setlist: I Can’t Go For That/Private Eyes (Hall & Oates), Jack & Diane/Hurts So Good (John Cougar)
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Again, not bad marketing. Take two acts, big sellers, huge audiences, with tons of hit singles and let them each play a couple tunes each and watch the audience spike at halftime, and the artists see their sales do the same in the days to follow. Cougar had two tracks in the Top 10 for the entire year in 1982 and Hall & Oates propensity to keep cranking albums and hit singles from 1981 thru 1984′s “Big Bam Boom” has been practically unmatched by a group or duo. Be nice to me, I could have invited Asia. Or Quarterflash. Or Toto. I’m not that mean.
SUPER BOWL XVIII – January 1984, Tampa
Game: Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington Redskins 9
Artist: The Police
Setlist: Synchronicity II/Message In A Bottle/Roxanne/Every Breath You Take
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Look, 1983 was dominated on radio by four artists: Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Culture Club, and The Police. You HAD to take one of these acts and I just don’t think Jackson would have done this gig then. He wouldn’t have got it and he didn’t need it. Neither did The Police but as their 21st-Century reunion tour proved, Sting never really likes turning down big paycheques. This was a remarkably tight band, so talented at all positions, frayed at the nerves and without the internal tension, no rock critic who ever listened to them, interviewed them, or observed them, would have ever made the argument they’re as successful without the in-fighting. This would have been a phenomenal show. The Redskins couldn’t match it against the Raiders, despite being notably favoured.
SUPER BOWL XIX – January 1985, Stanford
Game: San Francisco 49ers 38, Miami Dolphins 16
Artist: Duran Duran
Setlist: Planet Earth/Hungry Like The Wolf/Wild Boys/Rio
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Personal favourite, sure, but this band was massive then, a freaking freight train of electricity. Even seeing them for the first time in 1993 after so many flat years and the near-implosion of the band (honest, they’ve never broken up…currently in their 34th year of consecutive existence, despite members coming in and out), it was electric. First gig I’ve ever seen (I was 21, at Kingswood Music Theatre at Canada’s Wonderland) where I thought to myself: “Probably a little similar to what it was like to see The Beatles…lots of screaming”.
Another act all set to implode and partying, travel, drugs, tensions — it was all wiping them out and it certainly showed by the time they played Live Aid six months later. At least it gave me The Power Station and Arcadia albums. Love them both.
*** Prince…yeah, I know — 1984 was all about Purple Rain and Born In The USA, but Springsteen will appear, umm, soon, and Prince wouldn’t have taken this gig. The dude didn’t even want to film a video or do an interview then. You try getting away from Sheila E or Appollonia when she wants more.
SUPER BOWL XX – January 1986, New Orleans
Game: Chicago Bears 46, New England Patriots 10
Artist: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Setlist: Badlands/Trapped/Hungry Heart/Born To Run/Glory Days
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: See! I told you! Aren’t you feeling bad you were cursing me for an act that forced “The Chauffeur” and Andy Taylor’s solo career upon us for a figure as beloved as The Boss??? Look, you may have forgotten a couple things. Springsteen toured for almost ALL of 1985 and had more singles hit the Top 40 off Born In The USA in 1985 than he did in 1984. So it was still a massive year for him. He also neglected to hop in his car from New Jersey and go play Live Aid despite pleas galore from organizer Bob Geldof. No one quite knows why, but he’d delay a live show exile that lasted almost two full years (a long time for Bruce back then) to play this particular Super Bowl. Safe to say some of the “Born In The USA” material was starting to grind on him just a little bit, and as such, the inclusion of ‘Trapped” (a song I absolutely love…a Jimmy Cliff cover that I wish Springsteen did a proper studio version of – perhaps he did and if so, you Springsteen-maniacs can point me in the proper direction). Either way, you can’t possibly go wrong. Springsteen stopped “Trapped” with a rant about how unjust it was Bears coach Mike Ditka attempted a touchdown pass with William “The Refrigerator” Perry and didn’t even think to make sure the legendary Walter Payton took a touchdown run ball away with him. Ass.
