Halftime highs and lows: A look back at 12 minutes that sometimes upstage the big game
January 30, 2014 12:00 AM
Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images
Prince performs in 2007 during halftime of Super Bowl XLI between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts at Dolphins Stadium in Miami.
AP Photo/David Phillip
Justin Timberlake reaches across Janet Jackson during their performancs just before he pulled off the covering to her right breast, which was partially obscured by a sun-shaped, metal nipple decoration during the half time performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston.
Bruce Springsteen rocks the house at the Super Bowl half-time show in 2009.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If you have a water cooler in your office, you might want to hang out there for a minute on Monday morning and see what people are talking about.
Is it the game? The commercials? Richard Sherman? Or the halftime show?
The past two years, the halftime spectacles from Madonna and Beyonce have drawn bigger ratings than portions of the game.
Madonna's is still the most watched halftime show ever, with 112.5 million viewers tuning in.
On Sunday, the honors go to Bruno Mars, the dynamic 28-year-old Filipino-Puerto Rican singer from Hawaii who is two albums into his career and has scored No. 1 hits with "Just the Way You Are," "Grenade," "Locked out of Heaven" and "When I Was Your Man."
The recent Grammy winner will be joined by the more senior but ever funky Red Hot Chili Peppers, who have little use for shirts and have proven quite capable in the past of wardrobe malfunctions.
As we wait to see what goes down there, let's look back at the best and worst of halftimes past, starting with the lowlights.
1. It's only fitting that a Bengals trip to the Super Bowl -- there have been two, both losses -- would sport one of the most bungled halftime shows. Billy Joel was there to sing the national anthem in 1989, but rather than have the Piano Man stick around for halftime, the NFL had Elvis impersonator Elvis Presto do a 3-D musical card trick in one of the stupidest large-scale spectacles ever witnessed on Earth.
2. You've probably heard Up With People used in a punchline somewhere and wondered what it was. The group, some kind of conservative plot to counteract the hippie movement, is like the Jim Kelly of Super Bowl halftime acts, having played it four times without a win (between 1976 and 1986). In those early Super Bowl days, Up With People filled the field with youngins running around like the Brady kids on a sugar high.
3. Janet Jackson's halftime performance in 2004 really wasn't that bad -- until that moment with Justin Timberlake. That we'll never hear the end of. On the bright side, it gave us the term of "Nipple-gate," and dance-pop was flagged for six years, giving us a run of Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty and The Who.
4. So, you really want to complain that a current halftime performer is too old, too pop, too crude, too nude, too whatever? Go back to 1991. Up until then, it was mostly marching bands. New Kids on the Block was the first major group to play halftime, which is bad enough, but they were shoehorned into a celebration of "It's a Small World" that looked like a candy-coated Disney nightmare. It was actually shown AFTER the game as halftime, in stark contrast, was consumed by a special report on Desert Storm.
5. Why Black Eyed Peas? Because when The Who (aka The Two) played the year before, fronted by a 65-year-old Pete Townshend and a 64-year-old Roger Daltrey, it looked every bit like classic rock was dying a slow death right on the 50-yard line of Sun Life Stadium. (In its defense, The Who was much better breathing life into "Quadrophenia" on the next tour.) Speaking of the Peas, the lightweight foursome won few raves for its futuristic spectacle.
ALSO: Put this on your best list if you want, but the sight of Madonna, at 53, riding on the shoulders of LMFAO's Redfoo singing "I'm sexy and I know it" and dressing up as a cheerleader to the chant of "L-U-V Madonna" had me nostalgic for Up With People.
1. In February 2002, five months after the devastation of 9/11, with a nation still gripped in fear, anger and sadness, the NFL needed something powerful. The four Irishmen in U2 delivered in a big way. They burst out with a joyous "Beautiful Day" and then, during a mournful "MLK," scrolled the names of the nearly 3,000 victims on the roof, leading into a transcendent "Where the Streets Have No Name" with Bono, like a rock messiah, raising a jacket lined with the American flag. Watch it now and try not to tear up.
2. Has Prince ever done anything less than rip it up in one of his live TV performances? He practically stole the show from Peyton Manning in the QB's one Super Bowl win, with the Colts in 2007, shredding like Hendrix and wailing like James Brown. He inserted "Proud Mary" and "All Along the Watchtower" into a set that started with a frantic "Let's Go Crazy" and hit the end zone with an epic "Purple Rain."
3. There's no real need to rank the Paul McCartney, The Stones, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen (left) halftimes, is there? They were all great, and two of them were in the middle of Steelers victories (Stones and Springsteen). What a difference in the mood going in, though. We were more than a little edgy during the Stones one in 2006 as Ben Roethlisberger seemed to have been replaced by a bad clone of himself, but we were ecstatic for the Boss one in 2009 with James Harrison having just pulled off the most ridiculously amazing play in Super Bowl history.
4. Coming off that really bad New Kids year in '91, Fox counterprogrammed the Super Bowl halftime with a special "In Living Color" episode that pulled 22 million viewers away from Gloria Estefan. The NFL wasn't going to let that happen again. In 1993, it landed its first big superstar for a halftime show -- Michael Jackson -- and the ratings outdrew the game. Michael made a stunning pyrotechnic entrance and worked the stage with "Billie Jean" and other hits like he'd done at the Motown special. Sadly, just a few months later, the first charges of pedophilia emerged.
5. Super Bowl XXXVII might have been the worst with the Tampa Bay Bucs destroying the Raiders 48-21 in 2003. It was 20-3 at the half when a red hot Shania Twain, borrowing an outfit from Catwoman, Cruella De Vil or Black Widow, set out to salvage the night with "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" and "Up." That was good, and it got better, switching to Gwen Stefani doing pushups (real ones) in a sports bra and spandex and then rocking "Just a Girl" with No Doubt. The finale had her and Sting uncork a sizzling "Message in a Bottle" while looking like the couple we would send into space to start a Brave New World.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.