Tuesday, February 28, 2006

How to save the N.F.L.

Just don't tell the Old Strathcona Football League. And yes, there is such a thing.

Forget about the collective bargaining agreement. The National Football League has a bigger problem: an identity crisis. With the interweb becoming the "hot" new medium, an organization needs to have a presence "on-line." Further, once it gets on-line, it needs to attract viewers to its interweb location. That's where search programs called "engines" come in. The engines, such as Hot Bot, Dog Pile and the Go Network, steer viewers to various interweb "sites" based on the terms that those viewers enter into the search program. By making shrewd use of these "key-words," an organization can maximize the number of viewers it draws in. The NFL, however, is asking for trouble with one of it's key-words. Consider:

WHEN YOU SEARCH for "Football" on Google, NFL.com is result No. 1 out of an estimated 563 million pages.

WHEN YOU SEARCH for "League" on Google, NFL.com is result No. 2 out of an estimated 389 million pages:
Major League Baseball
National Football League
WHEN YOU SEARCH for "National" on Google, NFL.com is a measly No. 35 out of an estimated 4.13 billion pages:
National Car Rental
National Semiconductor
National Instruments
National Archives and Records Administration
National Rail Enquiries (U.K.)
National Science Foundation
National Institutes of Health
National Geographic
National Education Association
National Park Service
National Public Radio
National Review
National Basketball Association
National Weather Service
Democratic National Committee
PTA (National)
National Cancer Institute
National Safety Council
National Gallery (London)
National Express
National Academies
National Archives (U.K.)
National MS Society
National Endowment for the Arts
Republican National Committee
American National Standards Institute
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Gallery of Art (U.S.)
National Wildlife Federation
New York Times national news
National Zoo
National Audubon Society
National Rifle Association
National Statistics (U.K.)
National Football League
However, when you search for "official site" on Google, NFL.com is an impressive No. 10 out of an estimated 313 million pages. That puts the league on the first page of results no matter what parameters you're using. That's more like it. So, Paul Tagliabue, if you still read Down and Distance, take note: Switching the name to the Official Site Football League could increase your traffic like 10% or more. Don't just leave that money on the table, man.

The OSFL. Finally, a league for our generation!

Monday, February 20, 2006

"Ryan Leaf": Not much of QB,
but one hell of a metaphor

Call me 'the Ryan Leaf of online NFL commentary'

Even the most ignorant observer (present and accounted for!) can give a car-by-car description of the train derailment that was Ryan Leaf's brief NFL career: Crummy quarterback. Shitty teammate. Historic head case. All-around bad citizen. But in the three-plus years since he was kicked ass-first out of the league, Ryan Leaf, The Man, has given way to "Ryan Leaf," The Metaphor. And as such, Leaf has attained the immortality, versatility and durability that eluded him all those years he had his enormous head jammed into a helmet.

So handy is Leaf, The Metaphor, however, that people are now sticking it in places where it doesn't belong, and in doing so are cheapening one of the most precious additions our language has seen in the past half-century. "Ryan Leaf," a name that once stank richly of Greek tragedy and burnt toast, is in danger of becoming just another snarky synonym for "disappointing." And what a truly Ryan Leaf development that would be.

This comes to mind not because Leaf, The Man, has been in the news of late, but because Leaf, The Metaphor, has been kicking poor Darko Milicic in the crotch.

Milicic, a 7-foot center/forward from Serbia, was picked No. 2 overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 2003 NBA draft. Since joining the Pistons, Milicic has played somewhere between sparingly and not at all, and last week Detroit traded him to Orlando for Kelvin Cato and change. That was enough for Bob Cook of MSNBC.com -- the thinking man's NBC.com! -- to declare that Milicic appears "destined to be remembered as the Ryan Leaf of the NBA." Cook's piece, posted Friday, appears under a headline asserting, tautologically, "Similarities between ex-Piston and former NFL QB are eerily similar." Cook explains the eerily similar similarities thus:
"Like Leaf, Milicic was picked No. 2 behind a highly hyped No. 1. Like Leaf, Milicic was seen by many pundits -- and even those within his sport -- as having the potential to be perhaps even better someday than that highly hyped No. 1. Like Leaf, Milicic quickly got exposed as not ready for prime time, and as a result his name became a walking punch line."
And, really, that's the extent of it. Leaf and Milicic were both drafted No. 2 behind future superstars (in Leaf's case, Peyton Manning; in Milicic's, LeBron James). Both of them were also -- and let's count the qualifiers in this sentence -- "seen by many ... as having the potential to be perhaps even better someday" than the dudes who went No. 1. And both are not stars now.

There's just one minor, gaping hole in the "logic" behind the comparison. Leaf was drafted to be the savior of a destitute team, but he flopped on the field, poisoned the locker room and scarred the franchise for years. Milicic, meanwhile, was drafted by a team that didn't need him and didn't play him as a rookie because it was already a contender and was so loaded with talent that it promptly won two Eastern Conference championships and an NBA title. Milicic is indeed reminiscent of a certain San Diego quarterback, just not the one lazy writers like Cook would prefer. Darko Milicic is not the Ryan Leaf of the NBA. Darko Milicic is the Philip Rivers of the NBA.

Leaf and Rivers were both high-first-round picks who went to the San Diego Chargers. Leaf began his rookie year as the starting quarterback, put together a truly hideous season and lost his job to the immortal Craig Whelihan. Rivers arrived as the backup, just in time to watch Drew Brees become an elite quarterback ahead of him on the depth chart. The Chargers didn't need Rivers, so he sat for two years, and it appeared he would be traded this offseason. However, Brees got his throwing arm torn off in the 2005 season finale against Denver, and now Rivers seems destined to stay in San Diego -- either as the starter or in his familiar role as the spare tire on the Schottenheimer jalopy. In an eerily similar similarity to Rivers, the Pistons parked Milicic on the bench because they already had a team full of all-stars, and there he stayed until the trade. Maybe if Tayshaun Prince had ripped his labrum, too, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Cook is hardly alone in firing the Ryan Leaf Cannon at Milicic. For an analysis typical of what's floating around out there, we turn to the Record of Stockton, Calif.:
The Detroit Pistons finally traded Ryan Leaf ... er, Darko Milicic on Wednesday. Joe Dumars manned up and admitted that passing on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade was a major mistake by shipping Darko and Carlos Arroyo to Disney World for Kelvin Cato and a protected first-round pick. Imagine this Pistons team with one of the aforementioned studs. They'd be on an 80-win pace.
That's the best you can do? The Pistons are 42-9 and they're in a slump. They lead the Eastern Conference by 10 games. The only team in the NBA even close to them is the Dallas Mavericks, whom I like to think Cook would call "the Indianapolis Colts of the NBA." The Pistons are on a pace for 68 wins, which would tie them for the fourth-most ever in an 82-game season, and you're going to wag your finger at them for not being 50-1? Further, to assume that the Pistons would be even better with, say, Carmelo Anthony is something of a reach. When a team is 42-9, it means that team has the right pieces in the right places. Dumars and Larry Brown knew that when they decided to use the No. 2 pick on a developmental project like Milicic rather than a superstar like Anthony. You put Carmelo Anthony on the Pistons, he's going to expect the offense to run through him. He isn't going to want to share the ball with Rip Hamilton, or Chauncey Billups, or the Wallace brothers -- you know, the guys who won the All-Star Game on Sunday night. Nike ain't paying him all that money to be no team player. And if you ask him to be, he just might go Ryan Leaf on you.

The Darko = Ryan equation breaks down every time you try to prove it. Leaf's teammates hated him and rejoiced after he was cut. Milicic's teammates, on the other hand, praised him after he was traded. Their only complaint was that he would let frustration get the better of him when he felt he wasn't being given an opportunity. Rasheed Wallace -- Rasheed Wallace! -- said: "Everyone thinks he's a bust and makes jokes about him. ... But the joke is going to be on them."

And that's the word we're really talking about here: bust. Is Darko Milicic a bust? Well, is Philip Rivers a bust? There's no way to tell, because neither player has had the opportunity to show what he can do. Milicic will now get that opportunity in Orlando. And he may very well fail. He may very well end up a bust after all. But being a bust does not make a player Ryan Leaf. Immediately after drawing comparisons between Milicic and Leaf, Cook erased them, though he probably didn't even know he was doing it:
"To be fair, Milicic, unlike Leaf, has not been known to berate or scream at reporters, heckling fans and his own teammates. He’s never been accused of being a malingerer. And fans have embraced him, rather than turned on him."
It's one thing to be a bust, which Darko Milicic might be. It's one thing to be a wasted pick, which he also might be. But if you don't scream at reporters, if you don't attack fans, if you don't get called lazy or a fat-ass or a cancer or a jake, then you are not Ryan Leaf. Being untalented does not make you "Ryan Leaf." Being a bad fit on a good team does not make you "Ryan Leaf." Being overrated, overpaid or overhyped does not make you "Ryan Leaf."

I'm always willing to help out writers who run dry on imagination or creativity. So here's a list of highly drafted NFL quarterbacks who turned out to be lousy players but weren't bad people: David Klingler, Heath Shuler, Rick Mirer, Andre Ware. The next time you come across a guy who can't get it done on the field (or at least hasn't gotten it done so far) but who isn't a fruitcake or a cancer in the locker room, try one of these names instead. Save "Ryan Leaf, The Metaphor" for the truly deserving. Or better yet, come up with your own alternatives.

Like ... "Alex Smith, the Kwame Brown of the NFL." Or is it the other way around?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Loooking for the Play-by-Playlooza?

It's still up. Scroll down below, or click here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Tiptoe thru the tombstones:
The Super Bowl covers of SI

It's time we break the cycle of denial and face an awful truth: The 2005 NFL season is dead and buried. I know because I saw its tombstone.

An NFL season is really an organic entity -- much like a human or a raccoon, or a mollusk or a coral reef. Though each season has its own individual characteristics, it follows a predictable life cycle: Out of a brief gestation (Latin for "exhibition games"), the season is born in September and takes its tottering first steps. From there, it grows quickly to manhood, devouring all rivals, and by December it looms tall and broad-shouldered over American sport. Then, in early February, at the peak of its vitality, this young life comes to a shattering and violent end. In a way, the Super Bowl is rather like the final scene in Scarface: Say hello to my little friend ... the Lombardi Trophy! From there we move to that maudlin funeral known as the Pro Bowl, and we pause to consider the season's gravestone, chiseled, as always, by the editors of Sports Illustrated.

For four decades, the arrival of SI's Super Bowl wrapup has signaled the passing of the NFL season. Oh, every year the magazine gamely tries to lessen the grief by sending out an issue crammed with softcore pr0n, but the comfort is cold at best. All the painted boobies and sand-encrusted booties in the world can't make us forget that we've got seven black months before the next season is birthed into the angled light of late summer.

The Super Bowl covers, like the games they represent -- like human beings -- are all different, yet share many characteristics. For example, each bears an epitaph -- a postscript on the game and the season just concluded. This year's Super Bowl cover (click it above to see the full-size version) is inscribed "Thumbs Up." In other years, it might say "Super Star!" or carry some gruesome pun on the order of "Patriots' Day!" or "Ride 'Em Cowboy!" Each Super Bowl cover also bears a photo of a hero (sorry, "Superhero!"), usually but not always the game MVP. This year's version features Hines Ward of the Steelers.

What follows is a trip through the NFL graveyard -- or, if you prefer, "down memory lane." Join us as we examine, evaluate and, if necessary, desecrate 40 years' worth of Sports Illustrated Super Bowl covers.

"Main cover line" / This is the primary "headline" of the cover. It's usually, but not necessarily, the biggest type on the page.
"Featured player" / The athlete displayed most prominently on the cover.
"MVP? Iconic image?" / Is the person on the cover the game MVP? Or does the picture show a "signature moment" from the game, such as Adam Vinatieri celebrating a field goal, John Riggins dragging half of Miami down the field, or Max McGee vomiting into his helmet?
"Cover story" / Why the cover is appropriate -- or why it makes no sense.
"Could cover line have been written before the game?"/ Some cover lines are so weak and meaningless ("Super Star" or "Wow!") that they say nothing about either the game or the team that won it. Others are team-specific ("Superboys") but still reveal nothing about what happened in the game. In both cases, the lines could have been written weeks, if not months, in advance.

Super? Fly!"Super"-fluous: This icon indicates a cover line that uses the word "Super" as a throwaway adjective -- basically, in any context but "Super Bowl."

Shout! Shout! Let it all out!Exclaim check: This icon denotes a cover line that hobbles across the page on crutches built of exclamation points.

Em and 'emAuntie Em: Dorothy's stern but loving aunt indicates a cover line that for whatever reason has decided to truncate "Them" as " 'Em" (or "Her" as " 'Er").


And away we go:

SUPER BOWL XL (Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10)
Issue date: Feb. 13, 2006
Main cover line: "Thumbs up."
Featured player: Hines Ward.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Maybe, maybe not. History will decide, but if you go by ABC's coverage of the game, the lasting image will be Jerome Bettis on the sideline with his helmet in his hand, watching the action unfold.
Cover story: The cover line is pep-rally puffery that refers to the Steelers winning "one for the thumb." See, five Super Bowl championships means five Super Bowl rings, enough for each finger and the thumb. Get it? Clever! I'd suggest that when a team goes 26 years between Ring No. 4 and Ring No. 5, the guys on the field aren't completing a set of rings as much as they're starting a whole new one. If Terry Bradshaw had come out of retirement to back up Ben Roethlisberger this season, then he would have won one for the thumb. Everybody else on the Steelers was working on Ring No. 1.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Before Super Bowl XXX, even. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Ball Hawks"; "Reign in Seattle."

