Reminders of the Persian Gulf War were never more than a few minutes away during ABC's telecast of Super Bowl XXV last night, but the game and the spectacle still provided respite from the rigors of wartime reality.
Here was compelling yet happily meaningless combat in which none of the combatants was likely to die. There had been talk of postponing or canceling the Super Bowl. Oh no. We needed it more than ever.
Worry about possible terrorist acts at the game was a further reminder that the war could not be kept entirely away.
ABC News scheduled several news updates with Peter Jennings during the broadcast. The first occurred 12 minutes into the pregame show; Jennings did another 15 minutes at halftime. Fortunately, there was no major news to report -- no new Scud missile attacks on Israel or Saudi Arabia.
Even the commercials, always part of the Super Bowl hoopla, took note of the continuing crisis. Last week, Pepsi dropped plans for a gigantic phone-in contest using 800 numbers on the grounds that the phone lines could be overtaxed and break down. The cancellation was noted in a Pepsi ad that made it seem like a patriotic gesture.
Diet Coke's contest, requiring viewers to hold a game piece up to a red square on the screen to see if they'd won a prize, was for some strange reason postponed from halftime until the fourth quarter, Coca-Cola announced in another solemn ad, pledging a $1 million donation to the USO.
Coke and Pepsi in the same show? Why not? There were ads for three different brands of athletic shoes. Diet Pepsi's new "auditions" ad, which featured quick appearances by such stars as Ray Charles, Jerry Lewis, Vic Damone, Bo Jackson, Charo and Tiny Tim, was the most entertaining spot.
Poor Al Michaels, however, was justifiably uncomfortable reading the new Diet Pepsi slogan during the opening credits: "You've got the right one, baby, uh-huh."
The specter of advertisers rushing to exploit jingoistic fervor growing out of the war effort did arise and could clearly get out of hand. Anheuser-Busch waxed pious with an ad in which a man sang, "Here's to you, America! I give my best to you!"
This was particularly galling since the same company was responsible for "Bud Bowl 3," one of the all time dumb-dumb ads, this year featuring fat Chris Berman of ESPN.
On the other hand, AT&T's warm and cozy new reach-out ad -- idyllic vistas, fields of dreams, babies and toddlers and loving families -- was elegant manipulation. "For a moment or two, we'll all feel a little closer," the silky-voiced announcer said.
Like the first 24, the 25th Super Bowl was a pageant of commerce as much as a game of football. It's sometimes more satisfying as the former than as the latter. But last night's game, sports fans will probably say, was better than most Super Bowls have been.
Even so, the game may have been anticlimactic -- not compared with the weeks of advance hype, but compared with Whitney Houston's downright thrilling rendition of the National Anthem at the outset. Wow. This was a surefire goosebump-raiser, much more moving than the corny flag-waving rally (featuring a pretaped appearance by George and Barbara Bush) at halftime.
"Our men and women serving in the Persian Gulf" were mentioned several times by the sportscasters; news updates included scenes of the troops watching the Super Bowl by satellite, far far away, in the chilly desert night. For a moment or two, we all really did feel a little closer.
We had met on the field of television.