What's the best part of the Super Bowl? The athletic struggle? The balletic violence? Those buns of steel encased in spandex? Nah. It's the halftime show.
The most consistent entertainment on Super Sunday is now guaranteed to be a senseless display of gaudy production values. After all, it's called the Super Bowl, not the Fair-to-Middlin' Bowl. ''It's important to draw more than football fans. Otherwise you don't get 135 million people watching it when your normal audience is 60 million,'' says Jim Steeg, the NFL's executive director of special events. And this year, all those viewers translated into as much as a reported $1.8 million worth of halftime ads, easily covering the $1 million cost of ''Wavy Lay's Rockin' Country Sunday,'' sponsored by the league and Frito Lay's.
''Each year we've done it,'' says Steeg, ''people have walked away saying, 'That's the greatest show we ever did.''' Of course, he laughs, ''Memory is selective.'' As in, perhaps, 1988's ''Something Grand,'' featuring 88 grand pianos, 44 Rockettes, and Chubby Checker doing the ''Super Bowl Twist''? Or 1990's ''Salute to New Orleans,'' which incongruously boasted a tribute to 40 years of Peanuts? The escalating excess would make Cecil B. DeMille proud.
''Rockin' Country'' was no slouch; with 2,000 performers (plus 2,000 more for the pregame show), the flash on the field was rivaled only by the backstage bedlam. Imagine assembling an entire Broadway show in five minutes, performing for 12, then instantly dismantling it, and you get the idea. Steeg, who has helped oversee every show since 1979, says such logistics are ''like trying to squeeze a size 10 foot into a size 5 shoe.'' Which seems about right. When it comes to the Super Bowl, too much is a good thing.