Hard to argue that the NFL bounced back last weekend. Consider the Thursday game. (The NFL weekend begins early and runs late, until past midnight on Monday which means that, technically, the weekend goes from Thursday to Tuesday.)
Anyway… the game was played in Oakland, between the local Raiders who will soon be moving to Las Vegas, a sporting town if ever there was one, and the Kansas City Chiefs who, at last report, aren’t going anywhere. But these things change depending on the availability of fat stadium deals.
Anyway (again), the Chiefs outplayed the Raiders for most of the game, which ended with a last second score that followed two defensive holding calls that kept Oakland alive. The Raiders won by a single point. Cynics and conspiracy buffs might argue that the zebras were in the tank for the Raiders but their case wouldn’t be helped much by the fact that during one of those episodes which the announcers call “pushing and shoving,” and might better be described as “fighting,” one of the Oakland players came off the bench to join the action and made contact with one of the officials. This is strictly forbidden so Marshawn Lynch was thrown out of that game and suspended from playing in the next. He, of course, appealed and claimed that it was all… well, a misunderstanding or an accident or something. The replay plainly shows him running more than halfway across the field to join the melee so you wonder how, exactly, he will make that fly. But he is a star running back and one of the celebrities of the game so you never know. And, the appeals process can take a long time. Lynch is playing this season after taking the last one off. So it is possible that he will retire, again, without ever serving his suspension.
Such is life in the NFL.
None of the fourteen other games amounted to much. The Cleveland Browns and the Tennessee Titans took a yawner into overtime. The Titans won 12-9, without ever looking like they meant to do it and with neither team scoring a touchdown. The Jets lost to the Dolphins by playing stupid, which is something of a franchise tradition. The Patriots and the Falcons met, on Sunday night, in a repeat of last year’s Super Bowl. Everyone remembers that one. The great comeback by the Patriots who were down 28-3 in the middle of the third quarter and managed to tie it up and take the thing into overtime. They won, of course. How could they not have?
As exciting as that Super Bowl had been, the Sunday night rematch was its analog in tedium. The Patriots won, easily, and the fan sensed that certain iron laws of the universe dictated that it could not have been otherwise.
Even these games, so indifferent in quality, produced the usual injuries. Carson Palmer, quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals, went out with a broken arm. For Palmer, given his long history of injuries, that is a mere flesh wound and he may, according to early reports, return before the end of the season. Another quarterback, Jay Cutler of the Dolphins, was knocked out of the game with broken ribs. And there were the usual concussions.
A few players — no more than a couple of dozen — did the protest thing. And many fans, judging by the number of empty seats in several stadiums, demonstrated their disapproval. Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, had acknowledged that the protests were hurting attendance and television ratings.
Thus, the NFL’s season of discontent continues.
There was big news, however. It was announced that at halftime during this year’s Super Bowl, the entertainment will feature… Justin Timberlake.
The fan feels that, just maybe, he will be able to contain his excitement. To avoid falling into unconsciousness from the sheer wonderfulness of it all.
But, one more time, just for the record … who is Justin Timberlake?
Well, actually, before we get to that… why are we supposed to care about the halftime show at the Super Bowl? Well, because this is where the world of football blends with the world of pop culture and the whole universe watches as Beyoncé or Madonna or Lady Gaga does the wretched excess number.
You get the picture.
The halftime show, thus, draws big ratings. Which is the point. Always.
There was a time when halftime was merely a programmed lull in the action, of duration long enough for the fan to find and use the bathroom and get another beer. But the NFL and the networks learned that it was possible to hold onto those profitable eyeballs out in television land and keep the ratings up by putting on these extravagant shows featuring big name talent.
The shows are inevitably over-produced and almost laughably so. They are exquisitely and expensively perishable.
There was one, however, that got everyone’s attention and held it for a while. That was the time at the 2004 Super Bowl when the halftime entertainment featured Janet Jackson and one Justin Timberlake singing and doing a dance number that was supposed to be hot and erotic but looked like what it was… MTV’s idea of “edgy.” That was a term you heard a lot back then.
At some point in the show, Mr. Timberlake pulled at Ms. Jackson’s bodice and for a fraction of a second, her bare bosom was exposed for all the world to see.
This was followed by the predictable (and, one suspects, desired) outrage from fans who believed they had tuned in to watch a G-rated production. The purveyors of “edge” were no doubt delighted by the reaction of all those oh-so-predictable and uptight yokels.
The NFL took the side of the outraged fans. In those days, the League knew on which side its bread was buttered.
Timberlake wimped out and said the whole thing was a mistake. A “wardrobe malfunction,” he called it. The phrase entered the lexicon.
His career, we’re told, went on from glory to glory while Janet Jackson’s stalled. The woman always gets the short end.
But she bounced back and now, the NFL has designated Timberlake its halftime entertainer at the 2018 Super Bowl.
The fan suspects that it will be just one hell of a show. But if he watches at all, it will be on DVR. Among traditionalists such as he, halftime is for finding a bathroom and another beer.
Geoffrey Norman’s column appears early each week this NFL season.