Since it’s Superbowl Sunday, and the only aspect of football that’s remotely interesting to me is halftime, with the exception of Superbowl halftime, I thought I would look into that aspect of the spectacle.
This is going to sound like I made it up but nonetheless its true: Football halftime shows are generally conceded to have been the invention of Walter Lingo (1891-1966), an owner of a string of dog kennels in LaRue, Ohio. In order to promote his business, in 1922 he created his own NFL team, staffed entirely with Native American athletes, which he called the Oorang Indians (who were also obligated to work in his kennels). To further plug the kennels, during halftime Lingo had all his players give demonstrations of tomahawk and knife throwing, Native American dancing, shooting competitions, bear wrestling, and of course tricks with the dogs. The most famous of the players was Jim Thorpe. The Oorang Indians played for two seasons. LaRue, Ohio remains the smallest town ever to have its own NFL football team.
After this it became popular to offer the All American entertainments of cheerleading, baton twirling and above all marching bands in halftime shows, both at college and professional football games. Professional teams employ their own cheerleaders, but bring in high school and college marching bands to play the halftime shows. This came up yesterday as I was talking to a young person — the origin of this post. Marching bands also used to perform at the Superbowl halftime show. It wasn’t until the late 80s that that gradually began to change, and not until the 1990s that the move to pop performers became etched in stone.
The first change came in 1986 when that dreadful song and dance outfit “Up with People” crashed the party. The following year marching bands returned, along with George Burns and Mickey Rooney! In 1988, it was marching bands, the Rockettes and fifties star Chubby Checker. In 1989 it was some 3-D show with a magician named Elvis Presto, and in 1990 more marching bands. And then more transition: 1991 had the New Kids on the Block, but they hedged their bets with Disney characters and 2000 local children; and in 1992 Gloria Estefan but with Olympic figure skaters. It wasn’t until 1993 that the dynamic finally and permanently changed at the Superbowl halftime show when Michael Jackson was booked as the act, with NO traditional element whatsoever. After that the floodgates were open, and the organizers have booked pop, rock, country, soul, hip hop and other popular current music acts for the show ever since.
Now, I will say that I prefer seeing some high school marching band get their big shot to shine at the Superbowl halftime than some nakedly commercial (in Janet Jackson’s case, literally) million dollar deal where some crass, awful recording act is shoved down everyone’s throats strictly to appease the 13 year olds (and those with the minds of 13 year olds) in the audience. But more than the marching bands? I’d like to see bear wrestling. Let’s bring back the bear wrestling.