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This Game Has Become Far Too Commercial

Tonight on CBS! Count down the greatest Super Bowl commercials of all-time!

Sunday on aol.com! Vote for your favorite Super Bowl commercials from the 2004 game!

Sunday night on the NFL Network! Watch -- uninterrupted by football of any kind! -- replays of all the Super Bowl commercials that ran during the 2004 game!

(We interrupt this column for a sneak preview of Sunday’s big game: “Here’s the snap by Carolina! ... Sauerbrun fields it cleanly!

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And who will walk away with the ultimate prize? Which franchise spent the right millions, made the right cuts and delivered in the clutch, with the pressure on, with everything on the line?

Will it be Coca-Cola, which turned Mean Joe Greene into a soda-selling icon during the 1980 Super Bowl?

Or Apple, which hired Ridley Scott and borrowed from George Orwell to launch its Macintosh home computer in 1984?

Or maybe McDonald’s, which matched up Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in an all-galactic game of H-O-R-S-E in 1993?

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Each can be seen, again, tonight on CBS, which is devoting an hour of prime-time programming, from 9 to 10, to review, again, the “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials.”

(We pause now to provide another highlight from Sunday’s big game: “No rush from New England this time! ... The Patriots setting up the return! ... Sauerbrun’s punt is high and it is deep!”)

When did the commercials become bigger than the players and the teams in the Super Bowl?

The quick answer is the final gun at this month’s NFC championship game, which announced to the world that, like it or not, the Carolina Panthers would be crashing the Super Bowl.

But that is too easy. In Bernice Kanner’s recent book, “The Super Bowl of Advertising: How the Commercials Won the Game,” Rance Crain, Advertising Age’s editor in chief, is quoted, well in advance of Sunday’s Carolina-New England pairing, saying, “I’ve watched a lot of Super Bowls, and the TV commercials are invariably the best part.”

Once, many years ago, a great upset was guaranteed in the Super Bowl. It was made by New York Jet quarterback Joe Namath, who, not coincidentally, later went on to star in one of the finalists for Greatest Super Bowl Commercial Ever, his 1973 shaving-cream spot with Farrah Fawcett.

Now, not even touchdowns can be guaranteed in the Super Bowl. We’ve seen these defenses. We’ve seen these offenses. Give or take the random blocked punt or returned interception, Sunday’s game has Adam Vinatieri 15, John Kasay 9 written all over it.

But at the Super Bowl, commercials are forever. Unlike the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they are never going away. Unlike the Patriots and the Panthers, they promise star power and at least moderate entertainment.

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Gather a group of casual football fans Sunday. It shouldn’t be too difficult; they come out of the woodwork for the Super Bowl. They like to watch the commercials. Ask them to name five Patriots. Or three Panthers.

Not counting the kickers, who will be household names by the time XXXVIII is over, or Carolina punter Todd Sauerbrun. Poor Todd. The boy is going to get a workout Sunday.

Then ask them to name-check the commercials. Britney. Pink. Cedric. Not only will they recognize the faces starring in the commercials, they will know them on a first-name basis.

In truth, everything about the Super Bowl is a commercial, including the 12 minutes or so of actual game action. Every run, every pass and every punt by the Patriots and Panthers will be a free advertisement for the NFL Network and ESPN2, the places to turn to if you want to watch Super Bowls -- old ones, of course -- that actually featured star players.

Beginning tonight at 10, ESPN2 will run half-hour highlight shows of every Super Bowl from IV through XXXVII, 1970 to 2003, Len Dawson to Warren Sapp, before handing off at 3 p.m. Sunday to CBS, which is stuck with Antowain Smith and Jake Delhomme.

Super Sunday, or so they would have us believe, at a glance.

* Sunday NFL Countdown

(ESPN, 8 a.m.)

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ESPN’s three-hour pregame show will include features on New England quarterback Tom Brady, who has been absurdly billed as the next Joe Montana, which even Brady dismisses as false advertising; Delhomme, who is not the next Kurt Warner, although he once backed him up on an NFL Europe team; and goal posts. Yes, goal posts. Did you know that the last time the Super Bowl was played in Houston, in 1974, the goal posts were on the goal line for the last time in an NFL game? Now you do.

* The Super Bowl Today

(Channel 2, 11 a.m.)

One-upping the Worldwide Leader in Self-Promotion, CBS will devote four hours to its pregame show, which seems a bit over the top, although Jim Nantz said this week he’d be happy to go six hours. That makes one of us.

* The Lingerie Bowl

(Pay-per-view, during halftime)

Would you pay $19.95 to watch two teams of scantily clad models and actresses play tackle football at the Coliseum? Or pay nothing to watch Janet Jackson and Kid Rock do what they do during halftime of CBS’ Super Bowl telecast? The choice is yours.

* Super Bowl XXXVIII

(Channel 2, 3:25 p.m.)

The last time the Super Bowl was played in Houston, the teams were the Miami Dolphins, who had Bob Griese and Larry Csonka, and the Minnesota Vikings, who had Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman. The announcers were Ray Scott, Pat Summerall and Bart Starr. That was 30 years ago. Now it’s Carolina and New England, and Nantz, very excited to be in Houston this week, predicts this will be the first Super Bowl to go overtime.

We can hardly wait.


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