SUPER BOWL XXXIX (New England 24, Philadelphia 21)
Issue date: Feb. 14, 2005
Main cover line: "Down Pat."
Featured player: Rodney Harrison, with Mike Vrabel on his heels.
MVP? No (Deion Branch), but I'm not going to be the one to tell Harrison. Iconic image? Sure. It beats Donovan McNabb vomiting his pregame meal all over Terrell Owens' contract.
Cover story: Sports Illustrated spits in Harrison's face by forcing him to share the cover with a tiny photo of Phil Mickelson and a reefer about the U.S. ski team. The cover line is explained thus: With its third title in four years, New England appears to have the art of winning Super Bowls "down pat." Once you start trying to chase it down like that, you realize just how far SI expects us to go to carry their pun.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Eagles Soar"; "Philly's Finest."

SUPER BOWL XXXVIII (New England 32, Carolina 29)
Issue date: Feb. 9, 2004
Main cover line: "The Hero (Again)."
Featured player: Tom Brady.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? I'll say yes, because it's not like they're going to put Janet Jackson's breast out there. We can't see naked breasts until the next issue.
Cover story: The headline is noteworthy because it's the last SI Super Bowl cover to say something about the game besides "Team A won." The photo shows Brady and his teammates pouring off the bench after Adam Vinatieri kicked the winning field goal ... which wouldn't have been necessary had Vinatieri not missed two kicks earlier in the game ... which is why Brady can indisputably be the "hero" rather than Vinatieri.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Cardiac Cats!" "Pantherrific!"

SUPER BOWL XXXVII (Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21)
Issue date: Feb. 3, 2003
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "It's a Rout!"
Featured player: Joe Jurevicius.
MVP? Not hardly (Dexter Jackson). Iconic image? No.
Cover story: After a game utterly dominated by the Tampa defense, in which the Buccaneers intercepted five passes and returned three of them for touchdowns, SI puts on its cover ... Tampa's No. 3 receiver? One of the ground rules of visual editing is that you lead with your strongest image, and this picture of a pop-eyed Jurevicius giving the stiff-arm to Raiders corner Tory James is certainly catchy. But it ain't the real story.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Return to Excellence"; something with "Baby" in it.

SUPER BOWL XXXVI (New England 20, St. Louis 17)
Issue date: Feb. 11, 2002
Main cover line: "Patriots' Day."
Featured player: Willie McGinest.
MVP? No (Tom Brady). Iconic image? No way.
Cover story: If you were flipping through a stack of magazines looking for the one from the Rams-Patriots Super Bowl, you'd skip right over this cover, because you'd be expecting to see that immortal shot of Adam Vinatieri leaping in the air after nailing the game-winning, 48-yard field goal. The picture on this cover -- of McGinest grinding Kurt Warner's sternum into powder -- is certainly dramatic, but it isn't what we remember.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Oh, years before. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Dynasty!" "Ram Tough!"

SUPER BOWL XXXV (Baltimore 34, N.Y. Giants 7)
Issue date: Feb. 5, 2001
Main cover line: "Baltimore Bullies."
Featured player: Jamie Sharper.
MVP? No (Ray Lewis). Iconic image? It's as good as anything else from the game. Even considering the stretch where the teams scored touchdowns on three consecutive plays, this was still the dullest Super Bowl in recent memory.
Cover story: The sub-headline on the cover reads, "The Ravens' defense beats up the Giants in the Super Bowl." And "defense" is italicized like that, as if it were a surprise that the game played out the way it did. If there was anything surprising about the game it was that the Ravens' oleomargarine-flavored offense put up 20 points. Italicize that, buddy boy. Words aside, the cover is fitting, as it shows Sharper in the act of committing a personal foul on Giants quarterback Kerry Collins.
Could cover line have been written before the game? More or less. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Giant Upset"; "Kerry On My Wayward Son."

SUPER BOWL XXXIV (St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16)
Issue date: Feb. 7, 2000
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "What a Super Bowl!"
Featured player: Kurt Warner.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? No.
Cover story: The art shows Warner throwing a pass over the head of a hard-charging Anthony Dorsett. The picture is just fine, because it matches the sub-headline, "Kurt Warner and the Rams: A Storybook Ending To a Miracle Season." (Go ahead and ask Kurt his thoughts on the "miracle" aspect. It's not a word he throws around this loosely.) The lasting image of the game, however, isn't of the Rams offense. It's of St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones stopping the Titans' Kevin Dyson a yard short at the final gun.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Maybe. Possible cover line if the other team had won: Same.

SUPER BOWL XXXIII (Denver 34, Atlanta 19)
Issue date: Feb. 8, 1999
Main cover line: "Super Bowl."
Featured player: John Elway.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Yes.
Cover story: This cover is full of words, including "How John Elway took control." Elway did take control, and he did lead his team to victory. The perfect headline, actually, would have been "Sweet Redemption," because this game -- not the game against the Packers the year before -- was the one that proved John Elway, rather than the Broncos, can win the Super Bowl. But somebody went and jumped the gun.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Duh. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "How Chris Chandler took control"; "Dirty Birds Soar."

SUPER BOWL XXXII (Denver 31, Green Bay 24)
Issue date: Feb. 2, 1998
Main cover line: "Sweet Redemption." (See?)
Featured player: John Elway.
MVP? You may have forgotten, but definitely not (Terrell Davis). Iconic image? No.
Cover story: Looking at this cover, you realize that long, long before the game, someone decreed that if the Broncos came out on top, the story was going to be Elway Finally Wins the Big One. The problem is, Elway wasn't the one who "won" this game. He had one of his typically crummy Super Bowl outings (12-of-22 for 123 yards, no TDs and one interception) and was just along for the ride as Davis won the game in spite of him. Nevertheless, Elway wound up on the cover -- and it wasn't even the famous shot of him getting spun like a helicopter near the goal line. Meanwhile, the sub-headline on the cover calls this "the best Super Bowl ever." The '90s were a little over-the-top that way.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Packers Do It Again!" "Favre in Charge!"

SUPER BOWL XXXI (Green Bay 35, New England 21)
Issue date: Feb. 3, 1997
Main cover line: "Special Team."
Featured player: Desmond Howard.
MVP? Yup. Iconic image? No.
Cover story: The lasting image of Super Bowl XXXI will always be 16-year-old Brett Favre running around the Superdome turf with his helmet off after throwing a touchdown pass. (Nowadays, that costs you 15 yards.) But Howard was the one who broke the Patriots' spirits, and he deserves the cover. The headline, with its double reference, is a nice one.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Patriots' Day"; "Down Pat."

SUPER BOWL XXX (Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17)
Issue date: Feb. 5, 1996
Super? Fly! Main cover line: "Superboys."
Featured player: Emmitt Smith.
MVP? No (Larry Brown). Iconic image? No, but I can't think of any iconic images from Super Bowl XXX, except maybe Neil O'Donnell walking off the field with his chin strap undone. Or Barry Switzer chewing the scenery. Or that one official who tried to cheer up Bill Cowher as the darkness closed in. Nothing else comes to mind. Funny, isn't it?
Cover story: Previous Super Bowl MVPs Smith and Troy Aikman both had pretty pedestrian games, so the MVP went to cornerback Larry Brown, whose key contribution involved not dropping two O'Donnell passes that hit him square in the chest. In this case, SI ignored the MVP for good reason. But "Superboys"? God, don't get me started ...
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes, but it shouldn't have been. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Thumbs Up," obviously. Hell, that should have been the line in either case. If SI's going to play that game in 2006 for a team that's been waiting a quarter-century for Ring No. 5, it could have done it in 1996 for a team that had been waiting only two years. Instead we get "Superboys," lazy and uninspired. (And I swear I could remember Smith being referred to as "Superman" just a few years earlier.)

SUPER BOWL XXIX (San Francisco 49, San Diego 26)
Issue date: Feb. 6, 1995
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "Victory!"
Featured player: Steve Young.
MVP? No question. Iconic image? Definitely.
Cover story: Come on, now. "Victory"? That's all you can come up with? The photo is perfect: Young, who threw a record six touchdown passes, celebrates on the sidelines as time runs out. A famous NFL Films clip shot at almost the same moment shows Young calling for someone to come over and "get this monkey off my back!" The monkey, of course, was the comparison to Joe Montana, who won four Super Bowls for the 49ers. And who was Super Bowl MVP three times. And who did it against some better competition than Stan Humphries and the Chargers. Just saying.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Any game, in any sport. Possible cover line if the other team had won: Same.

SUPER BOWL XXVIII (Dallas 30, Buffalo 13)
Issue date: Feb. 7, 1994
Two cliches for the price of one Main Cover line: "Superman!"
Featured player: Emmitt Smith.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Oh, why not. Might as well give some propers here, because when you ask people about Bills vs. Cowboys in the Super Bowl, they always remember the first game, not this one.
Cover story: Smith had 132 yards and two touchdowns and deserved MVP honors. He also deserved a better cover line than "Superman!" At least "Superboys" was somewhat team-specific.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Of course. Possible cover line if the other team had won: Same, just substitute a different picture.

SUPER BOWL XXVII (Dallas 52, Buffalo 17)
Issue date: Feb. 8. 1993
Em and 'em Main cover line: "Ride 'Em Cowboy."
Featured player: Troy Aikman.
MVP? Hell yes. Iconic image? No, which is too bad.
Cover story: Aikman picked apart the Buffalo defense, throwing for 273 yards and four touchdowns before being pulled in the fourth quarter. He also had 28 rushing yards, including two scrambles for first downs. All told, it was one of the most dominating QB performances in Super Bowl history -- yet no one seems to remember it. That's because the most enduring image from Super Bowl XXVII is of showboating slob Leon Lett getting caught from behind by Don Beebe before he could reach the end zone. It's devastating that in a game the Cowboys won by five touchdowns, Lett's overstuffed ego swung the spotlight away from his team's accomplishments and shone it instead on the never-say-die Bills. Buffalo lost four straight Super Bowls, including one at the gun, yet this one desperate play became their defining moment. Sorry, Troy. You deserved better.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Not really. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Machine-Gun Kelly"; "Million-Dollar Bills."

SUPER BOWL XXVI (Washington 37, Buffalo 24)
Issue date: Feb. 3, 1992
Em and 'em Main cover line: "Let 'Er Rip."
Featured player: Mark Rypien.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? No.
Cover story: Let 'er rip. Get it? Rypien? Get it? His nickname's Ryp. Get it now? Dumb headline about a game that was forgettable in almost every aspect, except that it was played in Minneapolis. Rypien deserved to be MVP as much as anyone, but let us not forget that for years, Mark Rypien was the quarterback most often cited in this argument: "If (NAME) can win a Super Bowl, then winning the Super Bowl is not the best measure of greatness." Rypien, of course, has since been supplanted by Trent Dilfer.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Machine-Gun Kelly"; "Million-Dollar Bills." Look, they would have used these if given the chance.

SUPER BOWL XXV (N.Y. Giants 20, Buffalo 19)
Issue date: Feb. 4, 1991
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "Bravo!"
Featured player: Everson Walls.
MVP? No (Ottis Anderson). Iconic image? No way.
Cover story: The defining picture, and phrase, of Super Bowl XXV was "Wide Right." But they don't put losing-team kickers on the cover of SI, so we get Walls, who was celebrating in the right manner in the right place at the right time.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: Same. Or "Machine-Gun Kelly" or "Million-Dollar Bills."

SUPER BOWL XXIV (San Francisco 55, Denver 10)
Issue date: Feb. 5, 1990
Main cover line: "Joe Knows Super Bowls."
Featured player: Joe Montana.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Yes.
Cover story: Joe Montana, winner of four Super Bowls and MVP of three, finally makes the cover of the Sports Illustrated Super Bowl issue, though he had to throw five touchdowns to do it. So he and Earl Cooper are equal in at least one respect. In the cover photo, Montana appears to be levitating, which squares with what the battered Broncos probably remember. The line "Joe Knows Super Bowls" is a play on Bo Jackson's "Bo Knows" commercials for Nike. A primer for younger readers: Bo Jackson was a remarkable athlete who played two pro sports, then broke his hip and played no pro sports. Before he got hurt, he appeared in a series of ads in which he played every game under the sun ("Bo knows baseball." "Bo knows football." "Bo knows tennis," and so on). It was a huge sensation that means very little today, but you'll still hear obnoxious people reference it as if it's common currency. Sort of like with baby boomers and, say, Tangerine Dream.
Could cover line have been written before the game? I'll say yes, because everybody and their sister knew well ahead of time that the 49ers were going to slaughter the Broncos and then pee on their dead bodies. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Sweet Redemption!" (I never get tired of that one.)

SUPER BOWL XXIII (San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16)
Issue date: Jan. 30, 1989
Two cliches for the price of one Main cover line: "Super Show!"
Featured player: Jerry Rice.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Yes.
Cover story: Rice had 215 yards receiving against the Bengals, including 51 on the game-winning drive.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: Same.

