There was a time when the Super Bowl halftime show was less a dizzying celebration of one musician's catalog, and more a Broadway-inspired mish-mash of performances that regularly struggled to hold viewers between the second and third quarters of the big game.
In 1992, the Super Bowl was in Minneapolis, in the late, mostly unlamented Metrodome. Broadcast by CBS, the show generically dubbed "Winter Magic" proved to be the final nail for that style of halftime show. The performance famously lost 20 million Super Bowl viewers to "In Living Color," which Fox — then still a fledgling TV network — timed to air during halftime.
The National Football League, with an assist from major corporate sponsors like Pepsi and Apple, has booked heavy-hitting musical acts ever since.
Audiences in the early '90s apparently preferred the antics of the Wayans brothers and a young up-and-comer named Jim Carrey to a Winter Olympics showcase presided over by Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill.
It all happened in the half-hour that Washington and Buffalo were in their locker rooms. The show featured performers dressed like snowflakes, and a big band playing the old-time Christmas standard "Winter Wonderland" before segueing into a rendition of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." Also woven in: a rap loosely based on "Frosty the Snowman," performed by children in the middle of the show. Gloria Estefan wrapped it all up with her hits "Live for Loving You" and "Get on Your Feet."
A Star Tribune story from the time chronicled the audition process, in which aspiring dancers flocked to Richfield High School for a shot at the roster. A newspaper photographer caught sight of a few young dancers anxiously peeking through the gymnasium doors to watch the competition.
Choreographers and producers with local ties were involved with putting together the show, though an Arizona-based company was in charge. Wholesome to a fault, the show hemorrhaged viewers, and by the following year the halftime producers turned to the biggest pop star in the world for an assist.
But if Michael Jackson pioneered the modern Super Bowl halftime show, Prince perfected it. The Purple One wowed a crowd of nearly 75,000 in Miami Gardens in 2007.
(We would embed the whole show, but the NFL won't let us. You can watch the entire 12-minute performance here.)
The show began with an up-tempo rendition of Queen's "We Will Rock You." The stage, made up to resemble the Minnesota legend's bespoke symbol, lit up before the man himself appeared and kicked into one of his all-timers: "Let's Go Crazy."
The setlist, and Prince's electrifying performance were enough to earn the show its place in the pantheon of greatest halftime shows. But its closing moments were a national revelation akin to what Minnesotans must have felt nearly a century ago when a Mankato woman first wrote in to a local magazine and declared, "Hey, try making that hotdish with tater tots."
The halftime show set was already lined with purple lights. It was Mother Nature who decided Prince needed a little bit of actual purple rain.
Will Usher come close to dethroning Prince as the best Super Bowl halftime performer of all time? No. But audiences are now in the habit of sticking with the broadcast when the teams hit the locker room.
More people are tuning in to watch the 15-minute halftime show than the game these days, anyway. As long as Usher doesn't lose millions of viewers, he'll be just fine.