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FLASHBACKS: Super Bowl '02

Time travel with me, if you will: Early February, four years ago. I was living in a S.E. Portland house near Hawthorne Blvd. and Mt. Tabor; I was just about to hit my first-year anniversary working at Vesta in downtown Portland; and my sister-in-law Cindy was a month away from giving birth to Robbie and Eric. And, as I told people in the below e-mail, I walked to the Laurelhurst to watch the Super Bowl on a movie screen:

Today, Monday, is my Sunday. Finally I have two days off in a row, something I haven't had regularly for a year. (In fact, next week includes my first anniversary at Vesta Corp.) I have to learn how to use this time!

What I used the time for yesterday: the Super Bowl. I'm a sucker for it. I'm more of a sucker for the Olympics -- a dose of optimism every two years, I like to call it -- by the way, on Jan. 22nd I got to see the Olympic torch carried down S.W. Broadway in Portland! -- but I pay usually amused attention to the uber-event. It was different two Super Bowls ago, a dramatic one that got me more caught up in concern when that player get hurt, and (it looked) badly. He later turned out to be fine, but I admit, I was feeling deeper worry than television normally engenders in me.

And what aired soon after while I was in that slightly raw state two years ago?

That EDS commercial about those grizzled old cowboys herding cats.

A commercial that was funny anyway became, to me, more funny. As a release. Perhaps as a distraction. Whatever, it was the right ad at the right time, something that made me howl.

(Turns out one of my co-workers in the Vesta Fraud department had early exposure to that ad. At the time, she worked for a consumer goods testing agency, trying out food and commercials and other products on focus groups before they hit the market. That was one commercial they tested. It did, oh yes, good. "Did you know they only used about 20 cats for that commercial?!" she told me recently. Special effects multiplied them dozens of times over. Of course, I thought. It made sense. Using more would have been like herding cats.)

The last several Super Bowls I watched from home. It almost became a tradition while I was in Hermiston that I'd spend Super Bowl Sunday filling photo albums. Decided not to do that this time -- though I had even gone shopping for more albums, which I needed anyway, even if I didn't fill them yesterday -- but instead saw the game in public.

On a big screen.

I mean a movie screen. The Laurelhurst Theater in East Portland projected the pre-game show and the game in one of their large auditoriums to an appreciative crowd of, for the most part, Patriots fans. Who became more appreciative as the game moved on. Cheers and screams filled the air. I contributed to the day with food -- Laurelhurst is a theater pub serving, among other things, pizza -- and several utterings of "Wow" and "Oh my God." Plus laughs. Usually my laugh is a sign not only of amusement, but appreciation. I laugh at successful audacity. I laugh at the signs of an engaged crowd. The running joke in the theater was the cry "Take it off!" People applied that to Mariah Carey while singing the national anthem, to a cheerleader, to a babe in a commercial, to Marshall Faulk leaning over (a woman made sure to yell the line that time), even to a news anchor. And as the game got better -- was it me, or the first half a little sloppy? -- the crowd got louder. The people were almost in pain when that New England touchdown was taken back due to a penalty, but even they appreciated how St. Louis decided to stop losing and pulled in for a tie and a possible overtime game...something, I found out yesterday, that had never happened in any Super Bowl. And how appropriate was it that the finale was movie-cliffhanger-worthy while we watched it in a movie house? The music from the ending of Hoosiers kept flashing through my head after that field goal went in.

Now I imagine the next goal for Northwest football fans: the thought that kept popping into my head last night was "What if Joey Harrington ever gets to a Super Bowl?"

(Note for you East Coast people: Joey Harrington is the Portland boy who just finished a kick-butt career in University of Oregon football. Somehow, in some ways, he reminds me of Washington's former QB Mark Rypien. This is good. Rypien is Northwest-bred, too: high school in Spokane, college at Washington State, home in Sandpoint, Idaho if I heard right. But I digress.)

But what about the BIG point, you say, the commercials?

Don't worry. I can still be a critic.

For me, falling with a giant "thud" were the Britney Spears Pepsi commercials. I don't like her anyway -- the word I use for her is "processed" (and a guy I worked with last year at Scholastic Book Fair, I remember, used the word "freak!") -- and I looked for other things to pay attention to while she filled the screen. Like one dancer to the right in the 2002 part of the ad; she was kind of cute. Or during the 1970 flower-child part of the commercial; my thought then was "Gee, Kate Hudson looked so right in Almost Famous..." (which takes place in 1972 and is a nice, gentle film I need to see uncut on the DVD Almost Famous: the Untitled Bootleg, but I really digress). Mike Rich, the former Portland radio guy who now writes films, said this morning he kept hoping for another Bob-Dole-poking-fun-at-himself cameo.

And I hate to say it, but most of the movie ads made little impression, with three happy exceptions: Spider-Man (my first big-screen glimpse of footage of a film that looks to be both kick-butt and geek-ily sincere) and the two quite clever Men In Black II spots.

The Austin Powers commercial made a just-slightly-off impression, because of the tight spot New Line Cinema finds itself in: it can no longer use the original planned title Austin Powers in Goldmember, because first MGM protested its too-close-ness to Goldfinger and then the MPAA, which grants permission for titles as well as assigns ratings, took New Line to task for not having registered the title before advertising it. Oops. Still, whatever it does get titled, it's Austin Powers. I'm there. ("Austin Powers in Untitled!")

Plenty of other commercials just aren't coming to mind, because (I think) the ratio of misses-to-hits was pretty high. Quite a few played to silence -- in, you'll remember, an audience of more than a hundred.

But I do indeed have a favorite: the Levi's jeans commercial where a man walks down the street with legs that are, as we'd've said three years ago, getting jiggy with it. He looks like a recruit for the Ministry of Silly Walks. Turns out the commercial was directed by a guy showing ever more signs of being a genuine artist, Spike Jonze, who directed Being John Malkovich and that 1999 Nike commercial of a man calmly jogging while the world descends into Y2K chaos. His latest commercial got roars. Yes! His is my kind of deadpan humor...a kind of deadpan sincerity, too. Watch how Malkovich ends and I think you'd see that.

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