Every year, I tell myself that I’m going to make an honest attempt to like football. Every year, I fail. I don’t know what the problem is, but I just can’t get into it. I didn’t even know who was playing in Super Bowl XXXIX until the day before the event. Turns out it was the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the New England Patriots; the Patriots won, 24-21.

One thing that made watching the game a lot less tedious was TiVo. The undocumented 30-second skip feature allowed me to hop over much of the interminable dead time between plays, and gave the game a sense of flow that it usually lacks; the long drives in the third quarter by both New England and Philadelphia were a lot more entertaining when it seemed like the ball was constantly moving towards the end zone. The Super Bowl is about much more than football, though, and there was plenty of extra entertainment to be had; I didn’t skip over any of it, no matter how much I wanted to.

The singing of “America the Beautiful” (an infinitely better patriotic song than “God Bless America”) by Alicia Keys and the Florida School of the Deaf and the Blind wasn’t too cheesy, until the second verse, when they sang along with Ray Charles, and GOOD GOD, IS THERE NO WAY TO PREVENT DUETS WITH DEAD PEOPLE? It’s incredibly disrespectful, not to mention creepy as hell. If I was a singer, I’d be calling my lawyer to write a “no posthumous duets” clause into my will.

The National Anthem was much less maddening, once they got Michael Douglas’s lame tribute to “the greatest generation” out of the way. The military über-choir’s “The Star Spangled Banner” was the shortest sports-event rendition I’ve heard in years, and was a nice change from the usual Whitney-Houstoning you get at these things.

The highlight of the evening, of course, was the halftime show. How were they going to top last year’s nipplicious performance? They weren’t: Paul McCartney did not bare any skin during his performance, although in the throes of a rock’n'roll frenzy, he did take his jacket off. It’s tragic, really: in their effort to avoid any controversy, the producers of the show have completely abandoned the sublime kitsch of the hallowed halftime show and turned it into a stultified, soporific black hole of non-entertainment.

At the end of the day, though, the most important part of the Super Bowl is still the commercial blitz. This year, Federal Express provided us with a handy breakdown of the elements of a successful Super Bowl spot:

  1. Celebrity;
  2. Animal;
  3. Dancing animal;
  4. Cute kid;
  5. Groin kick;
  6. Talking animal;
  7. Attractive females;
  8. Product message;
  9. Famous pop song;
  10. Bonus ending.

There were a bunch of movie teasers, which as a whole provided a handy guide to summer blockbusters I’m probably going to pass on. Although it’s nice to see that Vin Diesel is getting his Kindergarten Cop out of the way.

McDonalds’s “Lincoln Fry” spots were just plain weird, but the more I think about them, the more I like them. It’s good to see them moving away from the faux-hipster crap they’ve been running lately; no one wants to be told they’re not cool enough to eat at McDonalds. The Lincoln Fry folks (the ads revolve around a couple that gets their 15 minutes when they discover a french fry shaped like Abraham Lincoln) make small-town America seem like a land of freaks, but at least they’re not screaming about their Chicken Selects. Besides, I’m fascinated by an ad campaign that makes use of a fake weblog.

The Quiznos talking baby and the Arby’s oven mitt need to go away. Now.

Beer commercials seemed sadly bereft of good ideas. The only decent one was a Budweiser spot in which Cedric the Entertainer makes a “I’m the designated driver” hand signal to someone across the bar, inadvertently making up a new dance for all to follow.

Pepsi had so many B-list celebrities in its ads that I thought it was the 80s again and the Cola Wars were back on: P-Diddy, Eva Longoria, Carson from Queer Eye — even Cindy Crawford made a comeback.

I don’t know what Verizon V-Cast is, and I don’t care, but I’m grateful that it resulted in a commercial that didn’t feature the canyouhearmenowgood guy. He needs to go away too.

Like a bad rash, dot-com commercials refuse to go away, and refuse to stop sucking. GoDaddy’s awful spot doesn’t even bear description. CareerBuilder decided to go with the tried-and-true strategy of “when in doubt: monkeys!”

The Toyota Prius was featured in a pretty nifty ad: cars spin their tires, people shuffle their feet, but no one’s making any real progress, except for the Prius. The tag line (“One small step on the accelerator, one giant leap for mankind”) is pretty lame, but the commercial as a whole looks cool and sticks in the head.

Another car commercial that stuck with me was one for Cadillac: a car backs slowly down a long tunnel, then shoots out like a bullet. I’m not sure that comparing a car to a gun sends the right message to people, but the sound-collage audio in this ad is really cool.

I’m not sure if it’s a new ad, but American Express has a heartwarming (really!) spot featuring a rogue’s gallery of commercial mascots: Mr. Peanut, the Jolly Green Giant, Charlie Tuna, Count Chocula, Gorton’s Fisherman, the Vlasic Pelican, the Morton Umbrella Girl, Chef Boyardee, and the Pilsbury Dough Boy have a nice family dinner together, and Mr. Clean does the dishes. American icons, every one, and I say that without a speck of irony.

Finally, the other entry in the “pop-culture nostalgia” category was a DirectTV ad in which a boy walks through the decades, and every room he passes through has a television set in it: I Love Lucy, The Lone Ranger, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Armstrong on the moon, All in the Family, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and McGwire’s record-setting home run. While this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t history-making television by any stretch of the imagination, it was nice to see some ads that lovingly ransack our commercial/cultural history to sell product; when you think about it, it’s perversely (and delightfully) appropriate.