The New England Patriots scored 31 unanswered points to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28, at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday, making Tom Brady the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl games.
Viewers who believed that Super Bowl LI would be an escape from the nonstop news onslaught that has occurred in the first two weeks of the Trump presidency were mistaken. The only thing the country agreed on Sunday night is its love for Baby Ditka in the NFL’s spot.
Subtle and not so-subtle messages about the immigration policies of President Trump slipped in, injecting some solemnity and perhaps anxiety into Super Bowl parties across the country. Viewers may have been reaching for the tissue as often as the guacamole during the commercial breaks. Puppies, funny anthropomorphic critters and laughter were in short supply. We were reminded that Spuds MacKenzie is dead.
Even the president’s carefully crafted coif took a knock in a spot for It’s A 10 hair care products, which opened with the line, “We’re in for four years of awful hair.”
Inclusiveness and equal pay for women got airtime – causing some polarization on Twitter. Expedia and Turkish Airlines promoted travel as a means for better understanding of other cultures (“Bridging worlds, finding delight in our differences,” as Morgan Freeman put it from his business class seat.)
“Love the Super Bowl commercials celebrating our diversity,” Katie Couric tweeted.
Others were less amused or impressed. Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska quoted his daughter in a tweet: “I thought you said Super Bowl commercials are really funny.”
As the night wore on and the political themes became more apparent, author Gary Shteyngart tweeted: “Super Bowl commercials super nostalgic for the America of eighteen days ago.”
Here are some highlights and lowlights:
Avocados From Mexico - The first Trump touchstone of the night with one-time “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Jon Lovitz, who makes a subliminal appearance during a totally apolitical ad that showed a meeting of a secret society.
Kia Niro - While watching Melissa McCarthy careen around trees, ice caps and rhinos, you had to wonder what kind of Super Bowl Sunday White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was having after her devastating impersonation of him on last night’s "Saturday Night Live."
84 Lumber - An ad featuring a Mexican woman and her daughter on a border-crossing journey had to be altered before Fox would accept it for the Super Bowl telecast. The original ending – which depicted a wall – was a little too on-the-nose amid the current controversy over the proposed immigration policies under President Trump. (“Contains Content Deemed Too Controversial for TV” is how it was described on the company’s website where the original conclusion was presented.) It showed the mother and daughter getting through a door in a foreboding border wall.
Airbnb – The quiet spot for the home-stay network showed a face morphing into various ages and ethnicity with the line “We accept,” which was interpreted as a response to Trump’s executive order aimed at banning the entry of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Audi - A dad pondering equal pay for women as his daughter competes in a boxcar derby became a political flashpoint on Twitter. “Now the @Audi ad made me choked up. WTF Superbowl ads?” tweeted "Big Bang Theory" producer Bill Prady. Would the company have changed the ad if Hillary Clinton won the election?
H&R; Block – The tax preparer made its first Super Bowl appearance in eight years to promote its partnership with IBM’s Watson. Two questions: Does anybody really wear a bow tie in an H&R; Block office like the guy who used to be in their ads? Does Jon Hamm’s agent ever say no?
Buick – A funny Cam Newton showing up in a Pop Warner game, followed by supermodel Miranda Kerr, almost made us not think about how parents are not letting their kids play football. Dave Chappelle pointed out in a tweet: “Cam Newton finally threw his first TD pass during the #SuperBowl.”
Honda CR-V – Those were all real throwback pictures in a talking yearbook spot that featured Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Amy Adams, Magic Johnson, Steve Carell, Missy Elliott, Stan Lee, Viola Davis and Jimmy Kimmel in a bright blue jacket. It was one of the few uplifting escapes from what became a polarizing night for some fans.
Tide – Much of America was relieved that it was a stain on Fox Sports analyst Terry Bradshaw’s shirt and not a reoccurrence of his shingles.
Michelob Ultra Light – The “Cheers” theme while hard bodies are sweating and working out – really? Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin would not be caught dead near a health club.
Ford - Baby boomers who remember Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Feels to Be Free” as a 1960s civil rights anthem had to feel old hearing this song to sell Ford cars without a hint of political awareness.