SUPER BOWL XXII (Washington 42, Denver 10)
Issue date: Feb. 8, 1988
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "Wow!"
Featured player: Doug Williams.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Yes.
Cover story: "Wow"? Williams threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns, led the Redskins to 35 points in the second quarter and smashed the QB color barrier like no man before him. And all they can say is "Wow"? It's a genuine sentiment, but an accomplishment like that really calls for a little more eloquence. Paging Frank Deford! Perhaps I'm being a little too critical. It certainly could have been worse. It could have been "Yippeee!"
Could cover line have been written before the game? Maybe. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: Seeing as it was only John Elway's second Super Bowl loss, it's probably too early for "Sweet Redemption!" Other options: "Mile High!" and "Bucking History!"

SUPER BOWL XXI (N.Y. Giants 39, Denver 20)
Issue date: Feb. 2, 1987
Super? Fly! Main cover line: "Super Star."
Featured player: Phil Simms.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Yes.
Cover story: Simms put together the most efficient performance ever by a Super Bowl quarterback: 22-of-25 for 263 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He didn't throw a single incompletion in the entire second half, and he added a 22-yard scramble just for the hell of it. So, strictly speaking, "Super Star" is an accurate description, but it really shortchanges Simms. Every Super Bowl has a star, so this line could have been written about any player in any game. It's even worse than "Wow!"
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: Same.

SUPER BOWL XX (Chicago 46, New England 10)
Issue date: Feb. 3, 1986
Two cliches for the price of one Main cover line: "Supermen!"
Featured player: Wilber Marshall, Dan Hampton.
MVP? No, and no (Richard Dent). Iconic image? Not really.
Cover story: Another generic cover line. This was the ugliest title game of the Super Bowl era. Not ugly in terms of the quality of play -- it was pretty much a typical mid- to late-1980s-style blowout. No, it was ugly in the way it looked. It was played indoors, for one thing, which gave everything that bleached-out, filmed-in-a-hospital pallor. The Bears were forced to play in their bloodless road uniforms, rather than their fearsome home blues. The Patriots wore those dreadful 1970s candy-striper outfits with the hemorrhoidal Minuteman on the helmet. All things considered, the SI cover is as unpleasant to look at as the game footage. Essentially, it shows Pats QB Tony Eason under a pile of Bears, notably Marshall (58) and Hampton (99). There's nothing especially wrong with the photo -- it at least celebrates the Bears' defense -- but there's nothing particularly right with it either. SI earns points, however, for refusing to put Refrigerator Perry on the cover. Know what would have been cool to see on the cover? Buddy Ryan being carried off the field by the defensive players who considered him, rather than the clownlike Mike Ditka, as their spiritual leader.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Patriots' Day" or "Down Pat," of course.

SUPER BOWL XIX (San Francisco 38, Miami 16)
Issue date: Jan. 28, 1985
Em and 'em Main cover line: "The Niners Nail 'Em."
Featured player: Roger Craig.
MVP? No (Joe Montana). Iconic image? No.
Cover story: Craig had a fine game, so putting him on the cover isn't really a problem -- except that this was the second time Montana had been Super Bowl MVP and the second time SI chose to feature the guy catching the ball rather than the guy throwing the ball. The cover line is just weird, though. It doesn't sound like something you'd come up with before the game. And the sub-headline carries the "nail" metaphor a step further: "Roger Craig Hammers The Dolphins." Kind of odd, but whatever. At least the words more or less reflected the game.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "The Dolphins Nail 'Em (Uwe Von Schamann Hammers The 49ers)."

SUPER BOWL XVIII (L.A. Raiders 38, Washington 9)
Issue date: Jan. 30, 1984
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "Blowout!"
Featured player: Jack Squirek.
MVP? Officially, no (Marcus Allen); but unofficially, maybe. Iconic image? Absolutely.
Cover story: By far, the best Sports Illustrated Super Bowl cover. The photo -- Squirek returning an interception for a touchdown past the forlorn Joe Theismann -- and the cover line pair up to convey the spirit of the game: an ambush and a blowout. Well done.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Redskins Repeat!" "Theis-Mann of the Year!"

SUPER BOWL XVII (Washington 27, Miami 17)
Issue date: Feb. 7, 1983
Main cover line: "Power and Glory."
Featured player: John Riggins.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? And how.
Cover story: Riggins' 166-yard game against the Dolphins was the high point of his Hall of Fame career. The photo SI went with captures the day perfectly: The Diesel churning downfield with half the Miami defense clinging vainly to his legs. The cover line is a little weird at first glance, but it totally grows on you: Riggins and the Redskins definitely rode power to glory. I don't know who the magazine's cover editor was at the time, but he or she did a hell of a job with Super Bowls XVII and XVIII.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Fintastic!" Or something that rhymes with "Cefalo."

SUPER BOWL XVI (San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21)
Issue date: Feb. 1, 1982
Main cover line: "The 49ers Hit Pay Dirt"
Featured player: Earl Cooper
MVP? No (Joe Montana). Iconic image? Not really.
Cover story: This Super Bowl was almost as ugly as Super Bowl XX -- again, not in terms of game play, but in terms of overall appearance. The game was staged in the Pontiac Superdome but looked like it was in an aircraft hangar. One in which the aircraft were running their engines and belching smoke. Montana didn't have a heck of a game, but neither did anyone else on the 49ers, Earl Cooper included, so the QB got the MVP by default. Happens all the time. The SI cover line is just a meaningless cliche. That also happens all the time.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "The Bengals Hit Pay Dirt."

SUPER BOWL XV (Oakland 27, Philadelphia 10)
Issue date: Feb. 2, 1981
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "Oh, What a Feeling!"
Featured player: Rod Martin.
MVP? No (Jim Plunkett), but he could have been. Iconic image? I'm going to say yes, because the only other image that comes to mind is Dick Vermeil coming unglued before, during and after the game. That dude was pretty much born unglued.
Cover story: Linebacker Martin's three interceptions crushed Ron Jaworski's Philadelphia soul. The Raiders dominated the whole game, but it was Martin -- whose picks included one on the opening possession of the game -- who set the tone. Sports Illustrated's cover calls him the game's "hero." I'd call him the MVP, but no one asked me what I thought. They never do.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. In fact, it was Toyota's catchphrase for most of the 1980s. Possible cover line if the other team had won: Same, though the photo would have been of Vermeil weeping softly rather than Martin beaming triumphantly.

SUPER BOWL XIV (Pittsburgh 31, Los Angeles 19)
Issue date: Jan. 28, 1980
Super? Fly! Main cover line: "This One Was Really Super."
Featured player: John Stallworth.
MVP? No (Terry Bradshaw). Iconic image? No.
Cover story: It's not clear why this game was any more "Super" than the Steelers' three previous victories. It was tight through three quarters, but so was Super Bowl X. It ended with a flurry of activity, but so did XIII. Steelers QB Bradshaw threw three picks vs. two touchdowns. Rams QB Vince Ferragamo was kind of a dud. Nobody on either side had much of a rushing day. At least Stallworth had 121 yards receiving, including the 73-yard go-ahead touchdown, so he might as well be on the cover. Hell, he should have been the MVP.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: Same. Look, they were going to use this cover line regardless of what happened.

SUPER BOWL XIII (Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31)
Issue date: Jan. 29, 1979
Super? Fly! Main cover line: "Super Steelers."
Featured player: Rocky Bleier.
MVP? No (Terry Bradshaw). Iconic image? No.
Cover story: Bleier is a hero, in more ways than one, but don't ask me what he's doing on the cover here. Against the Cowboys, he had just two rushes for a total of 3 yards and one catch for a 7-yard touchdown. That TD came in the second quarter, and although it was a heck of a catch and although it did, as the cover says, put the Steelers "ahead to stay," the game was anything but over at that point. Indeed, Dallas' furious but ultimately failed fourth-quarter comeback made this one of the most exciting Super Bowls from start to finish. Bleier's greatest play, actually, may have been recovering the Cowboys' last onside kick, sealing the game with less than a minute to play. The signature moment? It has to be Dallas tight end Jackie Smith flopping around in self-loathing after dropping Roger Staubach's perfect pass in the end zone. The 4-point difference between that missed touchdown and the field goal the Cowboys settled for on the drive ended up as the margin of defeat.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Super Cowboys."

SUPER BOWL XII (Dallas 27, Denver 10)
Issue date: Jan. 23, 1978
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "Yippeee!"
Featured player: Randy White, Harvey Martin.
MVP? Yes, and yes. Iconic image? No.
Cover story: The only co-MVPs in Super Bowl history, White and Martin certainly deserved to appear on the cover. Evidence: They led a Dallas defense that forced eight Denver turnovers. They kept so much pressure on Broncos quarterback Craig Morton -- a former Cowboy and the only QB to lose Super Bowls for two different teams -- that he completed as many passes to the Dallas defense (four) as to his own receivers. And they didn't snort cocaine on the field, as their colorful teammate Hollywood Henderson would later do. Now, it would have been nice to see an action shot of the Dallas D, but the celebration photo SI used was just fine. What leaves a lot to be desired, however, is the cover line: "Yippeee!" There's so much wrong with it. Such as: Since when are there three Es in the word? There's more, but why bother?
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Yippeee!" Every Super Bowl cover should have a "Yippeee!" on it somewhere. And you almost want to offer up "Sweet Redemption."

SUPER BOWL XI (Oakland 32, Minnesota 14)
Issue date: Jan. 17, 1977
Em and 'em Main cover line: "Oakland Bowls 'Em Over."
Featured player: Ken Stabler.
MVP? No (Fred Biletnikoff). Iconic image? No.
Cover story: With nothing in particular to say about the game, SI reaches into its sack of ready-written cover lines. This was the first football game I ever watched, so I just naturally assumed that the Vikings were in the Super Bowl every year. Twenty-nine years later, and I'm still waiting for the next shot. There are a few moments from this game that linger in the collective memory. Biletnikoff, covered in mucus, hauling in a 48-yard pass at the Minnesota 2 yard line. Willie Brown returning an interception 75 yards to ice the game. Fran Tarkenton getting slapped around by Raider defenders. What I don't really think about is Stabler standing in the pocket. But maybe now I will. The Vikings finally scored more than 7 points in a Super Bowl, so for them it was a moral victory.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Minnesota Bowls 'Em Over."

SUPER BOWL X (Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17)
Issue date: Jan. 16, 1976
Main cover line: "Pittsburgh Does It Again."
Featured player: Lynn Swann.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Yes.
Cover story: The photo shows one of Swann's most famous catches, a sprawling grab over a supine Cowboy. Swann caught only four balls all game -- but then again, Terry Bradshaw completed only nine passes all game. Those four catches, however, went for 12, 32, 53 and 64 yards, adding up to 161 of Pittsburgh's 209 passing yards. Give him the MVP and the cover, I say. But can't we come up with a better sub-headline? "Lynn Swann Shows the Way" sounds awfully, awfully familiar.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No, but it probably didn't take a lot of effort on deadline. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Ride 'Em, Cowboys" comes to mind ...

SUPER BOWL IX (Pittsburgh 16, Minnesota 6)
Issue date: Jan. 20, 1975
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "The Steelers!"
Featured player: Terry Bradshaw
MVP? No (Franco Harris). Iconic image? No.
Cover story: In Super Bowl IX, it was the Steelers' turn to use the Vikings like toilet paper. No skill player on either team played particularly well except Harris, who had 158 yards rushing. So naturally the cover featured future spelling bee champion Terry Bradshaw (9-of-14 for 96 yards) and the sub-head "Bradshaw shows the way." I'm sure Harris appreciated the guidance.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "The Vikings!"

SUPER BOWL VIII (Miami 24, Minnesota 7)
Issue date: Jan. 21, 1974
Shout! Shout! Let it all out! Main cover line: "Zonk!"
Featured player: Larry Csonka.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Damn straight.
Cover story: Csonka went hog-wild on the Vikings for 165 yards and two touchdowns. The boys at SI weren't exaggerating when they wrote the sub-head "Miami Massacres Minnesota." Trivia: Csonka wouldn't return to the cover of the magazine until a year later, when he would pose in an empty stadium as a member of the WFL Memphis Southmen. (It was a photo that deliberately mocked his own glory days in Miami.)
Could cover line have been written before the game? You really wish they would have run with "Zonk!" regardless of who won -- or who even played -- but in the end, no. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Tarkenton!" just doesn't have the same ring. Maybe "Marinaro!" (or "Ed!").

SUPER BOWL VII (Miami 14, Washington 7)
Issue date: Jan. 22, 1973
Main cover line: "Miami All the Way."
Featured player: Bob Griese.
MVP? No (Jake Scott). Iconic image? It should have been, but it wasn't.
Cover story: This is a nice cover line, as it sums up both the Dolphins' unbeaten season, plus the way they never trailed Washington's Over the Hill Gang in the Super Bowl. As always seems to be the case, the signature image not only from the game but from Miami's entire 17-0 season was a total lowlight: kicker Garo Yepremian's botched pass/fumble/burlesque act after a blocked field goal. Imagine if that had cost them the game. It might have snuffed out the 1972 Dolphins' (alleged) annual champagne celebrations before they even started. Too bad.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Over the Hill to the Mountaintop."

