- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

NEW YORK

With any luck, the National Football League has gotten this year’s Super Bowl halftime show controversy out of the way early.

Faced with an embarrassing story that the dancers it was seeking as extras for the Rolling Stones’ performance couldn’t be older than 45, the league reversed field and opened it up to everyone. Mick Jagger, 62, may be able to see wrinkles as he looks out over his audience.

It may seem incidental to the main event, but the halftime show has caused plenty of headaches for the NFL, from Janet Jackson’s infamous 2004 breast-baring to some grumbling from host city Detroit that its musical legacy is being snubbed this year. The booking of rock royalty such as the Stones — who turned down the gig several times before agreeing this year — is an indication of its importance.

The Feb. 5 show on ABC is being overseen by NFL executive Charles Coplin. He’s a former ABC Sports producer who joined the league’s front office in 2001 and took over the entertainment staff immediately after the unexpected exposure of Miss Jackson’s nipple jewelry.

That incident, after the NFL had largely handed over production of the show to MTV, persuaded the league to take a tighter grip on the plans, Mr. Coplin says.

“The guiding philosophy is to be unique, entertaining and appropriate, to cast entertainment that serves as wide a group as possible — from grandparents to grandkids,” he says.

For several years, halftime entertainment was an afterthought: The Florida A&M; University marching band has not one, but two, Super Bowl performances on its resume. The shows gradually expanded, although acts such as Up With People screamed “white bread.”

Key years in making it more of an event were 1993, when Michael Jackson performed with 3,500 children, and 2002, when U2’s Bono opened his jacket to reveal an American flag stitched inside a few months after the terrorist attacks.

“There was a point in the early 1990s where [the NFL] thought, ‘How can we make something this great even better,’” Mr. Coplin says. “There was a decision internally to look at all aspects of the Super Bowl presentation.”

It was another opportunity to make money, too. Sprint paid the NFL a record $12 million to be the sponsor of this year’s halftime show and is running a contest among Sprint users. The winners will be flown to Detroit to see the Stones up close.

Each year’s TV audience generally approaches 90 million people. Usually only the Academy Awards show comes anywhere close in pulling that many people together.

Is a football league the right entity to put on such an important entertainment show? Mr. Coplin says that’s a subjective question. The NFL turns to others — this year, veteran awards-show and special-events producer Don Mischer — to help run things.

Some people in Detroit were unhappy that this year’s show overlooks the area’s musical history — from Motown to Madonna to Eminem. The NFL has booked Stevie Wonder to play before the game and has done halftime tributes to Motown twice in the past 25 years. More often than not, as with Paul McCartney last year, the show has no geographical references.

Aaron Neville, whose New Orleans home was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, was selected to perform the national anthem in Detroit.

It would seem odd to consider the Rolling Stones a conservative choice, considering that during the years when marching bands were on duty at the Super Bowl, Mr. Jagger was riding a giant inflatable penis onstage and singing “Sympathy for the Devil” with real menace.

“We have a lot of conversations with them,” Mr. Coplin says. “We try and convince them to perform in a way that will make them look great and appreciate the fact that the audience is so large.”

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