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Celebrating 50 Years of America's Greatest Game

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There are few facts about the Super Bowl experience over the last 50 years that aren't unearthed by Bethany Bradsher in her latest work, Super Bowl 50: Celebrating Fifty Year's of America's Greatest Game.

Despite our recent, uhhhh...struggles...we Redskins fans have a long-standing history with the Super Bowl (more history than anything else these days). Therefore, I couldn't pass up the chance to speak to the author of Super Bowl 50: Celebrating Fifty Year's of America's Greatest Game. (You can buy it here.)

My favorite kind of sports book is one that resolves debates I find myself in, usually while watching the sport itself. In that light, this book has been a pretty solid desk reference (and yes, my recliner and the end table next to it constitute a "desk" in my basement). I sent a few questions over to Bethany, and her answers are below. This book is actually pretty solid, and covers the Super Bowl somewhat exhaustively. It makes a great holiday gift for those still doing some shopping!

Clearly I am fixated on the halftime show, as well as the fact that the Super Bowl no longer seems to be about us (unless I am wrong, and my readership is full of billionaire CEO's). Here is what Bethany had to say:

1) As a Redskins fan, I vividly recall the terrible halftime show during Super Bowl XXVI, which was the ice skating exhibition--that included no ice. Given that the next year featured Michael Jackson, it is clear that the NFL understood their mistake. They moved into an era of super-combo mega-musical acts and then in recent years they have gone to booking supergroups to play a halftime set. What do you think is the next evolution of the halftime show, assuming that it will evolve?

Bethany: It can only get bigger and more technical. The expectation now is that the Super Bowl organizers will book the biggest pop stars on the planet, and the assumption that headliners will be superstars will continue, with even more elaborate stage shows -- lighting, costumes, special effects. The only thing that has really been consistent about the Super Bowl over 50 years is the annual need for more -- more TV ratings, more expensive and unique ads, more starpower and flash at halftime. It shows no sign of slowing.

2) As a follow-up to that, is the halftime show more for the people in the stadium or the people at home? Was that the question that turned everything around to where it is now?
Bethany: When Michael Jackson electrified Super Bowl XXVII crowds in 1993, the stadium crowd certainly enjoyed it, but it was a made-for-TV event of the highest order. What made that seminal was the fact that it was the first time the TV ratings ever increased during halftime show, whereas in the previous 26 years TV viewers were known to walk the dog, make a beer run or even switch to another show during halftime. 

3) The costs associated with attending a Super Bowl have moved the experience away from most average fans.  Do you think that attending the Super Bowl will ever be for actual football fans again, or has that ship sailed forever?
Bethany: The ship has sailed (see: the annual thirst for more in answer 1 above). However, the Super Bowl as a televised event becomes more of an inclusive national event every year, because even non-sports fans are now compelled to pay attention if they are tuned-in citizens of this nation. Super Bowl parties, gambling, commercials, halftime entertainment -- all have made this a cultural touchstone in which football is sometimes (unfortunately) an afterthought.

4) What are your thoughts on hosting the game in a "cold-weather" city? Shouldn't every stadium in the league get a chance to host? How probable is it that the NFL will put this game overseas at some point in the near future?
Bethany: I don't think the Super Bowl has to be an equal-opportunity event. For the first 25 years, organizers wouldn't have even considered the possibility of holding it anywhere other than a warm-weather tourist city, but that trend gave a nod to the understanding that this is more of an event than a football game. Certainly Indianapolis and Minneapolis have hosted successful Super Bowls, but some NFL cities won't be willing to spend the time and money to create that type of spectacle. As for the international question, I don't believe that would ever happen. This is a quintessentially American event, and a few football games a year in London are insufficient to turn the tide.

5) What would you identify as the quintessential "Super Bowl moment" for you? Was it related to gameplay or was it related to sideshow stuff?
Bethany: I far prefer football to all of the bells and whistles, and as I delved into the stories of each game I came to appreciate the high drama and fascinating characters that are associated with the Super Bowl. My personal favorite is the David Tyree helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII. It helped that I remembered it so vividly as a fan, but to revisit how highly the undefeated Patriots were favored, how scrappy the Giants turned out to be and, finally, how unbelievable the clinching play from an unknown was to seal the win, it was truly a Super Bowl moment for the ages.