SUPER BOWL VI (Dallas 24, Miami 3)
Issue date: Jan. 24, 1972
Super? Fly! Main cover line: "Super Day for Dallas."
Featured player: Duane Thomas.
MVP? No (Roger Staubach). Iconic image? Yes.
Cover story: This is a fair way to split the honors, I think. Staubach had a good day, though hardly phenomenal: 12-of-19 for 119 yards and two TDs. Running back Thomas also had a good day, though hardly phenomenal: 19 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown, plus three catches for 17 yards. In situations like that, they always give the hardware to the quarterback. Thomas, meanwhile, got to appear on the cover of SI in a total Heisman Trophy pose, with a suitably Age-of-Aquarius sub-headline: "The Sphinx They Couldn't Stop." (Thomas was famous for reticence in the press. Beats me how that translates into the nickname "The Sphinx." I thought the Sphinx spoke in riddles.)
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Super Day for Miami."

SUPER BOWL V (Baltimore 16, Dallas 13)
Issue date: Jan. 25, 1971
Main cover line: "Baltimore Wins the Blunder Bowl."
Featured player: Jim O'Brien.
MVP? Well, no (Chuck Howley), but don't blame him. Iconic image? Yes(?)
Cover story: I have so much respect for this cover. Sports Illustrated would never run something like this today, because SI doesn't want a Super Bowl cover that reflects reality. It wants one that it can use as a commemorative poster to goose subscriptions. (Remember when Time would use its Man of the Year issue to identify the individual who had the greatest impact on the past year, rather than try to pick the most popular, feel-good figure? It's the same sort of thing.) The Colts and Cowboys combined for 11 turnovers in a game so dreadful that a guy from the losing team was chosen MVP. Still, Super Bowl V had quite a memorable ending, as O'Brien (featured, but barely visible, on the cover) kicked a field goal as time ran out. It'd be 30 years before that happened again.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Dallas Wins the Blunder Bowl."

SUPER BOWL IV (Kansas City 23, Minnesota 7)
Issue date: Jan. 19, 1970
Super? Fly! Main cover line: "Len Dawson Engineers Superchief Upset."
Featured player: Len Dawson.
MVP? Obviously. Iconic image? No.
Cover story: A rather bizarre turn of phrase ("Superchief Upset"?) accompanies a stock photo of Dawson crouched over center. Super Bowl IV, the last before the AFL-NFL merger became official, may have been just as big an upset as the Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl III. But because Dawson was an all-American boy playing in the Heartland rather a degenerate hippie drinking his way across Manhattan, no one seemed to care. What do we remember from this game? Hank Stram urging "Lenny" to keep matriculating the ball down the field.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Viking Conquest"; "Vikes Pop a Kapp in Their Ass."

SUPER BOWL III (N.Y. Jets 16, Baltimore 7)
Issue date: Jan. 20, 1969
Super? Fly! Main cover line: "Super Hero Super Joe"
Featured player: Joe Namath.
MVP? Yes. Iconic image? Oh, good Lord, no.
Cover story: Have you heard the one about Joe Namath predicting that the Jets would beat the heavily favored Colts in the Super Bowl? Unfortunately, he was right, and thus was born one of the truly great non-stories in NFL history. In Namath hagiography, the prediction was the act of a brash rebel. In the world where the rest of us live, it was the act of a cheeky underdog who didn't have anything to lose. Underdogs are always predicting victory; it's just that no one remembers when they're wrong. That said, Namath had a decent game and probably deserved the MVP. The signature moment of the game was Broadway Joe jogging off the field afterward with his index finger in the air. SI, however, went with a picture of Namath drinking out of a squeeze bottle.
Could cover line have been written before the game? No. Possible cover lines if the other team had won: "Morrall of the Story." "Unitas We Stand." Preferably both.

SUPER BOWL II (Green Bay 33, Oakland 14)
Issue date: Jan. 22, 1968
Super? Fly! Main cover line: "The Super Champion."
Featured player: Vince Lombardi.
MVP? No; not even eligible (Bart Starr). Iconic image? Sure.
Cover story: What's the lasting image of Super Bowl II? I guess it has to be Lombardi being carried off after his last game as coach of the Packers, because damned if I can recall anything about the game. Super Bowl II: The Buzz Aldrin of Super Bowls.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: Same.

SUPER BOWL I (Green Bay 35, Kansas City 10)
Issue date: Jan. 23, 1967
Main cover line: "Green Bay on Top of the World."
Featured player: Max McGee.
MVP? No (Bart Starr). Iconic image? In a way.
Cover story: Green Bay receiver McGee is seen chugging downfield, his chiseled physique a-jiggle. If he looks like he's on the verge of either vomiting or passing out, it's because he was sharing his helmet with one of history's greatest hangovers. McGee hadn't expected to play, so he'd been out partying until the wee, wee hours the night before. However, he had to go in as an injury replacement, and the rest is 80-proof history.
Could cover line have been written before the game? Yes. Possible cover line if the other team had won: "Len Dawson Engineers Superchief Upset."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Super Bowl XL Play-by-Playlooza

It didn't go down smooth, and it caused a headache. I watched the Super Bowl. You watched the Super Bowl. Did you see what I saw? Considering the fuss over whether Ben Roethlisberger actually broke the plane, or whether Darrell Jackson really interfered, or whether Jerramy Stevens fumbled, I'm not sure any two people saw the same game. It's like Rashomon, for God's sake. Since the final gun sounded and the Steelers began taking turns kissing the Lombardi Trophy (without wiping it down in between, I notice), we've been going over the game footage. Every play, every ad, every in-game promo, every content-free sideline report has been evaluated for our annual Super Bowl Play-by Playlooza. Enjoy:

PAST SUPER BOWL MVPs: The parade of MVPs was a neat idea, though it wouldn't have been possible had the Patriots won the AFC title. (And suddenly I understand the Asante Samuel interference call ... ) Deion Branch, unaware they'd be doing this thing in reverse order, was surprised that they pushed him out there first. Tom Brady was booed lustily by the pro-Pittsburgh crowd even though he was nice enough to leave his necklace of Steeler ears at home. Kurt Warner looks like he can barely walk. In fact, most of the "younger" quarterbacks seemed to have trouble: John Elway and Steve Young were stiff, Troy Aikman appeared to hobble, and Phil Simms sort of waddled out of the tunnel. Those guys are still on their original knees, though. Joe Namath had his swapped out years ago and was bouncing along just fine as he scanned the crowd for Suzy Kolber, while Roger Staubach glided like he was on wheels. Surprisingly, the running backs seemed much better off, particularly Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen and John Riggins, who came dressed as a European playwright. Ray Lewis looked like a pimp in the very best sense of the word, and Jerry Rice looked like a pimp in the very worst sense of the word. Desmond Howard looked like he was just happy to be there. Ottis Anderson, Randy White, Chuck Howley and Len Dawson did not. Larry Brown, who helped kill the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, was booed, too, but probably would have been regardless of who was in the stands. Lynn Swann came out with the politician smoothness that got him into the Hall of Fame while Al Toon got left out, and will make him the next governor of Pennsylvania. Franco Harris, Doug Williams and Bart Starr are just awesome and always will be. There were a few others, but who cares, really.

TEAM INTRODUCTIONS: If there was any doubt that this was a Steelers home game, it was erased by the reception given the Seahawks. No team should ever have to take the field at the Super Bowl to a chorus of boos. The game's supposed to be at a neutral site, and even if the crowd is slanted one way or the other, they could at least show some appreciation for the accomplishments of both teams in getting there. That was bush.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Ford Field sits about a mile from the U.S.-Canada border, which may explain why the three performers gave us three different songs, sung simultaneously. With Aaron Neville, Aretha Franklin and Dr. John all attacking from different directions, the poor Star-Spangled Banner doesn't stand a chance.

COIN TOSS: A beaming referee Bill Leavy welcomes the team captains and the rest of America to Super Bowl XL, the first and last Super Bowl that Bill Leavy will referee. Tom Brady gets another enormous boo, though this time it's for his outfit, which is just a few neck chains short of the full Monero. Yep, that's velvet all right. With the actual flipping of the coin taken out of the officiating crew's hands, Seattle wins the toss and elects to receive. Matt Hasselbeck makes no bold assertions about what he's "gonna" do with the ball. After a final commercial for Blockbuster Video -- wait, Blockbuster is still around? -- we're ready to go!

KICKOFF 15:00Before the game can even start, Captain Buzzkill Al Michaels calls out Seattle's Josh Scobey for fumbling the first kickoff of the year, in Jacksonville in Week 1. Scobey doesn't fumble this one. Heh.
1-10-SEA1814:557-yard pass.
2-3-SEA25 14:295-yard pass.
1-10-SEA3014:178-yard run.
2-2-SEA38 13:478-yard pass.
1-10-SEA4613:281-yard run by Shaun Alexander. If Mike Holmgren is smart -- and I read a magazine article that says he is -- he'll assign someone to lock up Troy Polamalu on every play and force Anybody-But-Troy to stop the Seattle offense. On this play, Walter Jones and Jerramy Stevens both go looking for Polamalu and keep him away from Alexander. Polamalu has become the best safety in the league, but there will come a time when an opponent builds a game plan based on drawing him into traps and exploiting his free-ranging ways. Today won't be that day, though.
2-9-SEA47 12:44Darrell Jackson is wide open but, alas, only 6 feet tall. Hasselbeck's first incompletion sails high.
3-9-SEA47 12:40Clark Haggans sacks Hasselbeck for a 4 yard loss.
4-13-SEA4312:19Tom Rouen comes in for his first punt and just booms it. Goes 80 yards on the fly, easily. Right into the end zone.
AD!AD!Bud Light: Cartoon violence in an office setting. Neither funny nor clever.
AD!AD!Burger King: A Busby Berkeley homage to the Whopper. I like hamburgers, but this makes me less inclined to eat them. At all. Cost: $2.5 million, plus production expenses. I'm sure the shareholders are thrilled.

1-10-PIT2012:09False start, Heath Miller. These refs, it's like they're throwing the flag on Pittsburgh every damn play.
1-15-PIT1512:09For the first time since the wildcard round, the supposedly run-first Steelers run first ... and Willie Parker is stuffed. A graphic tells us that Ben Roethlisberger is just the second QB to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl. No disrespect to Big Ben, because no one played a bigger role in getting the Steelers to Detroit, but the graphic could just as easily have said "Jeff Reed is only the second kicker to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl," because only one other team had won three road games to get to the Super Bowl. Regardless, the graphic doesn't bother to tell us who was the first (1985 New England Patriots; QB Tony Eason; K Tony Franklin).
2-15-PIT1511:351-yard pass.
3-14-PIT1610:47False start. This is supposed to be a Pittsburgh crowd, but it's making so much noise that first Miller jumped, and now Matt Starks. Steeler Nation has invaded Detroit, but it sent the doughy reserves rather than the elite troops.
3-19-PIT1110:32ABC cameras wander into the crowd for our first look at Jerome Bettis' parents. But why are they wearing Lofa Tatupu jerseys? Down on the field, Roethlisberger scrambles for 10. Tatupu makes Mrs. Bettis proud by laying a nice lick on him.
4-9-PIT21 9:49 Chris Gardocki punts. Peter Warrick loses 2 yards on the return. And holy cow, Peter Warrick is playing in the Super Bowl.
AD! AD!Sierra Mist: Kathy Griffin and a chubby Boomer Esiason stand-in play TSA screeners confiscating counterfeit 7-Up. A cavity search is hinted at. Overall, it's OK.
AD! AD!Bud Light: A guy with that slacker hair you only see in commercials has a secret beer fridge. It's just the first ad, and I'm already tired of the gag.
AD! AD!16 Blocks: Bruce Willis looks like William H. Macy in this movie, but he still shoots people. Mos Def and David Morse are in it, too. Lookin' good!
AD! AD!Stay tuned for the Rolling Stones. Only another hour and change to go.

1-10-SEA369:39We return from commercial to a tight shot of a black ball sack. John Madden explains that in the Super Bowl, it's hard to hold onto your balls because they're so slick. He says he heard this from Matt Hasselbeck. On the field, Mack Strong gains no yards, but any play in which you get hit by Kimo von Oelhoffen and don't have to be driven off on a cart is a good play.
2-10-SEA369:049-yard scramble.
3-1-SEA45 8:2810-yard pass. Jackson is looking mighty sweet.
1-10-PIT457:46Pass to Alexander appears incomplete, but the officials call it a completion, which makes it a 2-yard loss. There's no way to know for sure. ABC blew its tape budget on Emily's Reasons Why Not, so it isn't doing replays tonight.
2-12-PIT477:086-yard pass. Madden says Hasselbeck is 6-foot-4, and "you don't think of those guys as scramblers." Daunte Culpepper is 6-4. So is Aaron Brooks. Randall Cunningham, too. Vince Young is 6-5. What do you mean when you say "those guys," John? Ah, I'm just funnin' ya.
3-6-PIT41 6:2418-yard pass called back by a holding call on Seattle guard Chris Gray. The replay -- hey, a replay! -- confirms that it's definitely a hold and that the hold directly affected the play.
3-16-SEA495:53Downfield pass nearly picked off by Ike Taylor.
4-16-SEA495:48Al Michaels reminds us that Tom Rouen's wife is six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken. Then Rouen kicks it into the end zone again. Dude is just banging the crap out of the ball. You almost hate to tell him that that isn't necessarily the aim.
AD! AD!Toyota Camry: Wooden dad and adorable young son talk about hybrid cars in both English and dubbed-over Spanish. Cute spot that even the English-only crowd can get behind, but if that kid is really that guy's son, I'll eat my hat.
AD! AD!FedEx: Expensive dinosaur special effects for their own sake. Mildly amusing the first time, it will be less so with each airing.
AD! AD!Bud Light. More slacker hair, this time in the forest. I was hating where this one was going -- until the guy left his friend behind to get killed by the bear. Thumbs-up to that.

