Sunday, February 2, 2020

Sunday Long Read: The Best Big Game Big Show

I don't have any real desire to watch the Superb Owl this year, so here's Dan Evans at The Ringer giving us the story of the best haltfime show ever put on: Prince in Miami in 2007.

On February 4, 2007, heavy rain fell over Miami—and for those planning the Super Bowl XLI halftime show, so did a sense of dread. It’s one thing to play a football game in a storm. It’s another to put on an intricately staged concert in one.

“It was the most scared I was in my life,” says executive producer Charles Coplin, then the NFL’s head of programming. “And I’m sure I wasn’t alone.”

The man scheduled to perform was nervous, too. Yes, even Prince saw the potential for disaster. “People are like, ‘He gets nervous?’” says his musical director and keyboardist, Morris Hayes. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, he’s not nervous for himself. He’s nervous for us.’ He’s trying to make sure that we’re in the right places at the right parts. What’s gonna happen when it starts raining and the floor’s slick?”

By that point, the Super Bowl halftime show was in dire need of the Purple One’s energy. Over the course of 40 years, the event had gone from a marching band showcase to an Up With People residency, to a Disnified pageant with occasional drop-ins by pop stars like Michael Jackson, to an MTV-produced, superficially edgy spectacle that bottomed out in 2004 when Justin Timberlake infamously exposed Janet Jackson’s breast to a worldwide audience of 144.4 million. A course correction followed, as the NFL turned to baby boomer–friendly acts Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. And while they may have been rock legends with countercultural roots, by the aughts they’d become safe entertainment.

Prince was different. Even after decades of fame, the sex symbol hadn’t toned down his genre-defying music or his envelope-pushing persona. Just three years prior, on the night that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” stole the show from a handful of less-otherworldly legends. Unlike his big-game predecessors, Prince refused to trot out a handful of his hits and call it a night. For the intermission, the icon designed a unique 12-minute set. After all, he wasn’t about to allow himself to be overshadowed by the biggest damn sporting event of the year.

“It was one of those instances where you dread something might happen and then when it does,” says executive producer Don Mischer, “suddenly it turns around and almost becomes a blessing.”

The story of the greatest Super Bowl halftime show of all time starts not on that rainy South Florida evening, but with a sales pitch by late producer David Saltz at Prince’s house in Los Angeles …

I guarantee you the story of Prince's legendary performance that night 13 years ago will be better than anything you'll see at this year's version.

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