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Upon Further Review: The Super Bowl halftime show wasn’t always a big deal

“Upon further review” is a recurring segment in which This Given Sunday analyzes quirks and fascinating tidbits from the NFL’s history books.

The Super Bowl halftime show has become such a staple that the NFL is now asking potential A-list performers to essentially bid for the right to star in it. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, like a lot of things NFL-related, the halftime show didn’t truly take off until well after Generation X had grown up.

For a prime example, we bring you a taste of the Super Bowl XXIII halftime show, which took place in Miami in 1989. The straight-out-of-old-Vegas program featured — and I’m being serious — a magician named “Elvis Presto.”

Could you imagine the NFL ever allowing such a tacky exhibition to take place on its biggest stage nowadays?

“The commissioner [Pete Rozelle] had not been in favor of using celebrity types for the halftime show,” said Dan Witkowski, who produced the show featuring Presto along with 2,000 dancers, per USA Today. “It was generally marching bands or Disney doing something with parade floats.”

In that respect, Witkowski’s show was considered to be somewhat of a game-changer. But marching bands at least have some gravitas. That ’89 show just feels low for an operation as big as the NFL.

Paul Tagliabue took over the next year and we started seeing more big-name acts, including New Kids on the Block in 1991 and Gloria Estefan in 1992. But the tipping point took place when Michael Jackson blew out the Rose Bowl during Super Bowl XXVII in 1993.

From FTW’s Chris Chase:

MJ was in the final stretch of his reign as King of Pop — sexual abuse allegations would hit later that summer — when he shot onto stage at the Rose Bowl. There, he stood in motionless triumph for 90 seconds while 100,000 fans cheered and awaited his five-song set. Jackson started off with “Jam,” then went into “Billie Jean” and “Black or White” before closing with a mass sing-along of “Heal the World.” It was the birth of the modern-day Super Bowl spectacle.

In the years to come, Radio City would bring in Diana Ross, Boyz II Men, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and a slew of others worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Disney and MTV only kicked the production value up a notch from there, and the rest is history.

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

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