SUPER BOWL XXI – January 1987, Pasadena
Game: New York Giants 39, Denver Broncos 20
Artist: Huey Lewis & The News
Setlist: Heart Of Rock & Roll/I Want A New Drug/Jacob’s Ladder/The Power Of Love
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Look, really torn on this one — I thought a lot about Genesis doing this Super Bowl, they had a massive run of stadium shows for the “Invisible Touch” tour at this time, but I couldn’t find a logical way that they would not end up performing, umm, “Invisible Touch” and you don’t want that and neither do I. Similarily, you definitely DON’T want Lewis & The News performing either abysmal single from the “Fore!” album, “Stuck With You” or “Hip To Be Square”. In retrospect, as good as Huey’s “Sports” album was, “Fore!” was a massive disappointment. I mean, “Finally Found A Home” and “Walking On A Thin Line” are almost leftovers on “Sports” and are better than practically EVERYTHING on “Fore!” OK, I’ll take my rant to the sidelines, where John Elway threw most of his passes on this day. I do like “Jacob’s Ladder” – I can picture Huey shuffling around with that jean jacket on and pumping his fist to the lyrics, same as “The Power Of Love”. Oh, they’re from California, but the Bay Area, so bitter, bitter men that the Giants made this Super Bowl and not the 49ers. Probably busted up some equipment at some point, just savages those “News” members.
SUPER BOWL XXII – January 1988, San Diego
Game: Washington Redskins 42, Denver Broncos 10
Artist: Billy Idol/The Cult
Setlist: She Sells Sanctuary/Love Removal Machine (The Cult)/Rebel Yell/Mony Mony (Billy Idol)
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: Yeah, I know. Hello!!! 1987!!! The Joshua Tree!!!! Pretty damn big album. Look, we can fit them in later, too. Plus, U2 wanted way too much money — that Bono is one greedy bastard, seriously. Another selfish call on my part. I could have even invited Bob Seger and MADE him perform “Shakedown” which apparently he DESPISES. Do you want the “Faith”-era George Michael shaking his bum every which way in front of your kids on TV, shagging ever female that gets near him senseless while she– umm, ok, well SOME of us still thought that was possible back then. Four great songs, two kitschy yet rocking acts. Just deal with it. Elway could have been playing bass next to Steve Stevens in Idol’s band at halftime and you’d never have noticed the difference in his second half stats.
SUPER BOWL XXIII
Game: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
Artist: Bon Jovi
Setlist: Bad Medicine/You Give Love A Bad Name/Born To Be My Baby/Living On A Prayer
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: “Hey, isn’t that John Candy in the crowd — wait, no, it’s Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres!” – Joe Montana, Super Bowl XXIII
C’mon now, “New Jersey” was a massive album and before Jon Bon Jovi became such good buddies with Bill Belichick (I know, right?), he was all Giants through and through — so again, bitterness from a band who didn’t get to play a Super Bowl for their favourite team. But try and find fault with this one. Maybe the greatest stadium band of ALL TIME. No one’s played them for longer, folks. The Stones haven’t continuously. The Who haven’t. They held the world in their arms at this point in their career, then they released “Bed Of Roses as a single four years later. Haha. Wimps. Just kidding, don’t hurt me.
(My back-up plan for this is Bobby Brown — laugh if you want, but if it was ever going to happen, it was this year — Every Little Step/Don’t Be Cruel/My Prerogative — I’m in. I’ll do it. I’ll watch. WHY couldn’t this have happened?)
SUPER BOWL XXIV – January 1990, New Orleans
Game: San Francisco 49ers 129, Denver Broncos 2 (ok, ok — it was 55-10, but you weren’t COMPLETELY sure, were you??? May as well have been.)
Setlist: The Future/Let’s Go Crazy/1999/Baby I’m A Star
Why’d It Happen/How’d It Go: I had to do it. I gave in on including Duran Duran in my little fantasy here (that doesn’t sound right, or maybe it sounds very right…) but Prince had a huge chart hit with the Batman soundtrack in the summer of 1989. Everywhere you went, you heard “Batdance” or saw the “Batman” film playing. I hold a personal record of seeing the film three times in four days. Not quite sure why that happened but the first time was a free premiere of some sort. I was 17 so I’m quite sure I didn’t have an American Express Card then to go “Front Of The Line”. New Orleans digs Prince, and he started getting “out there” a little more. That prior fall, he played “Electric Chair” live on Saturday Night Live’s 25th anniversary show. He never did stuff like that post-1999. So he’d do this, and you’d like it and I would argue his show in November at the ACC in Toronto is the greatest gig I’ve ever seen, maybe only because Baltimora didn’t tour off the “Tarzan Boy” single.
*** Also, “The Future” is fantastic. A remarkably underrated track by him that probably hasn’t been played live in years. “Batman” as a whole is REAL spotty — this holds up. Large.
