The Crawling Ear: Tom Petty’s Beard Is Not A Transformer

James checks out the Super Bowl's half-time show. The rest of us are just sitting here boggled.

Tom Petty

This week’s Super Bowl was supposedly the most-watched, highest rated Super Bowl game of all-time. I’m still guessing zero to none of you regular Den of Geek readers witnessed Bill Belichick’s Patriots get pwned like a bunch of n00bs in the final seconds of the game by Giants QB Eli Manning, whose touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress was so fucking l33t it made Kevin Mitnick cry. Not because you’re nerds, mind you, but because most (if not all) of you are British. That’s fine; I’m not here to talk up our bastardized American version of your great and wondrous football (even though I have so many devastating Patriots jokes lined up and ready to go). I’m here to offer my musings on the Super Bowl XLII halftime show.

Historically speaking, the Super Bowl halftime show usually falls into one of two categories: mind-blowing clusterfuck or state fair parade of lame. Examples of the former include the 2001 “song fight” between Aerosmith and ’N Sync (culminating in a giant end-all version of “Walk This Way” performed by both bands plus Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Nelly) and last year’s hypersexual twelve minute Prince guitar solo. Examples of the latter include 1997’s “Blues Brothers Bash” (finally, Jim Belushi and ZZ Top on the same stage!) and 1994’s quadruple country music threat of Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, and the Judds. There have been a few halftime shows that defy these basic parameters of classification. 1989’s Coca Cola-sponsored 3-D Elvis impersonator extravaganza comes to mind. Also, 1995’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, wherein everyone’s favorite fictional archeologist reunited with his spunky girlfriend Marion Ravenwood to rescue the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the aforementioned evil pagan structure. Something tells me there won’t be any acknowledgement of their perilous NFL-sanctioned adventure if Indy and Marion meet up again in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

This year, pre-game rumors hinted that humanity would once again be treated to something truly bizarre at the halfway mark. The big buzz was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the game’s scheduled halftime performers, would at some point be suddenly and inexplicably interrupted by the ol’ Noseless Wonder himself, Michael Jackson, who has just released or is about to release some trumped up version of his 1982 classic Thriller (sorry, I don’t really keep up with vitiligo-afflicted has-beens who force their children to dress like sheiks). Jackson is, of course, the man credited with making Super Bowl halftime an event unto itself with his dazzling 1993 mid-game spectacular (kind of ironic his own sister brought the ritual to its nadir with her infamous 2004 tit-pop). It seemed somewhat plausible Jacko might come out of hiding to usurp an aged roots rocker at a nationally televised sporting event. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when it comes to work ethic, Michael Jackson is a little unpredictable. He hasn’t toured in the past ten years, but he was in Men in Black II. You get what I’m saying.

Alas, skeletal Tom Petty and his creaking Heartbreakers made it through four whole songs without any interruption from the One Gloved Wonder or anyone else resembling a Roswell crash victim. The most exciting aspect of this Jacksonless presentation was Petty’s shaggy beard, which everyone at the Super Bowl party I attended was hoping would detach from the craggy singer’s head and transform into something slightly more interesting than four or five old guys playing half-baked farm rock. Again, disappointment – Petty’s facial hair stayed in place for the whole shebang. Thus, the Super Bowl XLII Rockin’ Halftime Spectacular (Sponsored by Bridgestone!) was just another faint reminder of ferris wheels and cotton candy past. There were no explosions, no 3-D effects, no song fights, not even one goddamn exposed breast. Of course, Tom Petty’s never been the type of guy to roll with any of those things, so I can’t say I was expecting anything more than a casual run-through of songs that used to excite me when I was twelve.

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So now we turn our attentions to next year. Which way will the pendulum swing in 2009? Who will be burdened with the multi-million dollar time killer that most people rank a distant third behind the commercials and the actual game on their list of Super Sunday priorities? Call me crazy (and I’m sure you will), but I think the Beastie Boys would be fantastic halftime performers. They’re fun, they’re lively, they have a few songs people John Travolta’s age remember, and none of them have Janet Jackson’s milkers. You know they’ve been asked at least once to do a Super Bowl halftime show. That’s probably why we got those 3-D Elvis impersonators in ’89. Ad Rock, MCA, and Mike D wouldn’t cowboy up. Next year, I want to see three MCs and one DJ getting’ down on the fifty yard line with no delay. In lieu of that, I’ll take another Indiana Jones thing.

James writes every Wednesday at Den of Geek. Find his last column here.