1-10-PIT205:39We come back from commercial with another Rolling Stones promo. Look, some people are going to switch over to the Lingerie Bowl, and there's nothing you can do about it, OK? Let it go. This is followed by a nice replay of Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck sucker-punching Kimo von Oelhoffen. A cheer rises up from Carson Palmer's house. On the field, Willie Parker is stuffed for no gain.
2-10-PIT205:026-yard run. The Seattle defense introduces itself. I used to like when the guys just said their names and where they went to college. Now everybody has to name-check their old neighborhood, hometown or grade school. Next year: Each player gives a shout-out to the gated community where he lives.
3-4-PIT26 4:20Incomplete pass.
4-4-PIT26 4:14Punt. Warrick gets 12 yards on the return and proves Cincinnati dead wrong, man.
AD! AD!V for Vendetta: This ad starts out looking so much like the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial, I nearly missed that it's a movie. There's a guy wearing a mask that, oddly, makes him look like a Johnny Depp character.
AD! AD!Diet Pepsi: Jay Mohr and Diddy, two of my favorite people. The tune Diddy comes up with is catchy, but the title, "Brown and Bubbly," is disgusting. I know Diet Pepsi is brown and bubbly, but for God's sake, don't say it.
AD!AD!Jimmy Kimmel Live. No thanks. Good Morning America interviews the van der Sloots. Really, no thanks.
AD!AD!In-game promo: Troy Polamalu tells the Lombardi Trophy what he'd do with it if he could just get it alone for an hour.

1-10-SEA49 4:014-yard run.
2-6-PIT47 3:2220-yard pass.
1-10-PIT27 2:4811-yard pass.
1-10-PIT16 2:08Oh boy, here we go. A 16-yard pass to Jackson appears to be a touchdown but is erased by a penalty. In the past week, America has gone Zapruder over Super Bowl XL, and this play is just the first few grainy frames ... like, the part where the guy waves the umbrella up and down. The replay appears to show Steelers safety Chris Hope grabbing Darrell Jackson as the Seattle wideout comes across the goal line, then trying to grab him again in the end zone. Jackson appears to shove Hope's arms -- and, thus, Hope -- away. Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Back judge Bob Waggoner waits. Hope starts bouncing. Waggoner hesitates. Hope starts stomping. And the flag comes out. Back, and to the left. Steeler fans suddenly acknowledge that they didn't really believe Joey Porter's lunatic ravings about conspiracy, and Paul Tagliabue reaches for the aspirin.
1-20-PIT26 2:001-yard run.
2-19-PIT25 1:184-yard loss.
3-23-PIT29 0:35Hasselbeck hangs the ball in end-zone airspace too long. D.J. Hackett mistimes his leap and can't come down with it.
4-23-PIT29 0:27Josh Brown, 47-yard field goal. Plenty of leg. I bet he could hit 'em all day: 47-yarders, 50-yarders, even 54-yarders!
AD! AD!Aleve: Leonard Nimoy has a complicated relationship with the Spock role, the Trekkers and everything that surrounds them, I'm sure. So I'm glad to see that if the money's right, he's not averse to throwing a bone to Star Trek nation, so long as he gets to aim for the head. I liked it.
AD! AD!Ameriquest: A mother and daughter are led to think a doctor has killed Daddy. It's supposed to be funny, but it's just sad. What this has to do with home mortgages, I have no idea.
AD! AD!Bud Light: Guys are drinking on the roof. The one guy who doesn't lie to his wife and drink beer ends up getting hurt. Haw haw. That's worth $2.5 million right there.
AD!AD!Lost: Seems like a waste of a golden opportunity to promo a hit show during the Super Bowl when you could be trying to pump up the ratings for something that really needs the help. (Emily's Reasons Why Not!)

KICKOFF 0:22Josh Brown kicks it into the end zone, which you're supposed to do on kickoffs, and Ricardo Colclough takes it out to the 20. After the kick, Michele Tafoya tells us that Mike Logan is hurt. Who? The guy who would be playing safety if Troy Polamalu were hurt, which he isn't. This is the best they can do? Melissa Stark would have Ken Whisenhunt tacked to the wall by now, and Suzy Kolber would at least have Richard Todd proposing marriage.
1-10-PIT20 0:17Steelers' possession opens with another incomplete pass.
2-10-PIT20 0:09A long pass to Hines Ward is broken up nicely by Seattle DB Jordan Babineaux. Lo 'n behold, another flag sails in -- possibly from the back (and to the left) judge. The officials huddle and declare that there was in fact no helmet-to-helmet hit on the play, as alleged by the flag-thrower. This is both heartening and alarming. Heartening because the crew got together to make sure they got it right. Alarming because one of those stripey guys was so certain he saw something that didn't actually happen that he threw his penalty marker.
3-10-PIT20 0:06An incomplete pass ends the first quarter without a single Pittsburgh first down, yet the Steelers are down only 3-0.
AD! AD!Diet Pepsi: Jay Mohr and Jackie Chan. Having Diet Coke stand in as Diet Pepsi's stunt double is funny, but isn't that saying that Diet Pepsi is a coward? That, faced with danger, Diet Pepsi goes brown and bubbly in its pants?
AD! AD!Cars: I already saw this film. It was called Every Pixar Movie Made in the Last Decade. Scrappy underdog who dreams big. Blah blah blah.
AD!AD!Dancing With the Stars. Eleven months after "wardrobe malfunction" jokes became totally played out, ABC is making them during the Super Bowl. Maybe this means they'll let the Rolling Stones say "cock"!
AD! AD!Acura: A generic couple drives its huge SUV through a lovely stretch of countryside. As the vehicle passes, it turns the pastoral landscape into a filthy concrete jungle. More ad agency brilliance. Next time, try to come up with something that doesn't make the client product look bad.
4-10-PIT20 15:00Punt. Warrick rips off a 34-yard return, but it's called back on a holding penalty. Interestingly, the crowd boos the flag. ABC, of course, shows the wrong replay: Etric Pruitt wasn't flagged for holding the gunner at the line; he was flagged for allegedly holding Tyrone Carter downfield, during the return. I still can't see the hold downfield (perhaps Michele Tafoya had that camera tied up). In the wider shot, the contact looks minimal, and Carter doesn't start hopping around and pointing until after the flag is thrown.

1-10-SEA2514:445-yard run. In her first sideline report of the game, Chevrolet Employee of the Month Suzy Kolber hatches an exclusive: Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and his quarterbacks coach, Jim Zorn, have discussed how he should play quarterback against the Pittsburgh Steelers. "I've watched Matt between series," Kolber says (I'm telling Broadway Joe!). And what did she see? Hasselbeck and Zorn have been "analyzing plays." I love it when we go behind the scenes.
2-5-SEA30 14:15Kolber wraps up her report by oomphing that Hasselbeck is ready to "attack" the Steeler defense. He promptly throws a pass over Bobby Engram's head. John Madden jumps in and tells us that he's never seen "a quarterback, in a Super Bowl, as cool as these two guys (Roethlisberger and Hasselbeck)." Ken Stabler just kicked a shoe at the TV.
3-5-SEA30 14:11Cool-Hand Matt hits Joe Jurevicius for 15 yards.
1-10-SEA4513:423-yard run.
2-7-SEA48 13:095-yard run takes the ball into Pittsburgh territory.
3-2-PIT47 12:29Hasselbeck throws a perfect pass to Jerramy Stevens, the Official Straw Man of Super Bowl XL, and he drops it. If anyone could find Joey Porter, I bet he's saying: You don't catch the ball with your mouth, son. The pass is ruled incomplete, but the replay certainly looks like it was a catch and fumble. After the game, Steeler fans will point to this play as evidence that Seattle got its share of breaks from the officials. It's an iffy argument at best. After Stevens loses the handle, the ball rolls out of bounds; if it had been a fumble out of bounds, Seattle would have had first down at the Steelers' 25 rather than fourth-and-2 near midfield. True, Steelers linebacker James Farrior might have been able to get to the ball if he hadn't pulled up at the whistle. But if he had recovered it, Pittsburgh probably would have had possession at about the 15 yard line. As we'll see, it's better for the Steelers that Farrior doesn't recover.
4-2-PIT47 12:22Fourth-and-2 on the opponents' side of the field. You have Shaun Alexander, the league MVP and an excellent short-yardage back, on your sidelines. Go for it or punt? Bill Belichick would go for it. Hell, Steve Spurrier went for it all the time, and usually made it. Mike Holmgren instead sends in Touchback Tom Rouen and his 10-megaton leg. For once, Rouen drops a punt inside the 5. Josh Scobey watches it hit at the 1, then loses track of the ball. Touchback. Now would be the perfect time for Michaels to run his mouth about Scobey, but he shot that wad before the game had even kicked off.
AD! AD!Budweiser: The horses are playing football again, and this time all the other animals are watching. A bald-ass shorn sheep runs across the playing field. For those too thick to get the joke, a cowboy points out that the sheep is streaking. It's kind of funny and rather cute, but Bud goes and ruins it with CGI-animated critters acting like people. Too much. Too bad.
AD! AD!ESPN Mobile: This jock-packed ad cost a fortune to make, and it looks great, but it suffers from the same disconnect seen in most ads for these kinds of tech toys. Namely, if you're the sort of person who can't bear to be away from TV or Internet sports for more than an hour at a time, you don't need an ESPN-enabled phone, because you never leave the house. You also aren't a normal-looking person like they show in the ad. You're pasty and 600 pounds because you spend every waking moment on your ass, staring at your TV, computer or TV/computer phone. (Deadspin tells you what to expect from ESPN Mobile.) Best thing going for this ad? Torii Hunter.
AD! AD!Grey's Anatomy: Coming up right after the Super Bowl! My wife loves this show.

1-10-PIT2012:13Returning from commercial, we're treated to another graphic, this one saying Pittsburgh is the first team to fail to make a first down in the first quarter of the Super Bowl since the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Reading from the Book of Conventional Wisdom, Al Michaels credits "that dominant Chicago D" for shutting down the Patriots from the get-go. What really killed New England in the first quarter, however, wasn't the Bear defenders; it was the Patriot receivers, who kept dropping Tony Eason's passes in the red zone. But that's neither here nor there. If I were Roethlisberger, I'd find all these comparisons to Eason a little unsettling. On the field, OH MY GOD, Jerome Bettis is in the game for the first time! Where are his parents? SHOW ME THE PARENTS! Roethlisberger gets flushed out of the pocket. Pass incomplete.
2-10-PIT2012:07Michaels runs down the Jerome Bettis saga for those who missed the pregame show. Or any show on ESPN since late December. "It's a great story," he says, one that we can all recite by memory. One that has probably been written into the new Iraqi constitution by now. One that I wouldn't mind never hearing again ... and I absolutely love the guy. "Will he or won't he retire, is the question," Michaels says. (Foreshadowing!) Still no shot of the parents! Bettis gets the ball for a 2-yard gain. Where are the parents? Don't they love him anymore?
3-8-PIT22 11:258-yard pass. With the game nearly one-third over, Pittsburgh has a first down. Be gone, ghost of Tony Eason!
1-10-PIT3010:4418-yard end-around by Hines Ward. Madden calls this a "gadget play," which it isn't, though from the way the Seahawks are caught with their pants around their ankles, you'd think it was. At this point in the season, how can a Hines Ward end-around catch anyone by surprise? Marquand Manuel gets hurt on the tackle, and we have an injury timeout.
AD! AD!CareerBuilder.com: Monkeys in people clothes are always funny. But it's time for ad agencies to replenish their stock of ironic par-tay songs. Cum on Feel the Noize is close to 25 years old; whole swaths of the population don't get the joke. All that aside ... monkeys in people clothes! Ha!
AD! AD!Cadillac: There's a new Escalade. So what. Can it destroy countryside like the Acura?
AD! AD!United Way: I doubt NFL players wear their jerseys in public, much less wear them when doing charity work.
AD! AD!Did you hear the Stones are playing at halftime?
1-10-PIT4810:19Madden says the end-around could change the momentum of the game. Then Roethlisberger hangs a big fat pass for Michael Boulware to intercept.
AD! AD!Mission: Impossible III: I don't want to get sued, so I'll just move along.
AD! AD!The Dove Self-Esteem Fund: The triumph of counterprogramming. Dopes who have been sitting on the couch watching ads with rail-thin models all football season are forced to think about the effect on their own daughters. Pedestrian execution, but a great idea.
AD! AD!The Evidence: As a credulous Forensic Files addict, I want to watch this show. No, I need to watch this show.