And then Super Bowl XXV came in January 1991 and it all changed. Whitney Houston sang the national anthem. She had a bit of a tepid response to her third album at the time, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” but the anthem charted in Billboard’s Top 40. Get your heads around that! A live performance of a national anthem charted, but Whitney was that massive then, and the patriotism swelling so considerably during the Gulf War, that it makes perfect sense in retrospect. New Kids On The Block played the halftime show, and the concept of the “BIG” halftime show was off and running.
The acts I most regret not giving a Super Bowl halftime gig to?
U2 – (but really, how do they top the post 9/11 Super Bowl in New Orleans at Patriots/Rams in February 2002? Best to leave perfection alone.)
Bob Seger (very American, very Detroit — no one would have complained had Seger got the nod ahead of the Stones for the Ford Field Super Bowl. Seger though doesn’t have a strong worldwide profile, nothing like Springsteen, Mellencamp, or Bryan Adams, among the same genre of male rockers)
Janet Jackson (you know, before the “nipplegate” incident….had great songs on both “Control” and “Rhythm Nation” and was no stranger at all to playing huge gigs. It’d be a kick to see Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis helping back her).
The Travelling Wilburys at 49ers/Bengals Super Bowl in 1989? Don’t laugh — you get Petty/Dylan/Harrison/Lynne all on one stage (sadly, Roy Orbison died in November 1988 just as this project was taking off). Play “Handle With Care” and then you get a solo song from each Wilbury. That doesn’t suck or blow.
Lots of acts I chose could have done repeat business. David Bowie in January 1984, Queen in January 1981, it’d have been amazing to see Lennon attempt a big gig like this on his own in the mid-1970s.
What other acts would have been great fits?
Guns N’ Roses at the Redskins/Bills Super Bowl in January 1992? Oh yeah, just rolling into the period in time where they were everywhere and anywhere with cancelled gigs, Axl on-stage rants, members coming and going and those three amazing videos from the “Use Your Illusion” albums.
Could Nirvana ever have played a Super Bowl halftime? Would they have?
Could Metallica pull it off? I always argue they could not because outside of “Enter Sandman” (a true rock stadium staple), there aren’t other equally well-known songs to the mainstream.
Neil Young? He’s so amazingly acclaimed critically but can he keep 70,000 people at full attention? Can Bob Dylan? As mentioned a few thousand words ago, these are tough gigs and the choices are either considered: “too oldies”, “trying to be too modern”, “too girly” or “too poppy”. There’s very few safe choices, if ANY left, unless we start recycling the likes of Springsteen, Prince, and U2, who we all know could pull it off.
In all reality, acts like Coldplay and Snow Patrol and Adele have fantastic worldwide appeal, but given the Super Bowl is so damned “American” (equally good and equally bad sometimes in my world), can acts like that do it. Oasis were so massive from 1995-1997, they could have played any stadium in the world, I’d have argued then and still do now….except ONE. The stadium that would be housing the Super Bowl. I just don’t think they’d have come off well, despite them having twenty songs that could be rotated constantly to find three or four to enthrall the masses and the hundreds of millions worldwide watching on television.
My guesses for the next few Super Bowls? I do think the folks who make these calls really want to push younger, and I get that Madonna’s in her mid-50s but say what you will about her, her new album will still will chart well, and still will sell all over the world. Her first album (self-titled) came out in 1983, 29 years ago. Britney Spears’ put out her first album in 1997 — do you think she’s playing Super Bowl 60 in 2026? Yeah, exactly.
I think the Black Keys could play the Super Bowl. Enough tunes, people like what they do and big on both sides of the Atlantic and you may not think Europe is a player in the NFL to any great extent, but trust me, appeal of the athletes, the brand, and yes, a decision as seemingly inconsequential as a Super Bowl halftime act matters over there, believe me.
But similarily, if a reformed Van Halen shows well on tour this spring and summer, why won’t they get the invite for New Orleans next year. Play an obligatory new tune, toss in “Jump”, “Panama”, and “Dancing In The Streets”, “Pretty Woman” or “Dance The Night Away” and presto — instant setlist!
A reformed Led Zeppelin? Yep, I suppose…but if the NFL hasn’t cobbled up any cash to make it happen so far, why will it happen as Plant and Page approach SEVENTY years of age???!!! And they need to rehearse — Live Aid for Zeppelin on little rehearsal time was not a benchmark moment. As an aside, can I get some help getting Robert Plant into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo act? The man’s done a bit of everything in 30+ years now and has essentially succeeded tremendously at all of it.
That’s that — thanks for indulging and enjoy Madonna! If you’ve got 25-1 odds on “Causing A Commotion” being played, all I can tell you is to choose more wisely next time.