- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

Each week, the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action. Professional football is the talk of the world today with Super Bowl XLII kicking off this evening. Here are a couple of sites to entertain all ages in preparation for the pigskin pageantry.

First, of the many initiatives the National Football League has offered to keep younger players and new families interested in the game, its NFL Rush site (www.nflrush.com) is the best.

With a much better design than ever before, this interactive home for the pint-size pigskin fan mixes a very cartoony style with chunks of video starring NFL players and a surprising assortment of games.

One of the site’s most ambitious additions is the Rush Zone, an as-of-yet average role-playing extravaganza still being tested that has visitors create an avatar and enter a football-inspired virtual world loaded with activities.

After registering to set up a password and user name (a birth date and e-mail address are required) visitors can personalize their avatar with hairstyles, clothing and headpieces. They then are drafted by a team, given some pigskin points (the world’s currency) and can wander Team Land to interact with other avatars, play games, collect a daily salary and explore all of the NFL franchises.

Collecting those pigskin points is a key element to the simulation, and players can “buy” new gear for their avatars, watch cartoons (10 pigskins for a theater ticket) and munch down treats (25 pigskins for a corndog).

Enjoyable features include taking care of a virtual pet called the Gameball, performing finger-exhausting exercises to build skill points, and enjoying the adventures of Wanda Wilkins, junior cheerleader superhero.

Although my tester found the other avatars wandering around in areas a little weird — a bit “zombielike” in appearance — he felt the experience was still fun but not anywhere near as exciting as Cartoon Network’s Foster’s Big, Fat Awesome House Party (http://awesomehouseparty.com).

The good news is the basic Zone experience for registered users is free. However, hoping to suck every last dime out of its burgeoning fan base, the Zone often suggests that parents drop $4.95 a month to have junior become a premium member.

Premium status means being able to use pigskin points in the virtual store to buy NFL-themed gear for the avatars. Unfairly, when basic members try to purchase an item virtually, they immediately get an upgrade screen (which sends them to a credit-card form) when they click the Buy Now icon.

I have to believe that with the amount of cash the NFL collects, it could have been a bit more generous with its potential fan base for such a simple simulation.

Those not completely turned off by the Zone experience will appreciate what else the NFL Rush site offers. Besides 27 games, an especially solid resource is the Fan Central section, which clearly explains the game of football with a look at positions, a field guide and plenty of video clips of teams in action.

Next, those enamored by the wacky set of advertisements shown during the Super Bowl broadcast get the best of the best at SuperBowl-Ads.com (www.super bowl-ads.com).

The site offers almost 200 commercials from 1998 to 2007 in a smaller-than-YouTube format with a very short description of the crop of winners and losers for any particular year.

Visitors will find the exploding Tabasco-filled mosquito from 1998, ETrade’s dancing monkey from 2000, the FedEx caveman from 2006 and the Osbournes/Osmonds Pepsi spot from 2003.

The site also offers commercials that were pulled later for questionable content, including the Snickers kiss, as well as coverage of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” so parents beware.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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