1-10-SEA1710:093-yard pass.
2-7-SEA20 9:324-yard run. Oh, there's Joey Porter, getting his first tackle, and it's sort of a gift, as Shaun Alexander ran into traffic. If Jerramy Stevens had the nerve to show his face after dropping that third-and-2, I bet he'd be saying: You can't bring the ballcarrier down with your mouth, son.
3-3-SEA24 8:472-yard pass. Having scotched the Steelers' best drive to date, the Seahawks fail to matriculate.
4-1-SEA26 8:27Tom Rouen doesn't punt it into the end zone, but it's not like he didn't want to. On the return, Antwaan Randle El goes airborne and gets folded over backwards in the most painful-looking hit I've seen in a while. It's grisly, as if they moved his waist up to the middle of his back, then bent him in half there. Randle El's down on the ground kicking his legs in pain, but he should be glad he can move them at all.
AD! AD!The Shaggy Dog: What's less amusing than watching Tim Allen act like a dog? Listening to Chris Berman do "play by play" of Tim Allen acting like a dog. A movie this recognizably stupid has to be geared toward only the smallest of children, right? Guess not, because it's rated PG. They must have left in the scene where the dog eats his own feces.
AD! AD!Ford Escape Hybrid: Kermit the Frog sings It's Not Easy Being Green to emphasize the environmental benefits of a gas-electric hybrid. Doesn't Ford know that in 2006 drivers want an SUV that turns pasture land into parking lots? Acura does.
AD! AD!Michelob Amber Ultra: Flipping the script on inane light-beer ads, a playful touch-football game turns bone-crushingly violent. This is the best ad yet. The only thing that weakens it is that the girl gets payback at the end. I understand why they have to do that, but it takes the edge off.
AD! AD!Desperate Housewives: Shaq sinks a free throw, then says he loves the show. Yeah, right. Everyone knows Shaq can't make free throws.
AD! AD!In-game promo: "It's a pillar of strength," Roethlisberger says. "When you see it, everybody knows what it means." We're supposed to think he's talking about that trophy. But we know better.

1-10-PIT418:151-yard run.
2-9-PIT42 7:373-yard run.
3-6-PIT45 6:59Whoa. Here's something now: a 12-yard shovel pass on a busted play. Nice.
1-10-SEA436:151-yard run.
2-9-SEA42 5:3620-yard pass to Cedrick Wilson on a seam route. Double nice.
1-10-SEA224:53Roethlisberger puts it right in Ward's hands in the end zone, and Ward drops it. Not so nice.
2-10-SEA224:475-yard pass to Jerome Bettis. It's not Bettis' first play of the game, but it seems to be the first time the crowd notices he's on the field because they cheer him like he's Buzz Aldrin just back from the moon. Too bad, because the gain is wiped out by the last penalty that will be called on Pittsburgh tonight: offensive pass interference on troublemaker Heath Miller. For no real reason, Michaels and Madden launch into a story about what a great referee Bill Leavy was at the high school level. Mike Holmgren has a part in this story, too, but it's hard to follow, and I don't think anyone cares. Least of all me.
2-20-SEA324:21Grant Wistrom sacks Roethlisberger for a loss of 8.
3-28-SEA403:58Big Ben's best play of the game. His only "big" play of the game, really, but it comes when it matters. Flushed to the left, Roethlisberger does an all-pro job of buying time and guiding traffic. He tightropes the line of scrimmage before sailing a rainbow to Hines Ward on the 3 yard line. Thirty-seven yards on third-and-28? Triple nice. Everyone is talking about Roethlisberger's poise on this play -- and he did a great, great job escaping the pressure -- but if Michael Boulware just tries to break up the pass, rather than going for the interception, Ward doesn't make the catch, and we have a 3-3 game. Time out on the field.
AD! AD!GoDaddy.com: For those of you who have now sat through two years' worth of this company's Super Bowl ads and have no idea what it does, GoDaddy.com is a domain name registrar. At GoDaddy.com, it must still be Y2K, because they just spent $2.5 million to show us a woman whose breasts are threatening to come out of her top. (This is another "wardrobe malfunction" joke, by the way.) They call her the "GoDaddy.com Girl," as if anybody knows or cares. She's better looking than the Pets.com sock puppet, but not as effective. What a waste.
1-3-SEA3 3:09So here we are on the 3 yard line. Fuel up The Bus! Because this is where The Bus gets rolling! And no one wants to get run down by The Bus! Or get caught under the wheels of The Bus! All shall acknowledge The Bus! Jerome Bettis, heartbroken because his parents don't appear to have come to the game, is stopped short of the goal line.
2-1-SEA1 2:32Oh, wait, there's the Bettis Family! They came after all! Someone in the stands is holding a sign that says "Absolute Bettis Championship," which is kind of a stretch to spell out ABC. "Another Bettis Championship" would be better, but they're still working on the first. Jerome Bettis, weighed down by the key to the city, is stopped short of the goal line again. Two minute warning.
AD! AD!Poseidon: No Shelley Winters, no peace.
AD! AD!Gillette Fusion: So many jokes have been made about blade inflation in the razor industry that the well is bone dry. In other countries, scientists are performing face transplants and putting 10,000 songs on a flash drive the size of a bobby pin. In this country, we're putting our R&D budget into figuring out how to get another blade on a razor head. What's funny is that this ad, with all its hokey special effects, was less effective in selling the Fusion than simply watching Ben Roethlisberger use it to shave off his beard Monday night on Letterman. Try not to overthink, people.
AD! AD!Desperate Housewives: We get it. Men like it, too.
3-1-SEA1 2:00The Zapruder Bowl, Act II. Roethlisberger dives for the goal line on a quarterback keeper, and the officials call it a touchdown. That much, everybody agrees on. Everything else, it seems, is open to interpretation. Regardless of what anyone tries to tell you, the replays are inconclusive. From some angles, it looks like the ball broke the plane; from others, it looks like it didn't. My opinion? I didn't think he got in. (Roethlisberger told David Letterman on Monday that he didn't think he got in, either.) Even so, I don't have a problem with the play being ruled a touchdown -- but there's a tremendous problem with the way the officials ruled it a touchdown. As he reached the plane of the goal, Big Ben got popped by Seahawks linebacker D.D. Lewis and was driven downward and slightly backward, and the ball hit the turf about a half-foot short of the line. Head linesman Mark Hittner ran in from the left sideline with one hand raised over his head. That's the signal for spotting the ball. When one hand goes up, it means the official has determined that the ball is down in the field of play. Thus, no touchdown. Halfway to the pile, however, Hittner suddenly threw up both hands to signal touchdown. Here's the problem: Once Hittner started running, Roethlisberger was not only down, he'd been driven back from the end zone. There is nothing Hittner could have seen after he began running that would have verified a touchdown. If you see a TD, then call it when you see it. If you don't see a TD, then don't call it at all. It's the way the call was made, much more than the call itself, that made the officials look like they were in over their heads.
AD! AD!Overstock.com: That lady with the strange little lilting voice. Eh. Do advertisers get a discount if they reserve only the replay-challenge TV timeout? Because I can't imagine Overstock would pay full price.
AD! AD!Walt Disney World: We see vintage footage of Walt Disney, America's most beloved FBI stoolie, welcoming us to "this happy place," and we're encouraged to join in the celebration of "50 years of magic" at Walt Disney World. Problem is, Disney World is only 35 years old. The original Disneyland, that faded old strip mall outside L.A., is the one that just turned 50. Makes you wonder when Disney is going to cut the cord to Anaheim for good.
AD! AD!In-game promo: Bill Cowher fingers the Lombardi Trophy and tells it, No one can love you like me. Um, ABC? There is another team playing in this game, you know ...

KICKOFF1:55Perhaps embarrassed by the Steeler-heavy promos, Michaels and Madden return from commercial to talk up Mike Holmgren's wife, who's serving on a humanitarian medical mission to Congo. Michaels takes the opportunity to show off, mentioning that the capital of Congo is Brazzaville. Madden doesn't dignify that with a real response. Nor should he, because Kathy Holmgren is actually in the other Congo, the one formerly known as Zaire and the one with its capital at Kinshasa. Oh, snap! On the field, Jeff Reed kicks to Maurice Morris, who returns it 16 yards, and of course the whole thing is called back on a penalty. No replay, but we get another Rolling Stones promo, and that's all that matters.
1-10-SEA271:4619-yard pass. Seattle hustles to the line.
1-10-SEA461:284-yard pass to Shaun Alexander, who stays inbounds for no discernable reason. The Seahawks waste 10 more seconds before calling time out. Michaels says this game reminds him of New England-Carolina two years ago. Yeah, I don't think so.
2-6-50 1:1310 yard pass after a beautiful blitz pickup by Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson, who steered Troy Polamalu halfway to the locker room without breaking a sweat. Seattle hustles back to the line.
1-10-PIT400:54Hasselbeck goes for it all, but Darrell Jackson doesn't bother to watch where the sideline is, and he catches it out of bounds. There was some fuss over this play on the Internets, but I don't see it. Jackson needed both feet inbounds and only got one. The fact that he kicked the pylon with his one good leg is irrelevant. Meanwhile, Steelers corner Ike Taylor got caught out of position, and it nearly cost him, so naturally he comes up screaming for a flag. Corners ... and people say receivers are drama queens. Seattle hustles back to the line. (I'm repeating this for a reason.)
2-10-PIT400:48As the play goes off, Madden notes that Seattle still has a timeout left. Remember that. Handoff to Alexander for 4 yards. "I don't understand that play," Madden says, as the clock ticks past 33 seconds. At 20 seconds, Hasselbeck is still screwing around calling the next play. By 14 seconds, Michaels, Madden, all of Seattle, everyone who bet the Seahawks, most casual observers and even some Steeler fans are beside themselves. Finally, Cowher is so offended he can't take it anymore, and he calls time out. Hasselbeck runs over to the sidelines to confer with Holmgren. You know, when Holmgren was in Green Bay, he used to scream at Brett Favre for the littlest things. Here, his quarterback just wasted 30 seconds in the Super Bowl, and he looks like he just wants to hug him.
3-6-PIT36 0:13Another deep pass to Jackson, who again isn't watching the sideline. Another one caught out of bounds. Michaels wants Holmgren to know that he's not angry, just disappointed. Madden is muttering to himself.
4-6-PIT36 0:07Josh Brown misses the 54-yard field goal, but you can't really blame him, because as far as I can tell, the strategy was to get out of the half without scoring again. It worked! Give Brown a shot from 10 yards closer, and this kick is good. The Seahawks end the half with a timeout still on the board (or, as Michaels says, "on the wall"). Maybe they can try to get something for it on eBay.

1-10-PIT44 0:02Remember when Bill Cowher called a surprise onside kick in Super Bowl XXX? I think it would have been a masterstroke if he'd run one of his razzle-dazzle plays here and gone for the touchdown. It could have stuck the dagger in Seattle's heart and broken off the handle. Instead Roethlisberger takes a knee, and we go into the locker room at 7-3.

COACH INTERVIEWS: Michele Tafoya corners Bill Cowher, the frustrated but loving dad. "Ben has got to settle down," he says with a smile. "I think he'll be OK if he gets settled down." He praises his defense, but the smile fades as he talks about his other kids, the ones in the running game who really need to get cranking. He talks about Ben some more, and the smile returns. There's such deep affection in that igneous face when he talks about his terrified young quarterback that you can't help but like the guy. Suzy Kolber, meanwhile, has to chase down Mike Holmgren and tackle him from behind as he screams at the officials. Holmgren is playing the role of angry dad, but his anger isn't focused on his wayward son, Matt Hasselbeck, but rather on his senile Pop-Pop, Bill Leavy. We get a dumb, fail-safe graphic that says the last team to win the Super Bowl after trailing at halftime was the Cowboys against the Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII.

AD BLOCK: Sprint: Golf guy hits another golf guy in the face with his cellphone. It's funny, but I wish I hadn't heard so much about it beforehand, because I was expecting it. NFL Network: "The Super Bowl, about as American as America gets. ... Tonight, we're all connected by the game." We see Len Dawson and Bart Starr watching TV together. Tedy Bruschi playing with his kids. Matt Leinart at home with his dog. We've truly crossed into the Twilight Zone when a sports league appears to be the entity that can most convincingly deliver a message of unity and common purpose. Desperate Housewives: Again. United: Something about samurais and fire-breathing dragons. Very pretty. And rather inspirational, for something that involves air travel.

THE STONES: We begin with a montage reminding us that the Rolling Stones have been around since before Bert Bell was even born. This is to assure parents that there will be no funny business and kids that there will be no entertainment. Mike Wilbon argues that there are two cities in the USA where you simply do not book foreign bands for an event like the Super Bowl: Nashville and Detroit. After watching the Stones wheeze through a few of their dessikated klassiks, I'll go along with Wilbon. Whether the act is American or British, however, there are some things no one is allowed to say at the Super Bowl: "come" and "cocks". Mick Jagger is animated, but Keith Richards appears distracted, Ronnie Wood seems bored and Charlie Watts looks like he's just in it for the paycheck. Aren't we all. It's hard to believe the Stones have become such soft targets, but there you have it. They could have at least had the Hells Angels come up and kill someone for old times' sake.

