Super Bowl’s true Hollywood moment: The best ad was NFL selling itself

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There was hardly any real mention of it on Fox during the hours and hours of hype that accompanied that national holiday that is Super Bowl Sunday, but the NFL is girding for a horrific labor clash over a new collective bargaining agreement that could put the coming NFL season in jeopardy. So I guess it was no surprise that the NFL, which sees itself as a national institution that’s too big to fail, put some serious muscle into presenting itself in the best possible light before the game began, running an astounding faux patriotic ad for itself, narrated by Michael Douglas, that cast the league as a hallmark of American values, second only to, well, maybe Clint Eastwood.

Called ‘The Journey,’ the short film put together by Fox Sports was a more effective propaganda vehicle than any of the much heralded car, beer and movie ads that normally grab our attention during the Super Bowl broadcast. It opened with a series of Americana images guaranteed to stir our souls, all symbolizing the perilous odyssey our country has traveled -- immigrants streaming past the Statue of Liberty, soldiers landing on Omaha Beach, the young John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting at his father’s funeral, Martin Luther King Jr. orating at the March on Washington and rescue workers raising a flag at Ground Zero.


Then, oh, so gently, aided by a celestial choir, the visual images melted into a series of scenes of football triumphs, as Douglas cannily linked the pride we take in our nation’s accomplishments with the rugged glory of the two football teams prepared to do battle. Or as he said: ‘Tonight, here we are, united, to see their journey. Two storied franchises, one founded by a shipping clerk ... the other named after the proud steel mills that forged this nation. Green Bay and Pittsburgh, where the game of football is in their blood. This is so much bigger than a football game. These two teams have given us the chance, for one night, not only to dream, but to believe.’

OMG! If it had been a McDonald’s commercial, we’d all be quietly appalled by the shamelessness of it all. If it were an ad for a Disney movie, we’d be insulted by the studio’s chutzpah. But because it was the hallowed NFL, and we were all revved up for a brutal football clash, everyone in front of my TV set was raising a beer to the sky in a triumphant salute. I don’t know exactly who came up with the brilliant idea for the ad, but I’m guessing that more than one GOP presidential aspirant who was watching turned to an aide and said, ‘Find out who cut that spot. Let’s get them locked up for 2012.’

The NBA finds better singers to do the National Anthem, Major League Baseball casts its World Series in a more nostalgic light, but when it comes to making itself feel like an irreplaceable part of the national fabric, no one casts a hypnotic spell like the NFL. Green Bay may have won the game, but it was the NFL, hand in glove with Fox Sports, that did the best job of burnishing its image.

--Patrick Goldstein