AD BLOCK: Nationwide/Wachovia: Two financial institutions lean on minor sight gags to show us that it's murder having children. Ford: And now, the guy with the toughest job in Detroit tonight: Bill Ford, explaining why Ford is closing plants and laying off workers -- without saying "closing plants" or "laying off workers." Disney: Seattle and Pittsburgh players practice delivering the "I'm going to Disney World" line. Cute, and nicely humanizing. In-game promo: And now it's Jerome Bettis' turn to make sweet love to the Lombardi Trophy. Christ Almighty, ABC really is in the bag for Pittsburgh. Oh, wait, here's Matt Hasselbeck. Maybe he'll be ... Oops, nope, back to Ben Roethlisberger. We get a quick look at Shaun Alexander, and then we're back to Bill Cowher. Everybody please shut up, and let's get back to the game:

KICKOFF 15:00Before the kick, Suzy Kolber relays Mike Holmgren's assurances that Seattle's dreadful clock management at the end of the first half was all part of a larger life lesson. She appears to believe it, but then again, she was also pretty convincing when she told us New England was going to have a vending machine play slot receiver. Michele Tafoya doesn't have anything of substance to add. We also learn that Jerome Bettis is miked up tonight, and ABC plays the audio from Roethlisberger's TD dive. Surprisingly, we hear all the Seahawks shout "No!" and all the Steelers shout "Yes!" What did I say about going behind the scenes? On the field, where we're playing football for the first time in four hours, Ricardo Colclough returns the kick to the 25. A scuffle breaks out, but the officials resist the urge to go ahead and throw Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander out of the game. Kidding!
1-10-PIT25 14:54"I think this is a big drive here," Madden says, one play too early. Pass incomplete.
2-10-PIT25 14:50 Handoff to Willie Parker off right tackle. Seattle safety Michael Boulware is the only Seahawk between Parker and the end zone. Boulware overpursues and takes himself out of the play, Parker streaks past him, and look at that sonofabitch go! Touchdown, on the longest run in Super Bowl history (for once, we get a graphic that means something). It's the biggest moment of Willie Parker's football career -- quite possibly his entire life -- and ABC opts to show Jerome Bettis running off the field. At this point, the script is even screwing Pittsburgh players.
AD! AD!Ameriquest: Turbulence during a red-eye flight makes it appear as if two passengers are having sex. And that's why you should have your mortgage with Ameriquest.
AD! AD!Motorola: The MotoPebl cellphone came to Earth from space eons ago. Humans were just a little late in getting the cell towers built.
AD! AD!Sharpie: Great ad with a guy in a pirate costume using a Sharpie retractable to sign autographs. Pirates are funnier than monkeys, actually.
AD! AD!Lost: Yadda.

KICKOFF14:38 Kick returned to the 29.
1-10-SEA2914:31Incomplete pass.
2-10-SEA2914:276-yard pass.
3-4-SEA35 13:457-yard run.
1-10-SEA4213:09Alexander finally uncorks one for 21 yards. After he's tackled on the sidelines, Seneca Wallace helps him get up. The Wallace sighting makes Seattle fans' hearts go pitter-patter for an instant.
1-10-PIT3712:44Hasselbeck threads a pass in the middle of three defenders and lays it right on the hands of Jerramy Stevens at the 7 yard line. Stevens drops it, of course. Al Michaels seizes the chance to bring up the "back-and-forth" trash-talking between Stevens and Joey Porter leading up to the game. Though when you really look at what was said, there was very little "forth" and a whole lot of "back."
2-10-PIT3712:375-yard run.
3-5-PIT32 11:50Pass incomplete to Darrell Jackson. There is far more contact here than there was on the play in the end zone, but no flag on Jackson this time. Thus ends yet another 40-yard Seattle drive.
4-5-PIT32 11:45Seattle is down by two scores on Pittsburgh's 32 yard line. Go for it? Nope, send Josh Brown out to try a 50-yard field goal. Wide left.
AD! AD!Budweiser: Aw, that baby horse just can't wait to spend the rest of its natural life pulling the beer wagon!
AD! AD!Nationwide: Fabio could turn into a creepy old gondolier at any moment, and that's why Nationwide should handle your finances. Does Nationwide have the same ad agency as Ameriquest?
AD! AD!NFL Mobile: Mr. Wilhelm from Seinfeld berates a man in the produce section about the good old days, when people had to get scores from the Internet. Made me laugh.

1-10-PIT4011:40Seahawks defensive backs Marquand Manuel and Andre Dyson are both out. (Foreshadowing!) Hines Ward makes a nifty fingertip catch and picks up 15 yards. John Madden says, "Doesn't Hines Ward make an amazing play every time you watch him?" I concur that Ward is phenomenal, but so far he's dropped one touchdown pass and another that would have been a first down. The catch on third-and-28 was more his quarterback's doing. What Ward has been up to this point is average, not amazing. This is not a dig at Ward, or even at Madden. It's a dig at the star treatment: No criticism for making mistakes, heaps of praise for NOT making mistakes. So let's not start bleeping each other's bleeps just yet.
1-10-SEA4511:126-yard run by Bettis. He's miked up, you know. ABC plays audio of Bettis celebrating Parker's touchdown, again. In Soviet Russia, Bus catches you!
2-4-SEA39 10:33Pass incomplete. Antwaan Randle El nearly caught it, so it appears they've got his spine glued back together.
3-4-SEA39 10:2716-yard pass. Ward gives Kelly Herndon a fantastic juke to pick up an extra 8 yards, but the ABC guys have already praised Ward on this drive, so we're left to bleep his bleep on our own. Besides, we've got to save our energy in case The Bus gets the ball.
1-10-SEA239:46Great 12-yard run by Bettis.
1-10-SEA119:05Bettis for 4 more.
2-6-SEA7 8:26If I were Seattle, I'd be expecting Bettis to get it again. Sure enough. No gain. There's some confusion among the Steelers, and they call time out to talk over their next move. Smart, because the last thing you want down here is a turnover. OK, OK. I peeked ahead.
AD! AD!Hummer: A giant robot has sex with Godzilla, and the result is a Hummer H3. Tagline is "It's a little monster." Take that, Acura: Your SUV despoils the countryside. Ours destroys cities!
AD! AD!Practical Solutions cleansers: I guess germophobes watch the Super Bowl, too.
AD! AD!Sons and Daughters: The hook for this sitcom is that it's "unscripted." And six months from now, we'll find out that that wasn't really true, and there'll be a low-wattage foofaraw about honesty in broadcasting, and they'll drop the improvisation premise altogether, and the show won't be picked up for a second season.
3-6-SEA7 7:52Speaking of scripted programming: Returning from commercial, Michaels tells us, "Here comes a big, big play." Sure enough, Roethlisberger tries to flip it to Cedrick Wilson, and Kelly Herndon jumps the route and intercepts it. Big Ben tries to run him down, but Bryce Fisher throws No. 7 aside like he's in a cartoon. One could make a case that Roethlisberger was hit in the back, but Fisher was looking him in the face and had one hand on the inside of his jersey, which is usually enough to prevent a flag. Totally ignored in all the commentary has been Randle El, who pulled a Ben Watson and ran Herndon down from a mile away.

1-10-PIT207:384-yard run.
2-6-PIT16 6:55Incomplete pass to Bobby Engram. Jerramy Stevens gets held on the play, but he'd have dropped the ball anyway, so don't shed any tears.
3-6-PIT16 6:51I don't know what's more amazing on this play: Stevens actually catching a pass, or Stevens holding on to it long enough for the officials to rule it a touchdown. Troy Polamalu got suckered into a pick on the play, leaving Stevens all alone. Otherwise, I suspect we'd have gotten another helping of Jerramy's Low-Fat Buttered Fingers.
AD! AD!CareerBuilder.com: Monkeys and jackasses. Now if they'd just add pirates.
AD! AD!Taco Bell: Dweeb in classic car makes hottie on sidewalk fall in love by eating 560 calories' worth of Crunchwrap Supreme in the middle of traffic. ¡Yo quiero fewer advertising cliches!
AD! AD!Slim Fast Optima: Now controls hunger up to 4 hours, about half as long as it takes to digest the Crunchwrap Supreme.
AD!AD!Sons and Daughters: We're into the repeats now. Hey, that's the guy who does the robot in the Geico commercials.
AD! AD!In-game promo: ABC has run out of Steelers, so Matt Hasselbeck gets a chance to slip his hand up the Lombardi Trophy's skirt. The hat ain't foolin' no one, Matt.

KICKOFF6:45A graphic tells us Kelly Herndon's 76-yard interception return was the longest in Super Bowl history, surpassing Tony Eason's 75-yard scamper for John Madden's Raiders in Super Bowl XI. The kickoff is a touchback. While the Pittsburgh medical staff attends to Chukky Okobi, the boys in the booth climb aboard a favorite hobby horse of the 2005 playoffs: Steelers coach Bill Cowher is essentially undefeated when his team leads by 11 points or more. Why 11 points? Probably because his teams have lost 10-point leads a few times. For whatever reason, commentators can't let Cowher's record stand on its own, so they have to slice it this way to make it appear even more dominating. This is also why we always hear about Brett Favre's record when the kickoff temperature is 34 degrees or less, rather than 35 degrees. He's lost a few games in 35-degree weather.
1-10-PIT206:453-yard run by Willie Parker. Parker's bottle is fresh out of lightning, so 3 yards is the best he's going to do for the rest of the night.
2-7-PIT23 6:123-yard run by Willie Parker. See?
3-4-PIT26 5:332-yard run. Verron Haynes doesn't have any lightning either. Al Michaels kicks it over to Suzy Kolber, who reports that Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard is doubtful to return after hurting his hamstring on Herndon's interception return. "It looks like he was hit by a sniper" on the play, is her rather unfortunate choice of words. I'm thinking that's going to give Joey Porter all the motivation he needs for the rest of the night.
4-2-PIT28 4:54As Chris Gardocki is punting, Madden asks why Bernard had to pull down his pants if he only had a pulled hamstring. Michaels tells a lame joke about a five-second delay. Tell it to the Stones, Oswald.
AD! AD!Gillette Fusion: Again with the "revolutionary" five-bladed razor. It's a great piece of grooming equipment, I'm sure, but the rest of us will go on worshipping our same old God, if that's OK with you.
AD! AD!The World's Fastest Indian: Can't make heads or tails of it.
AD! AD!Toyota Tacoma: The ad where the pickup gets hit by a meteor was one of the best of 2005. This one, in which a Tacoma is tossed about by the surf, is in the same vein but just isn't as good. Pretending like the ad was shot with a webcam was a pretty neat idea, though. I'm sure I'll be sick of the gimmick soon, but not now.

1-10-SEA274:38Perfect, yet incomplete, pass. Take a wild guess whose hands the ball hit with a clank.
2-10-SEA274:37 False start, Sean Alexander. Matt Hasselbeck protests, but we saw Alexander twitch while the camera was tight on him. Save it for the book, son. With nothing else to do, Madden rides Jerramy Stevens some more for dropping passes.
2-15-SEA224:37Incomplete pass.
3-15-SEA224:3013-yard pass ain't enough.
4-2-SEA35 3:52Antwaan Randle El returns the punt 20 yards to the 36. Now, this actually would have been a great time for Rouen to put it in the end zone. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

1-10-PIT363:39Someone at ABC has some explaining to do, because there's no commercial break for the change of possession. Madden says Ford Field suddenly smells like gadget play. He says it could happen on this drive. His nose it a lot more sensitive than yours or mine. In the meantime: incomplete pass to Jerame Tuman. First a tight end named Jerramy, then a tight end named Jerame ... for once, I actually miss Jeremy Shockey.
2-10-PIT363:338-yard scramble. Pittsburgh sideline freaks out when Roethlisberger is tackled roughly rather than escorted to the end zone.
3-2-PIT44 2:58Incomplete pass.
4-2-PIT44 2:55Chris Gardocki punts. Peter Warrick suddenly goes Old School Bengal and lets the ball bounce at the 20 and roll all the way to the 2. You can fair-catch those, Pete. On the sideline, we see Roethlisberger conferring with his coaches and third-string QB Tommy Maddox. Oh, dear Lord. Tommy Maddox is 18 minutes away from a Super Bowl ring.

1-10-SEA2 2:41Another change of possession goes by without a commercial. That's at least $10 million. Suzy Kolber reports that Matt Hasselbeck told Jerramy Stevens on the bench, "Stay with it; the drops are OK." Coach Holmgren isn't so peppy, and as the drive starts with a 5-yard run, Stevens is watching from the sidelines.
2-5-SEA7 2:138-yard scramble. Hasselbeck hook-slides, but three Steelers still try to nail him. Aaron Smith kicks Clark Haggans in the head. Hasselbeck appears to lay the ball beside Haggans' crumpled body.
1-10-SEA151:343-yard pass to Ryan Hannam.
2-7-SEA18 1:019-yard pass to Ryan Hannam. Who's Ryan Hannam? Apparently he's the tight end Holmgren calls on when he doesn't trust Jerramy Stevens anymore.
1-10-SEA270:2921-yard pass.
1-10-SEA480:02Al Michaels thinks the Seahawks will let the clock run down to the end of the third quarter. Instead, Seattle hustles to the line and runs another play. They're very efficient at the end of odd-numbered quarters. Incomplete pass.
AD! AD!Sprint: If you never watched The Benny Hill Show, this ad doesn't make much sense and isn't very funny. If you have watched it, then the ad makes sense, but is somehow even less funny.
AD! AD!ESPN: Monday Night Football is moving.
AD! AD!Land Rover: An SUV driver bypasses traffic on the Ginza and behaves like a self-important jackass.
AD! AD!E-Trade: Stephen Hawking, Ernest Hemingway and Marion Jones are unique, and so are you. So come be one of E-Trade's 4-million-plus clients.
AD! AD!Geico: That lizard used to sound like a butler. Now he sounds like a soccer hooligan.
2-10-SEA4815:005-yard run.
3-5-PIT47 14:17 17-yard pass to Bobby Engram. Ike Taylor finally tackles Engram, then gets up talking trash. I'm interested in knowing what you boast about when you've just given up 17 yards.
1-10-PIT3013:326-yard run. Time for another meaningless graphic: The largest deficit a team has overcome to win a Super Bowl was 10 points, Washington over Denver, Super Bowl XXII. Remember, Seattle was down by 11. Eleven! Did ya hear the one about Bill Cowher and the 11-point leads?
2-4-PIT24 13:105-yard run.
1-10-PIT1912:35Jerramy Stevens holds on to another pass, this one for an 18-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 1 yard line. (The official runs in with one hand raised to signify the ball is down short of the end zone, by the way.) The way this game has been going, you'd have to be crazy to think this will stand, and it won't. There's yellow on the field -- and in Seattle fans' shorts -- as Sean Locklear is called for holding. On the replay, there doesn't appear to be holding. Madden says he doesn't see holding. Nearly everyone who isn't a Pittsburgh fans doesn't see holding. But the official does. The officials have been seeing a lot of things tonight. Football Outsiders studied every play of the game and concluded that what Locklear did could be construed as holding -- but that the officials chose to enforce this interpretation only on this play. This problem has been building all year: "Holding," as defined by the NFL rules, occurs on every play of every game. And those rules are enforced so inconsistently and so selectively that they are a joke.
1-20-PIT2912:08Hasselbeck sacked for 5-yard loss.
2-25-PIT3411:347-yard run by Shaun Alexander. Joey Porter brings him down with a textbook horse-collar tackle, which was made illegal just last off-season. The officials see the horse-collar but don't call it. However, this isn't an issue of selective enforcement, because officials never call the horse-collar. Still, in the space of three plays, we've had a horrible call and a horrible non-call. What else can happen?
3-18-PIT2710:54Oh, this can happen: Hasselbeck floats a horrible pass waaaay over Darrell Jackson's head but riiiight into Ike Taylor's breadbasket. Taylor returns it to the 27, where Hasselbeck brings him down by the legs. The replay is very clear: Haselbeck throws himself at Taylor and cuts his legs out from under him. In football, where these guys live and work, that's called a tackle. In the bizarre experimental theater production the officials are staging inside their heads, it's an illegal low block. Bob Waggoner, the back (and to the left) judge responsible for the ticky-tack interference call in the first quarter, throws the flag. Fifteen yards are tacked onto the end of Taylor's interception return, and the NFL's greatest show officially becomes a sham. This is the point where I almost quit watching, because I knew how the game was going to come out (with Pittsburgh on top), and I knew what the story line was going to be (officials bungling the game rather than Pittsburgh winning it). Bill Leavy, meet Phil Luckett.
AD! AD!Degree anti-perspirant: "Stunt City," where it looks like 1978. The concept: Even if you're a stuntman performing acts of derring-do all day long, your pits won't stink if you use Degree. This is one of the rare commercials where the set-up actually relates to the product. Well played, Degree!
AD! AD!Emerald Nuts: Some stuff goes on, but it doesn't matter. "D&D geeks eat Emerald Nuts" appears to be the message.
AD! AD!Fidelity Investments: Paul McCartney has lived a full life, so Fidelity should handle your money. Sorry, but I found the non sequiturs at Ameriquest and Nationwide more appealing.
AD! AD!Boston Legal: This fall, Tom Selleck and Michael J. Fox join a cast that already includes Candice Bergen and James Spader. Once they get ALF on board, they should have the 1980s all sewn up.

1-10-PIT4410:46As we return from commercial, Hasselbeck is talking with Tony Corrente, who is charting the game on the sidelines as the backup referee and thanking everyone from God on down that he's not on the field responsible for this pack of monkeys. A replay of the Hasselbeck penalty confirms that neither the inmates nor the guards are running the asylum. On the field, Willie Parker picks up 1 yard before being tackled at the knees -- or is it "blocked low"? -- by Marcus Tubbs.
2-9-PIT45 10:107-yard pass.
3-2-SEA48 9:44Beautiful 5-yard quarterback draw.
1-10-SEA439:04Pittsburgh sets up bunch left. At the snap, Roethlisberger pitches to Willie Parker, and Antwaan Randle El breaks for the backfield. Half the home viewers immediately shout "Reverse!" -- but the entire Seattle defense follows Parker, save for Michael Boulware, whom Roethlisberger tangles up with a diving block. The reason only half of viewers shouted "Reverse!" was that the other half was shouting "Option pass!" And sure enough, Randle El pulls up and throws the single best pass of the night to Hines Ward, whom the Seattle secondary has let get free. Al Michaels screams "Gadget play!" and this time he's actually correct. Touchdown puts the Steelers up by two scores. And whom does the ABC camera find first? I'll give you a hint: It's not Randle El, who threw the pass; or Roethlisberger, who threw the key block; or even the coach who called the play. Madden comments that everyone on the field should have known what was coming. That ain't just 20/20 hindsight. That's a fact. Extra point makes it an 11-point lead again.
AD! AD!Budweiser: Using those flip-cards that they hand out at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, a stadium full of fans simulates the shotgunning of a beer. Glad I didn't bring my kids to that game.
AD! AD!Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: The surprise movie hit of 2003 becomes the inevitable movie sequel of 2006.
AD! AD!MasterCard: The "priceless" campaign has worn so thin you can read the stock tables through it, but putting a MasterCard in MacGyver's wallet is a stroke of genius. Never thought I'd say this, but this ad would have been better if it were a full minute rather than 30 seconds. It's not like MasterCard doesn't have that kind of bread -- I've seen my statement.
AD! AD!Dancing With the Stars: Stripper chic.

KICKOFF8:56Al Michaels tells us that Bill Cowher just breathed a "figurative sigh of relief" after the interception that set up the game-clinching (did I ruin it for you?) drive. I'm a total stickler on the correct use of "literally" vs. "figuratively," but this may be the first time I've ever heard some one say "figurative" when the proper word was probably "literal." It's been that kind of night. Josh Scobey brings the kickoff out to the 16.
1-10-SEA168:48Incomplete pass. Michele Tafoya reports from the sidelines that the Steelers had planned to throw an option pass off a reverse in the Super Bowl. Good to know. Thanks, Michele.
2-10-SEA168:40 Hasselbeck scrambles 18 yards, then flops right on top of his slick ball. The ball squirts away, Troy Polamalu picks it up, and Hasselbeck brings him down (guess how). The officials rule it a fumble (understandably, considering the bang-bang nature of the play), but ABC immediately dials up a replay showing Larry Foote making contact with Hasselbeck before he went down. The Seahawks challenge and get the ball back. This is another play that would later be identified in some quarters as a close call that went Seattle's way -- except that it didn't go Seattle's way, and Mike Holmgren was forced to challenge the play. It was also the only big call against Seattle that could be challenged.
1-10-SEA348:114-yard run. After the play, as the Seahawks diddle around much as they did at the end of the second quarter, Madden makes the first ominous mention of "tempo."
2-6-SEA38 7:3313-yard pass.
1-10-PIT497:19There was a time when a quarterback would always want to be compared to Brett Favre. This year, however, to say someone is "playing like Favre" means he's wasting plays, and ultimately possessions, by taking shots downfield even though his team is having success moving the ball five to 10 yards at a time. On this down, Hasselbeck plays like Favre. Incomplete pass.
2-10-PIT497:13Seneca Wallace is in the game at wide receiver! Aaaaaaand, it's a 2-yard run by Alexander. And that's it for Wallace.
3-8-PIT47 6:36"Playing like Favre" can also mean getting sacked at the worst possible time. Like now: 5-yard loss.
4-13-SEA486:28OK. Fourth-and-13 is never going to be easy, but at this point you're down by two scores. You have the ball at midfield. If you go for it and miss, you're going to need a three-and-out or else this game is over. But if you punt ... well, then you're going to need a three-and-out or else this game is over. Plus, your punter has been dropping kicks in the end zone all day, which means that by punting you'd be giving up the ball and control of the game, and you probably will gain only 30 or so yards of field position. Add it all together, and going for it seems like the best call. And here comes Tom Rouen, who puts it in the end zone on the fly. Bill Cowher points to the scoreboard and orders Roethlisberger to bleed the clock like George Washington on his deathbed.
AD! AD!World Baseball Classic: Remember the Goodwill Games? This is sort of like that, except there'll be only one sport, and goodwill has been a little low.
AD! AD!GoDaddy.com: So, GoDaddy decides to spend $5 million on Super Bowl ads and runs the same dumb ad twice. That's one way to economize.
AD! AD!Nationwide: Getting married involves taking on someone else's financial commitments. Why, that actually ties in with Nationwide's business. And it only took three tries to get it right.

1-10-PIT206:15Jerome Bettis, back in the game to grind the clock, is stopped by Seattle defensive tackle Chartric Darby for a 2-yard loss. Incredibly, Darby struts around waggling his head in oh-no-not-today-baby fashion. Um, dude, look at the scoreboard. Forty-two seconds bleed away.
2-12-PIT185:336-yard run, and there goes another 48 seconds.
3-6-PIT24 4:45Ben Roethlisberger calls for a timeout after the play clock has plainly reached zero, and yet no penalty is called. At this point, the officials are screwing up so relentlessly that it almost isn't even worth noting, but on this play the crew actually huddles up to confirm that they made the wrong call before sending Bill Leavy out to announce it. Whatever. With that punt at midfield, Seattle's already given up anyway. When the play finally comes, it's a short dumpoff that Antwaan Randle El carries through the entire Seattle defense for 7 yards and a first down. The umpire ends up going down hard in the pile, and a quick cut to the sidelines catches Holmgren smirking. If a Seahawk had kicked the zebra in the head, we might have seen a full smile.
1-10-PIT313:594-yard run. Seattle timeout. No ads, just brought-to-you-bys.
2-6-PIT35 3:543-yard run. Seattle timeout. No ads, just a miked-up Bettis delivering a motivational speech in the huddle. "It's no different than Week 1. Just do what you've been doing." For the record: The Steelers won in Week 1; the Seahawks lost.
3-3-PIT38 3:513-yard quarterback keeper. Roethlisberger gets somewhat jobbed on the spot of the ball, but it's still enough for the first down. That banging noise is Seattle's coffin lid going on. The long-suffering Bill Cowher celebrates, as does the insufferable Joey Porter.
1-10-PIT413:092-yard run. Seattle timeout. No ads, just a retrospective on Roethlisberger's season-saving tackle against the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs. Madden says: "Maybe that tackle is what really put them here." He's right. The tackle also made the difference between spending the offseason complaining about the officiating and spending the offseason dismissing other people's complaints about the officiating as "whining." Big circles, man.
2-8-PIT43 3:04Bettis for no gain.
3-8-PIT43 2:184-yard gain takes us to the two-minute warning.
AD! AD!Running Scared: Gunfights, machetes, slow-motion violence, $100 bills. It's all very Tarantino. Then someone gets hit with a slapshot, and we're told the movie opens Feb. 24.
AD! AD!Outback Steakhouse: This guy with a fake Australian accent isn't worth my time.
AD! AD!Westin Hotels: No smoking.
AD! AD!In game promo: Bettis sweet-talks the pants off the trophy one last time. So dazzled is Bettis that he mistakes the trophy for the Stanley Cup: "The Lombardi Trophy with your name on it means that you're the champion of the world."
4-4-PIT47 2:00The league's collective bargaining agreement stipulates that in every game Chris Gardocki plays, it must be mentioned at least once that he's never had a punt blocked. Al Michaels squeezes it in just before the final kick of the game. Gardocki punts into the end zone. Touchback. Since it last had possession, Seattle has lost four and a half minutes of game time and all its timeouts and still trails by 11. Smart move, punting the ball.

1-10-SEA201:51Seattle needs two scores: a touchdown with a two-point conversion, and a field goal. Everyone repeat along with John Madden: "You can't use up all your time in trying to get the touchdown and then not have any time to get the other score, so you have to get any type of score as quickly as you can." And here we go: 6-yard pass? Over the middle? Wow. If I had to pick a way to use up nearly one-fifth of the time remaining in my season, that wouldn't be it.
2-4-SEA26 1:2835-yard pass to Joe Jurevicius. Now that's more like it.
1-10-PIT391:05Ball thrown away.
2-10-PIT391:00Pass incomplete.
3-10-PIT390:52Pass incomplete.
4-10-PIT390:47Paul Allen stands on the sidelines watching as his championship hopes slip away, leaving him with nothing but $25 billion. Call me shallow, but if I had to choose, I'd want the money. It's fourth-and-long again, so maybe the Seahawks should punt. It worked so well six minutes ago. Nope: 13-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 26. Turns out you can do it.
1-10-PIT260:35Hasselbeck spikes the ball to stop the clock.
2-10-PIT260:34Kick the field goal? No. Pass incomplete to Shaun Alexander.
3-10-PIT260:27Kick the field goal? No. 3-yard pass to Jerramy Stevens. What an odd time to try to boost his confidence. Stevens, in his final highlight-reel move of the day, tries to stretch the 3-yard gain into a 4-yard gain rather than get out of bounds.
4-7-PIT23 0:08Kick the field goal? No. No time. Pass to Stevens at the goal line. Fittingly for this game, he drops it. Fittingly for this game, Joey Porter, the only man in the league with two ass holes, doesn't make the tackle but is there to jibber-jabber at him. Bill Cowher is sopping wet and making out with his wife. Jerome Bettis has a new hat.

1-10-PIT23 0:03Roethlisberger takes a knee. Hines Ward is the Most Valuable Player, just edging out Joe Montana. Cowher goes looking for Holmgren, but both coaches are directed to different areas of the field, and there will be no handshake. The NFL will investigate and determine that no snub occurred. The NFL will investigate the officiating and determine that no mistakes occurred, either.